Throughout my years as a musician and music fan, I have always loved the young artist. There is something special about the musical prodigy. As a writer for the Weekly Music Commentary, I get the opportunity to comment on many of today’s up and coming artists. This week’s commentary features an artist who started in the industry at the impressive age of fourteen. Now at the age of twenty-five, after experiencing much within the music industry and life, Jhené Aiko is about to release her fist solo album: Souled Out.
Jhené is similar to so many other very young and talented musical artists recognized and exposed to the world. The Los Angeles native is part of a large, multi-ethnic household with siblings who also displayed musical talent. Her older sisters Miyoko and Jamila were in the R&B group Gyrl and toured with Immature, who were signed to MCA/Silas Records. Jhené met with producer Chris Stokes when she was five years old, and eventually he heard her sing. When B2K signed with Epic Records, Jhené was signed as well. Aiko began her musical career contributing vocals to several B2K releases in 2002. Aiko also appeared in numerous music videos including O’Ryan’s debut video, “Take It Slow”, B2K’s debut video Uh Huh and Why I Love You, P.Y.T.’s Same Ol’ Same Ol’ (Remix) featuring Sarai, Play’s “M.A.S.T.E.R. (Part 2)” featuring Lil’ Fizz and Morgan Smith’s 2004 video “Blow Ya Whistle”. Jhené also has songs featured on the soundtracks of “Barbershop”, “The Master of Disguise”, You Got Served, “The Proud Family” and Byou. Jhené was set to release her self-titled debut album but the album was never released due to tension at the record label Epic, in which Aiko asked to be released from the label.
Jhené Aiko’s experience reminded me of a discussion I had with a young singer/songwriter from one of the most talented bands in South Florida a few years ago. His band was signed to a developmental deal with a major label. The band kept very busy after the signing, regularly playing live at venues around the area and writing as many new songs as they could. They even began to record several songs for what was to be their upcoming album. However, in spite of all the work the label eventually shelved the project and released the band, deciding to go in a different direction. For every success story of musicians breaking into the industry and recording a string of gold and platinum records, there are hundreds that never make it. Even with teenager Jhené Aiko, when Epic went through their internal tension, she turned her focus to school.
I think that was an excellent decision considering that Jhené would have many years to go back to the music industry. Certainly Jhené Aiko would get another chance to make music for another record company. In this time period between major label contracts, Jhené Aiko experienced a combination of life changing events as well as releasing a mixtape of music. At age twenty, Aiko became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Namiko on November 19, 2008. On July 19, 2012, Aiko lost her brother Miyagi to cancer. In between the two major events, Aiko released Sailing Souls, a thirteen song mixtape that featured collaborations from Miguel, Drake, Kanye West and others.
All but one of the songs on the mixtape were written by Jhené Aiko which means you are listening to Jhené tell her story. It is the story of Jhené Aiko’s meeting with label executives when she was told, “I love everything but when you come into these meetings you have to sell yourself.” After the meeting Jhené came up with the concept “I’m not a slave to anyone; I’m sailing my soul instead of selling it.” Jhené places great importance of writing her own music. “I write something everyday regardless if it’s a one liner, a poem or a prolific thought that I thought throughout the day. When I get into the studio, people may put on a track; I listen for a while and see what kind of emotions it brings out of me. Sometimes, I have a poem or some lines to add to the track with a melody.” With the upcoming release of her new album, we are sure to hear music from another talented young artist. Moreover, when we play her music, we will be listening to her soul.