By: Sadig El Tigani
R&B songstress Jhene Aiko delivers her most raw, honest, and introspective material yet on her sophomore album Trip.
After being on and off the radar for three years, Aiko released the surprise album on September 22 following a 23-minute short filmed titled after the album the day before.
The 22-track LP is riddled with themes of loneliness, drug intoxication, spiritualism and love.
The album features production from long-term collaborators No I.D., Dot da Genius and Fisticuffs, along with other high profile producers such as Cashmere Cat, Benny Blanco and Mike Zombie.
Known for being the first on the 2010s wave of “alt-R&B”, Aiko has frequently been compared to legendary songstress Sade for her soft, evocative voice and songs that range from ambient to acoustic.
Aiko deploys a confessional lyrical style, weaving in personal episodes from her life on experiences of love, spirituality and death. She received critical acclaim for adding depth to an otherwise often scored ‘stoner culture’ whose aesthetic she proudly embodies.
Her highly praised EP Sail Out and her debut album Souled Out saw her maintain her voice all while charging each song with a new layer of her soul.
With this new album, there was nothing new to uncover. Instead, she elevated all of her past material to unprecedented levels and built on her intrapersonal narrative.
The album is semi-autobiographical, dealing with the death of Aiko’s brother Miyagi, whom she lost to cancer.
Even though she sang a tribute to him in “Promises” in Sail Out, she had never fully confessed the depths of her sorrow about his passing until this moment.
The album’s narrative is told through Aiko’s alter ego “Penny”, as she mourns her late brother, falls in and out of love and embarks on her journey to inner spirituality.
Clocking in at almost 90 minutes, the album runs like a Barbra Streisand flick: filled with high, mid and genuinely low points.
The album finds Penny in the worst throes of nihilism and despair after the passing of her brother late. After escaping her home and heading to a forest, she then finds love and falls into an indulgent, hedonistic state. The album’s production conveys this through moody, spacey tracks such as “While We’re Young” and “Moments”.
She then reflects about the times when she had no love in her life, and decides to let bygones be bygones and instead chooses to be grateful for the love she now has.
When Penny’s relationship ends, overwhelmed and saddened, she begins to experiment with different drugs sparking a state of trance-like self-awareness.
This is where the album takes a dark turn and begins to incorporate echoing beats accompanied with slow, careful vocals on the part of Aiko, found in songs such as “You Are Here”.
It is then that she begins to realize that all these experiences in fact make her soul stronger and more accepting of love, rather than the opposite.
The protagonist here finds herself having reached a full understanding of what happened in her life and came to understand that, even though she’s been through hell, there’s still a heaven waiting for her. This was represented beautifully in the song “Ascension” when she sings “I’m on my way, if I can make it out of this hell/I know I can and I know I will.”
Throughout the album, Aiko masterfully wove multiple themes in a seamless manner, all while doing every one of them justice.
The album’s structure and theme progression illustrates a reality that is very powerfully delivered in her grand narrative: when one truly reaches the highest level of their spirit, they will start loving themselves, and this love has the power to drive away even the worst bouts of sadness and depression.
For example, the track “Jukai”, which is about the lack of love in her life, beautifully conveys the connection in the lines: “Hell is not a place/Hell is not a certain evil/Hell is other people/Or the lack thereof/ And their lack of love”.
The track has a gloomy feel to it, played with acoustic strings. Aiko paints us the setting with lyrics such as: “I’ve made my way down to the forest/ Way down to the sea of trees”.
The divergent themes of the album are all tied together through her continual return to psychedelic drugs. For example, in the song “Psilocybin”, she credits LSD for helping her reach her highest chakra.
The album’s production is very similar to her other work, but sees Aiko begin to incorporate many more songs that are piano-driven at heart.
The listener finds themselves nearing peace of mind themselves, as Aiko’s soft, dreamy vocals guide them towards a softened state of bliss. She does this best in “ Ascension”, and “Nobody”.
In terms of the features, while it is a great club song, Swae Lee’s performance in the song “Sativa” did not add any emotive depth to the song was ultimately reflected a laziness that was incongruent with the rest of the album. The track essentially felt like it was a throwaway verse for another song.
“OLLA (Only Lovers Left Alive)” seemed lke a TWENTY88 leftover, a joint album that came out last year by Aiko and rapper Big Sean. However, I did enjoy Brandy’s performance in the song “Ascension,” a downtempo track that illustrated perfect harmonies between Brandy’s high notes and Aiko’s low vocals.