Magazine article The Fader

Jhene Aiko: Free and Clear

Magazine article The Fader

Jhene Aiko: Free and Clear

Article excerpt

At a party recently, some guy confused Black Street and Boyz II Men. I corrected him. Though 15 years later, who sang "No Diggity" is not too much more than a minute piece of trivia for most people, his close-enough guess is telling about the public's perception of popular R&B: it's all the same. Fair enough. Most of the mush sent into the world is Nth-rate Beyonce and Rihanna imitation, drive time radio fillers with little uniqueness. On one end of the dial you get earthy Sade, and on the other boisterous R. Kelly. There's scarce space for anyone in between unless he or she's got a particularly spectacular six-pack.

It's no offense to Jhene Aiko's stomach that she's not been making heavy radio rounds. Though she is now independent, she was once signed to a major label and in 2003, as a teenager, released the generic single "No Love," which garnered the medium acclaim expected of a factory-produced song. After her label failed to put out her album, Aiko asked to be released from her contract. She received it, and after settling into motherhood, Aiko began writing on her own. Earlier this year, she released Sailing Soul(s), a step forward sonically made by scaling back gaudy production and unnecessary vocal fireworks. Sailing Soul(s) starts with the stark "Stranger," where she sings, You said you were different but you're the same stranger. The beat, by her frequent production partners Fisticuffs, has a crisp snare ping and a druggy organ, over which Aiko sounds somehow breathy while still sweet and light. …

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