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Review: Jhene Aiko, 'Sail Out (EP)'

November 20th, 2013 8:20am EST

Jhene-Aiko Jhene Aiko’s cool, calm, and collected approach to R&B is quite alluring: It’s too bad that a certain song named “Beware” from Big Sean’s commercially bombing sophomore album Hall of Fame (ironic title right?) didn’t blow up. Not soley for Big Sean’s sake, but for talented guest vocalist Jhene Aiko, who has seen her stock rising through a couple of collaborative efforts as of late. “Beware” was the big-name single that should’ve sent Jhene Aiko soaring to the next level, but it wasn’t to be. Despite the setbacks, a collaboration with Drake on Nothing Was The Same (“From Time”), certainly presented the R&B/pop singer in an excellent light. It doesn’t hurt that Nothing Was The Same is one of the largest commercial triumphs of 2013. Aiko’s own EP Sail Out finds here cool, but biting brand of R&B surprisingly alluring. She rarely breaks a sweat, but more amazingly, she doesn’t need to.
“The Vapors” comes off almost cold from an initial listen; nonchalant and stoic in tone. A second listen unveils the totality of its magic. Numerous memorable lyrics shine, beginning on the first verse when Aiko sings “You been on my mind / I been tryna let it go / I been tryna find / somethin’ as incredible / as you and I…” Those rather simple, but telling lyrics lead to chorus that’s both suggestive and ‘druggy’ in sentiment: “Can I hit it again? / can I hit it again?” Essentially, Aiko seems to reference getting high off of weed and simply can’t get over the sex with her former flame. Vince Staples expounds upon Aiko’s situation via his rap verse (“Memories fading faded help you not to remember / the trials and tribulations, eyes red from crying / the perfect way to disguise it you was blinded by your fate”). “Vapors” is definitely jam-packed regardless of its apparent simplicity.

“Bed Peace” certainly doesn’t ‘kill the vibe’. As refined as Aiko sounds vocally, she’s unafraid to inject contemporary lyrical swagger (“Gotta get this paper, get this cake up…”). Like on “The Vapors”, Aiko embraces the ‘higher’ side of life with stoner-alluding lyrics like “Wake up, wake up, bake up…let’s get faded / gotta call your job tell ‘em you won’t make it.” Irresponsible it may be, but Aiko’s chill vocals and ad libs float atop the production as if she is smoking blunt after blunt. Childish Gambino is her Vince Staples this time, adding a kind of alt-rap touch. His best moment is when he states “I don’t wanna be around a baby so dumb high / I don’t see the beauty of a momma on inside…” Yet another play on words on another home run for Aiko.
With two triumphs prior, “Stay Ready (What A Life)” doesn’t need to adhere to the mantra of ‘third time’s charm’ – it just continues the brilliance already set forth. Anytime you see Kendrick Lamar as a guest collaborator, you can go ahead and write ‘FIRE’ besides the cut. Indeed, this double-track continues to show the best attributes of Aiko artistically as well as finding Lamar continuing to flex his prodigious rap muscles. Explosive and explicit lyrical moments like “Tell me find your spot with the warning that I might slip / and when you climb on top that’s the ultimate road trip” or “And triple through triplets of babies right now / and that might break the record and no, that don’t mean you’re fertile /that means we’re f*cking reckless, plus we don’t use protection” fit perfectly. Aiko shines with her truisms on change of pace “What A Life”: “I been through some sh*t man / but I be on my sh*t man / I decided / that what you give / is what you’re given…” Guess that’s why she sings “what a life.”
“WTH” certainly takes on Juicy J’s philosophy to “stay trippy”. Over spacey and mysterious production, Jhene Aiko continues to strike a chord with her broken romantic, faded tales. “I am Alice / I’m in the Wonderland,” she proclaims on the first verse, “Where’s the rabbit? / he is late again…” After such a bold allusion to waiting for a man who seems long gone, Aiko both confirms “I might / I might’ve been too high” (playing once more on words) and that “I cannot recognize / what’s the difference / in pretending and / living a real lie?”. Ab-Soul plays right into Jhene’s ‘trap’ on his guest verse: “My what a ride, real trippy sh*t / I glimpse with a squint but I can see a whole grip / my retinas are red, my vision is crystal / didn’t use pencil but it’s true I led…” Lyrically, it’s hard to deny the creativity and cleverness of Sail Out, that’s for sure.

After toying with the ‘lame-o’, on “The Worst”, Aiko finally seems to talk some trash; a woman scorned. The first go-round it’s not so bad for the dude: “And don’t take this personal / but you’re the worst / you know what you’ve done to me / and although it hurts I know / I just can’t keep runnin’ away.” The second time, it’s not so pretty: “Please don’t take this personal / but you ain’t sh*t / and you weren’t special / ‘til I made you so….” Even with all the anger and raw emotions unveiled, Aiko can’t seem to let him go: “I don’t need you / but I want you…” How often does a girl fall for the wrong guy? That’s what makes “The Worst” so relatable. It works similarly for guys getting the wrong girl btw, just for clarity.
Penultimate cut “3:16am” continues on in Aiko fashion, meaning multiple meanings and interpretations from different listeners. Even though the lyrics are open-ended, they remain sound, such as personal favorite “I do not feel the fear of falling / thought I could fly / it didn’t go well but oh well / what do you know.” Closing cut “Comfort In Ending (Freestyle)” is more profound, featuring some of Aiko’s most real, unapologetic lyrics. It is a ‘soap opera’ of sorts. Regretful, Aiko details an affair (“And I should’ve never took you on a boat for your birthday / and I should’ve never f*cked you on a boat on your birthday…”) where ultimately “‘Quis found out and then I had to leave him / ‘cause I couldn’t be the one to hurt him”. Regardless of your opinion of Aiko, she captures your attention and ends the EP with a bang… or several. No pun intended.
All said and done, Jhene Aiko leaves the impression she truly can be R&B’s next great artist. Contemporary and captivating, Aiko doesn’t have to infuse extra grit to sell her points vocally. She can coo and still shine as bright as a beacon. Few can do such without being chastised for their lack of vocal abilities. Sail Out certainly makes me excited for the possibility of Aiko’s forthcoming full length studio album.
Favorites:“The Vapors”; “Bed Peace”; “Stay Ready (What A Life)”; “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰Jhene Aiko | Sail Out (EP) | Def Jam | US Release Date: November 11, 2013

Related: Jhene Aiko, CD Reviews

Photo Credits: Def Jam

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