Jhene Aiko recently released her studio album Trip on Sept. 22. Photo Credit: Kayla Johnson
By Ashleigh Brown
R&B songstress Jhene Aiko has been largely off the scene since her last major project, Souled Out back in 2014. Aiko has had major singles during her break like 2 Chainz It’s A Vibe, and her own single Maniac. On Sept. 22 Aiko returned with an hour and 25 minute long studio album called Trip along with a 20-minute long short film. Trip, like several other projects, was inspired by the death of Aiko’s brother from cancer in 2012.
Grief is unlike any other life experience. It is the process of feeling every human emotion all at once: the unbearable sorrow combined with immense joy to have known this person, and the love with building anger that they’re gone. Aiko turned to music for spiritual enlightenment, and drugs to fill the void after her loss. The album features appearances from John Mayer in Newer Balance, Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee in Sativa and Brandy in Ascension.
Trip focuses on the topics of love, loss and self-discovery. Aiko’s dreamy and airy voice creates an innovative and unusual album that can serve as either and creative experience storyline, or an atmospheric-R&B outing that creates an environment all its own. From the first song, LSD, to the last song, Trip, could be considered an auditory hallucination journey with the ambient r&b slow and hazy style.
Aiko has never as vulnerable and raw in Trip as she was in any project. She tackles the concept of suicide in Jukai, inspired by the Aokigahara Forest, also known as the ‘suicide forest’ in Japan. This is a space known for many Japanese people where they go to commit suicide and is also the second most popular suicide location, calling it the ‘perfect place to die’. ‘Jukai’ along with “Nobody” and “Overstimulated,” battles her demons of addiction. (“Pop one, pop two, pop three, four pills, these things tell me how I should feel”) she sings on “Nobody,” convinced she can (or has to) handle all her problems alone. “Overstimulated” captures the hazy effects of stimulants like cocaine and adderall. All of this is built around the grief and constant search for a brother’s love in every man she encounters. Ultimately, her hope is that if she can just “get high enough,” she can reach him.
While the skating rink vibe of “OLLA (Only Lovers Left Alive)” is the album’s only taste of pop music along with Swae Lee featured track “Sativa”. Lyrically, it’s a young and sexy party hookup song (“Why you make it so complicated? Off the drink, we concentratin’. I know you won’t leave me hangin’, smokin’ weed out the container”). Both tracks generally do well as chilled-out faded background music for the ear, but it’s also worthwhile and eye-opening as a focused listen, as some of Aiko’s most honest writing.
Towards the end of the album, optimism and content sets in as the clarity from the trip subsidizes and gloom vanishes. “Sing to Me,” featuring Aiko’s daughter Namiko Love, is one of the album’s shining moments. This is where the reality of her motherhood is the forefront of the end of the project. The two share a moment as they sing back and forth. (“Mommy sing to me” and “Nami sing to me”) over the piano. It’s nothing like the love of a child to clarify blurry visions of the future.
“Frequency” is a hopeful prayer for freedom. “Free my city, freed my seed, bless my situation, give me freedom, bless the generation, give them mercy.” Brandy’s feathery voice in Ascension is a perfect complement to Aiko’s. “I’m on my way, I’m on my way to heaven, I’m on my way, if I can make it out of this hell.” Aiko is on her way to heaven where she finally makes her peace.
Trip works because it’s about all the places we go to escape from reality and ourselves. It’s not an album that just requires the listener to pay attention to the lyrics or the story it functions equally well as sensual music on its own. Aiko finds salvation in her own transparency and in the people who are still alive, that give her a reason to carry on and continue.