I was first introduced to Jhené Aiko on Kendrick Lamar’s “Growing Apart.” Her voice is gentle and somewhat tinged with a sultriness that often encroaches on cutting aggression. Aiko understands where to emphasize her voice, wrapping it around the lyrics to achieve a hypnotic mix of hip hop and R&B. Souled Out, the debut from the singer is made up of mid-temp melodies that emerge as freestyles, rather than songs. This is not a bad thing because Aiko has stated that her process of recording music is one of letting it unfold rather than rushing.
“Limbo Limbo Limbo” keeps with the consistency she offered on the Sail Out EP from 2013, a twinkling tale of a woman, that can be interpreted in many different ways depending upon the individual listening to it. “To Love & Die,” moves through the speakers in a similar consistent fashion. The album’s first single, Aiko sounds a bit uneasy, however, as her voice is swallowed up by No I.D.’s beat. “Spotless Mind,” glides amidst a guitar riff and puts forth Souled Out’s theme more so than any of the previous cuts – a transitionary phase of sorts whereby Aiko appears to have closed one chapter of her life, but has not quite moved into another.
On “Lyin King,” Jhené laments about how she’s being treating in a relationship. Despite her anger, Aiko obliges with a vocal that is favorable and warm. “The Pressure,” the follow-up single to “To Live & Die,” is sharp, yet steamy. There is a jazzy undertone that surrounds the vocals offered up here. The song’s only issue is that it feels like a reworking of “The Worst” from the Sail Out EP.
Both “Eternal Sunshine” and “Promises” are poems that Aiko pens with the former being an introspective memoir on life. The latter finds her describing the experiences she’s had as a mother and entertainer as well as musing on her brother, who passed several years ago. “Pretty Bird” concludes Souled Out and solidly does so. With a spoken word cameo from Common – it is another one of the album’s standouts like “Spotless Mind.”
Aiko has frequently cited 2Pac and Aaliyah as influences of hers, specifically noting the iconic way each singer incorporated their heart and soul into everything they produced and were not afraid to speak their mind on all subjects. It is clear from Souled Out that Jhené Aiko was going for potent lyricism rather than vocal acrobatics. The mezzo-soprano range does not get much of a workout. While many critics would argue that all of Aiko’s songs sound alike, there are unique differences to each vibe that she imparts on Souled Out, making it a step above the Sail Out EP; but not overwhelmingly better.
Souled Out receives a PAR
PARL… Kinda Great
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