Jhene Aiko releases a beautiful multi-media project including a short film, surprise album, and poetry book.
Jhene Aiko surprise-released Trip, the musical part of her multimedia project on Friday. The project includes a short film, which shares the same name, as well as a poetry book - a “map,” as Aiko calls it. With many successful singles, mixtapes, and feature credits, Trip is Aiko’s second major release since her 2014 debut album Souled Out. The 22-track album was supported by the lead single “While We’re Young,” released back in June. The album contains notable production from frequent collaborators like Dot da Genius, Dr. Chill, Fisticuff, No I.D. as well as Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat, Mike Zombie, and more.
The features are few and far between, counting Swae Lee on “Sativa,” a voicemail from the OG Kurupt on “Never Call Me,” Brandy on “Ascension,” and Mali Music on “Trip.” Of course, the other half of the Twenty88 duo, and her boyfriend, Big Sean made an appearance on multiple tracks - but the most touching features comes on “Sing To Me,” which features Aiko’s 8-year-old daughter Namiko Love.
In a recent interview with Playboy, Aiko stated that the new album was "Inspired by every type of trip you could imagine: mental, physical, even psychedelic.” The journey of self-discovery is a consistent theme in Aiko’s music - searching for inner peace, she sings of loss, love, and spiritual enlightenment. However, this particular journey is more focused on healing. In July 2012, Aiko lost her brother Miyagi to an inoperable brain tumor, he was 26 years young.
This map was made by me, for me… but I feel obligated to share because I know that I am not alone in my suffering. If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that every single person on this planet is suffering. Not a single soul in this world is immune to the pain of losing someone they love. The reality of this life is, at some point we will all lose someone we love. In sharing this MAP, I hope to inspire others to be more present in the lives of the people they love.
The project is cohesive in its formats as well as it sounds. Jhene Aiko attempts to amplify electric beats with her vocals, however, she doesn't push the boundaries quite far enough when it comes to the types of melodies and exercises she could ostensibly do with her voice. One of the most exciting songs arrives when Aiko seems to push herself to a near-yell (although let's be real, it's still quite mellow) on "Overstimulated," with vocals that feel as though they've been expertly intertwined into the production, carefully created to fall into the pocket of the haunting beat. She also delivers one of her catchiest, and pop-iest melodies on feel-good love song "OLLA," whereas "Moments" (both assisted by Big Sean), which precedes it, falls flat, a stagnant beat is paired with a soft, barely-there melody, and unfortunately Sean's verse does little to improve or excite things. The tracklist is a long: if it had been paired down heavily we may have ended up with more of the exciting, trippy moments, creating an overall stronger release. Nonetheless, as it stands, the album has a contrast in tones-- it begins with a light and sleepy mood and progressively gets more brooding as the trip seems to worsen.
After smoking out the container with Swae Lee on “Sativa,” the album climaxes into the darker half of the trip (Jhene's fear brings us into a more heartfelt place). Spiraling down the rabbit hole, “Nobody,” is a slow and harmonic tune that talks about coping with pain. Disguising her pain on previous tracks, Aiko’s true emotions come out leaving her questioning her relationships and self-worth - “(Take this) wait for the 2008 summer, I'ma be a mother, wow/ (Take this) 2012 summer, it just got tougher, I don't have my brother now.”
Aiko goes for shock factor with “Bad Trip” and “Overstimulated,” deviating from the somber tones of the rest of the album. The trip continues with “Oblivion (Creation),” which is produced by her dad, Dr. Chill. Here, Aiko accepts her fate and lets the trip take her back into the darkness, into oblivion. To be in oblivion is to be in a state of being completely forgotten or unknown - a world where one can live without consequences, a world where one can love without loss. The track ends with the smooth and mellow wisdom of Dr. Chill, and leads us into “Psilocybin (Love In Full Effect)" -- these back-to-back four records create the strongest section within the lengthy body of work.
Psilocybin is often referred to as the god’s drug due to its hallucinatory effect, creating a feeling of elevation, it is often used in a spiritual context to help people release themselves. “I can feel it hit the ceiling/When it’s in my body/An out of body experience.” Aiko slurs her words over the equally slurred production, thus re-creating that experience for listeners-- you're not sure if you're in your head or out of your mind, as you attempt to make out her words-- are they real or nah?
While the freestyles are more interludes than anything else, they are all built around the ambiance on the album, as Jhene creates a full trip experience, highs and lows included. One of the biggest features on Trip comes from 90’s R&B legend Brandy - a personal hero of Aiko. There’s no doubt that this was a big achievement for Aiko to have one her idols on her album. The delicate hymn finds Aiko and Brandy in a harmonic union, complimented by the soft cello vibrations of Doc Allison. The pairing of these artists voices is magical - the soulful tune and inspiring message became a quick fan favorite. “I’m on my way, I’m on my way to heaven/ I’m on my way, I’m on my way/ I’m on my way, if I can make it out of this hell, I know I can and I know I will.”
You can’t truly appreciate Aiko’s album without watching the short semi-biographic film also called Trip. Teaming up with Girl’s Trip writer Tracy Oliver to co-write, the cinematic work finds Aiko playing the role of “Penny,” a poet. Struggling with the loss of her brother, Penny sparks a romantic relationship with a curious stranger named Dante. While she ditches her work for the love of spontaneity her underlying sadness and grief breaks through her sunny facade (a theme we see paralleled in the album). “I am looking for a brother’s love in every single man,” she says. “But you’ll never see me like my brother did, you’ll never need me like a brother did. There’s a black hole in my soul. It’s beginning to show.”
The narrative of self-discovery, self-love, and letting go are all driven by Aiko’s spoken word poetry and original music. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, Aiko explained her creative process throughout the multimedia project. "I am just really into expressing myself," she explained. "This year, I just want to show every side of me. I really want to dive into who I am, which I feel like I've been doing since I first started. Obviously, I'm getting older and I feel like I'm more in tune with who I am and less afraid to express every side of myself."
Nonetheless, perhaps Aiko is offering too much, all at once, for any listener to be able to unpack-- it is a double disc album basically, but it would have been just as impactful, if not more so, as a single disc offering, especially when we're getting a movie alongside it. The themes and content Aiko explores would have been covered just as easily in a more compact length, as it stands, the lulls in the album create for an intermittently boring experience. To flip the script though, if we're considering all tracks, Aiko has offered us ambiance music, an overall "vibe" so that even if you can't reach the 'skip' button when you hit a lull, you're still carried through the album easily. No matter, this is definitely Aiko's most exciting, explorative, and revealing release yet, as she aims to connect with the listener on a level she hasn't yet. It seems as though she's pulled it off too, you're bound to connect to at least one of the many emotions through out the Trip.