Jhene Aiko Talks Being More Aware, ‘Trip’, and Why Big Sean is the Love of Her Life

Following the release of her emotionally stirring short film “Trip,” 29-year-old neo-R&B singer Jhene Aiko released the album to accompany the piece. Trip dropped on September 22 to the surprise of many and is the sophomore follow-up to her 2014 debut studio album Souled Out.

Souled Out was a taste of what a full-length project from the “The Worst” singer would sound like. After being featured as the Juliet to many rappers’ Romeos in the form of features and a mixtape of her own, Aiko fans were interested to see what the diminutive beauty had in her and we were not disappointed. With songs like “W.A.Y.S.,” “Spotless Mind,” “Promises,” and “Lyin’ King,” we were put onto what the budding starlet could bring with the pen – effortless melodies, uncanny wordplay, spirituality, sexuality, and all delivered by a deceptively angelic voice.

After years of putting in work, in 2015, Aiko racked up three Grammy award nominations for her hard work. Those nominations included Best R&B Song for “The Worst” and Best Urban Contemporary Album for her debut EP Sail Out. To say the mother of one was winning would be an understatement. However, according to an exclusive interview with Billboard, the singer has never quite recovered from the untimely death of her brother, Myagi, who passed away from cancer. She went to Hawaii to free herself from the weight of his loss on her spirit.

From that journey, she was able to reignite her creative spark and create Trip.

The 22-track album features songs from a stripped-down and vulnerable Aiko, who goes by Penny, which was a nickname given to her as a child by her great-grandfather. We are given insight into her world and her vast array of emotions – from love and drugs, to pain and loss, to depression and triumph. It is said to be her most honest work yet.

“Well, I’m almost 30, so that makes a big difference. I’ll be 30 in March. I would say I’m more aware,” Aiko said. “More aware, more myself. I know I feel like you got my mission statement [at our listening session] where I talked about being Penny — which is the nickname that my great-grandfather gave me when I was four — and I feel like that is really my true self. I felt like he looked at all of his great-grandkids and grandkids when they were born and just saw something in them and he gave us all a nickname and yeah I just thought he, with his wisdom, always saw our true essence, you know what I mean? And I feel the Jhenè today is more of Penny. [She] is more true, honest and unafraid.”

Trip also is also graced by a plethora of dope features. Crooner John Mayer plays the guitar on two songs, Aiko’s boyfriend and bandmate (TWENTY88) Big Sean shares a few bars, and her daughter Namiko Love even makes an appearance (she also sang “Promises” with Aiko on her debut album). Other features include Brandy, Swae Lee, Kurupt, Dr. Chill, and Mali Music.

Aiko’s boyfriend, Big Sean, actually appears on two songs – one as himself and one as the second half of TWENTY88. When asked to describe her relationship with Sean in one song, Aiko told Billboard, “I would choose, is it Common and Erykah Badu? [Singing] “Love of My Life..” Yeah, I feel like because I’ve never ever ever had a relationship where we were friends first. I’m the type of girl that if they’re like, ‘You wanna be my girlfriend?,’ I’m like, ‘Yes.’ It’s just like, ‘Okay, we’re together we’ve known each other for a week and now we’re exclusive and serious.’”

“When I met Sean, if you looked in the dictionary for Jhene Aiko, it would be a picture of Sean. Basically, he is my pet, but he knows. That’s why when I was 16, I had a lot of boyfriends that were like, that fit, that look. I was dating people who I wasn’t attracted to right off the top or whatever. So I ended up not having a type, but then when I met Sean, I had a boyfriend and he was showing interest in me, but I was like, I have a boyfriend. But we were friends, it was never, nothing disrespectful ever happened between me and Sean.

Then when I broke up with that boyfriend, he had a girlfriend, so it was, ‘Okay, alright.’ We’re still friends and we were forced to really, really get to know each other on a friendship level, you know what I mean? And to the point where he was even at my brother’s funeral. We talk to each other on a friendship level throughout all of my relationship, just like, ‘How is this one thing, how are you doing?’

And obviously we worked together as well throughout our relationship. We did songs together and then you know, it just came to a point where it was like, ‘I’m single, you’re single, we love each other.’ We actually already love each other as people and then it was like, ‘Okay, let’s just, you know, be together. So it was different because of that friendship. That comes first, we’re friends before anything. We can bicker like a friendship.

If you’re friends, when we’re debating something, it doesn’t turn into some crazy argument because we’re actually friends. I have a big family. Like, the friends that I have become family. I don’t have a bunch of friends. I literally have like two friends outside of my blood relatives. Everyone else that I call a friend is literally related to me by blood. So Sean has become my family.  I don’t know what the future holds, but as far as my life goes right now, yeah, he’s ‘L-O-M-L.’”

Read the full interview with Billboard here.

Aiko’s sophomore album Trip is available for streaming on all platforms. Watch the accompanying short film down below.

Photo Credit: Jhene Aiko/Instagram

Sheriden Chanel is a twenty-something writer, Beyoncé enthusiast, and lover of all things visual art. Keep up with her and her musings on social via @indiebyline.