VIBE MAGAZINE - VIBE Summer 2014 Cover Story: Jhene Aiko [tekst, tłumaczenie i interpretacja piosenki]

Wykonawca: VIBE MAGAZINE
Data wydania: 2014-06-24
Gatunek: Rap
Producent: Steve Erle, Adelle Platon

Tekst piosenki

Sweetest TabooJhené Aiko’s sullen soundtracks to life have become blueprints—and status updates—for every emo millennial. With her mellow, free-spirited aura, she’s their modern-day Sade. But R&B’s miniature sex bomb also has a dark side

If Jhené Aiko had her way, she’d be walking around barefoot. Even in the desert on a 96 degree day. In turquoise denim short shorts, a floral midriff-baring top and a camel-colored floppy hat that screams J. Lo, this hippie chick peaks at just above 5’2. A soft sheen glistens over her sandy complexion. It’s two days before her second performance at California’s Coachella Arts & Music Festival. For lunch, she suggests Nature’s Health Food & Café, a Palm Springs oasis where slim, beachwear-clad customers sip bright juices. The eatery provides comfort for the 26-year-old singer who used to work minimum wage as a waitress at a vegan restaurant

The inside feels like a bohemian haven, with electric fans as the primary cooling system and the smell of earth and veggies. After placing her order and depositing a total of $20 in the tip box, Jhené sits at a wobbly table and bites, not nibbles, at her food—a towering plate of Greek salad and soy chicken tacos. “I don’t think anything about me is loud,” she says. “I’m not going to walk into a room with crazy accessories, high heels and red lipstick. I blend in.”

Jhené is a modern-day hippy. Her moody melodies about all things tender (love, sex) and taboo (abortion, suicidal thoughts) have made her an unfiltered voice for 20-something rebels—and heartbroken millennials consider her debut project, 2011’s sailing soul(s), to be an emo manifesto. If Drake is the king of feelings, a rapper whose exes get prime real estate, then Jhené is the woman’s side of the story. But it’s more than just male-bashing anthems. “Drake’s a conversation with a woman on a level of honesty,” says producer No I.D., who signed Jhené to his Def Jam imprint, Artium, in 2011. “Jhené represents the woman who talks to herself and deals with the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the spiritual and the ghetto.”

Her breathy medium-range vocals initially had fans connecting the dots between her and the late Aaliyah (see also: Cassie). Jhené addressed the comparisons in a Kanye-style Tumblr rant in 2012, writing: “I AM NOT YOUR NEXT BEYONCE, I AM NOT YOUR NEXT AALIYAH. I AM NOT CASSIE’S COMPETITION, NOR AM I RIHANNAH’S [sic].” But her subtly seductive aura better qualifies her as this generation’s Sade, a musical and visual minimalist. While serving as Drake’s plus-1 on last year’s Would You Like A Tour?—a byproduct of their duet, “From Time”—Jhené performed barefoot in a teeny bra-like top and a flower-child skirt. Besides going shoeless, she also studies Buddhism

“When she was doing her mixtape [sailing soul(s)], she was describing the sound she was going for,” says her older sister Miyoko. “I remember saying, ‘Oh, you wanna be like a hip-hop Sade.’ And she was like, ‘Exactly.’” Jhené welcomes the title where it fits. “That’s great if people think that because she’s amazing,” says Jhené. “That’s someone I’d love to be in the same lane as.”

The ultra personal approach has enticed a cult following; her Sail Out EP has sold 216,000 units, and its lead single “The Worst” topped Billboard’s Hip-Hop/R&B charts. Coupled with an alluring yet down-to-earth image, the mainstream appeal is strong. Jhené’s petite, tatted frame (she’s racially mixed, of Japanese, African-American and Native American descent) brings out heart-eye emojis in women and men. Drake has playfully cozied up to her on stage, and Childish Gambino professed his love on record (she denies dating either of them)

What adds depth to the pretty face—and distinguishes her from Sade–is Jhené’s exploration of her dark side. In the music video for “The Worst,” she murders an ex-lover, wearing only lingerie, before cops haul her away. And “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)” shows her keying a Porsche and burning a pile of Jordans as she ticks off a laundry list of men who did her dirty. These are fantasies, of course. “I’ve never killed a guy, and I’ve never went to jail, but those are the things I have to get out of my head some way,” she says. “It’s writing a song and then turning my crazy thoughts into those moments where I’m like, I could really do that, but I’m not going to.”

Real-life Jhené is much more affectionate. She once gave a guy flowers from Walgreens (“He was like, ‘You’re making me feel like a bitch.’ He liked it, though.”) The biggest splurge gift: a boat ride, at $200 per hour, for a day-time excursion that she references on “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestlye),” singing: “I should’ve never fucked you on a boat on your birthday.”

“A girl knows at least one David, one Dominic, and guys do it all the time. They say names,” she says. “I’m always myself with guys. I’m always super open. I reveal a lot when I talk. So they know that when I write a song, it’s because I’m over it. It’s not something that hurts me anymore.”

The fresh greenery at Los Angeles' Descanso Gardens for this cover shoot provides the perfect backdrop for a woman whose longtime vice has been kush. The sounds of a flickering lighter and smoky inhales are worked into the hook of Jhené’s songs “Higher” and “WTH,” an acronym for “Way Too High.” No longer the wake-and-bake type, she now prefers vapors or papers over blunts as an occasional stress reliever and creative agent. “Everyone’s [singing] about weed now, ‘cause that’s the ‘in’ thing to do. I’m like ‘Do you even smoke?’” says Jhené, without singling anyone out. “You can tell when it’s contrived. You don’t have to do it. Talk about what you do.”

Against the floral backdrop, Jhené looks like Mother Nature’s offspring. She’s quiet, almost awkward, in front of the camera, yet photogenic by nature. She looks nothing like a mean girl. But as the designated plaything of the family—the youngest of five—her temper flew

She was used to sharing space with her two older brothers, two older sisters and mother (Jhené also has another older brother and a younger sister) in a two-bedroom apartment in Slauson Hills, which overlooks Los Angeles. Her siblings made her schlep around laundry. They beat her up (typical). And when her sister needed mani-pedi money, Jhené went door-to-door collecting unwanted knick-knacks, like playing cards, to sell. “I thought I was tough because my brothers and sisters would boss me around,” says Jhené. “My sister would boss me to give her massages. So when I went to school, I took it out on my friends. I think I was a little bitch.”

Jhené’s school—the magnet side of Baldwin Hills Elementary—was the destination for kids who racked up the most demerits. It’s also where she met her future daughter’s father, Sonnie O’Ryan (singer Omarion’s brother). Jhené rolled with a mixed circle, “the weird nerd girls,” she says, who thought they were the shit in their own world. She was the schoolyard’s Lil’ Kim, known for blurting profanity and spitting lines off Hard Core, specifically “Dreams,” a song about being pleasured by ’90s R&B singers

Doing hood rat things was part of Jhené and her best friend Tynetta’s agenda. In fourth grade, they took a midnight Metrolink bus ride to Compton—“I told everyone about it. I felt so brave,” says Jhené. She gradually smartened up and later realized she was a lightweight after downing a whole bottle of brandy with two friends while one of their moms weren’t home. She woke up to vomit in the sheets. “I just remember having a ridiculous conversation, being loud,” says Jhené. “I probably had a hangover for the next two days. Until this day, I can't drink brandy.”

In between being a public school terror, Jhené discovered music. A turning point came in second grade, when she performed 702’s “I Still Love You” at a talent show with friends. “That was the first time that people heard me sing and they were like, ‘Oh, you should be a singer when you grow up,’" she says. “From that point on, I started singing every day and practicing.”

Writing was another outlet. Her first piece was a rap, co-written by her mother. “There was something special about her observations in her writing exercises,” says her mom, Christina Yamamoto. “She was in the fourth or fifth grade and she wrote a poem about a woman that nobody really notices.” Jhené took note of everything: from her cramped environment to her brother’s losing battle to cancer. “I was around a lot of noise and chaos. Everything—the noise, the lights—would bother me,” says Jhené. “I always tried to go somewhere quiet.”

The mischief only lasted through high school. Music eventually became her focus. Her dad, a doctor, was also a self-taught musician with a studio in the garage (her parents divorced when she was eight). Her mom co-managed her sisters’ R&B group Gyrl, which also included her big sis Mila J
Initially, Jhené was just the kid sister who could parrot their songs to them and memorize verses from 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G. and Brandy. Jhené credits the latter as her invisible voice coach. At 12, she landed her own deal with Epic/ The Ultimate Group (T.U.G.) Records, which housed a 16-year-old Omarion and Marques Houston). Here, she played B2K's hook girl. Throwaway records from her past—like the 2002 record “Dog,” a bonus cut from B2K’s Pandemonium—show the sassy yet sweet side that’s become her M.O. (Sidebar: Lil’ Fizz appears on the track, rapping, “I’m the Jay Z of my generation.”) Jhené recalls being assertive even then, pushing back on a video director over his choice of footwear. “For my first video, the director was like, ‘She needs to wear heels to make her tall,’ and I’m like ‘No, I’m not tall!’” she says. (She ended up wearing the Converse heels. They were comfortable.) “When I was younger, I thought that I had to do that,” she argues

Being marketed as Fizz’s cousin and controversy around T.U.G. CEO Chris Stokes (those abuse rumors) didn't make for the ideal career path. So Jhené broke away at 16 and enrolled in independent studies, finishing high school and taking college courses at the same time while pregnant. Her mental growth spurt came at 20, when she gave birth to her daughter, Namiko Love. Since she and her daughter’s father, O’Ryan, weren’t together, Jhené house-hopped from her grandma’s to renting a room at her friend’s mom’s place, either sleeping on a futon or the floor. She matured quickly. “I felt like an old woman trapped in a child’s body. I realized how much responsibility I had,” says Jhené. “Little things like going to the store to get toilet paper or dishrags makes you realize that you’re an adult.”

The independence was an extension of her younger years, when she used to shrug off her mother’s assistance—“I would rather risk falling off the counter, because I didn’t want to have to ask anyone for help,” says Jhené. Any cynical label head will tell you that juggling single motherhood with two jobs is a tough blueprint for success

Omarion remembers impromptu jam sessions with a very pregnant Jhené and his brother in the neighborhood party place Purple Room at their L.A. home on Crest. “The labels were trying to make her into the next whoever. Naturally, they want to support something that they feel like they can sell,” he says. “Artists are put in positions where they have to follow suit and eventually that little voice inside can’t hide. Fans gravitate towards her energy, her vibe and her effortless tones. To see her now, it’s really who Jhené is.”

Still, it’s Jhené’s maternal nature, on wax and off, that has made her a genuine source of comfort for fans. “Just like Jhené and I are both mothers, so are half of the women in America,” says singer Monica, who had her first of three children at 24. “It strengthens your connection with your audience. They get that chance not to just look at you like an artist, but realize that we’re so much like them.”

F-bombs are flying on-stage at the Gobi tent at Coachella. During her first show, Jhené brought out Childish Gambino and Drake. For this second act, fittingly on 4/20, she’s repping the West Side. L.A. rapper Kurupt does a live rendition of his Snoop Dogg smash, “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None).” Jhené has no problem playing hype woman, bouncing around to Dr. Dre’s G-funk beat. Andre 3000 is in the audience. But the real scene-stealer is Jhené’s five-year-old daughter, Namiko, who helps momma with hook duty for “The Worst.” Jhené later Instagrams a photo of the two walking off stage, hand in hand

The all-access pass Jhené provides fans has made her one of them, as opposed to an untouchable artist with a navy or hive behind her. Her daily entourage consists of her two pre-fame best friends, Krissy Namaze and Arielle Vavasseur, her manager, Taz, and Miyoko, who are regulars on her Instagram photo map (now followed by 1.3 million). Unfiltered selfies and photos of Nami also rake in the double taps. When her older brother Miyagi died from brain cancer, she released a tear-soaked ode called “For My Brother.”

Jhené still occupies that space between anonymous and famous. And her major-label debut, Souled Out, continues to be a waiting game (it’s scheduled for an August release). There’s a possibility that she’ll create an accompanying film, inspired by the Walt Disney biopic, Saving Mr. Banks. “I want to incorporate elements from the story of Christ and Buddha and my story. You know, add some fantasy to it,” she says back at the restaurant. She’s wrapping up her unfinished meal, including her sister’s ginger-carrot concoction

Yes, this vision board for her album sounds like Pixar meets Intro To Philosophy. It’s a weird yet whimsical life view that proves she’s at ease with not knowing all the answers, and being a little quirky in the process. “I will never rush anything just to say I’m 28 with seven albums. One or a few of those albums will be crap,” she says, likening her project to a sequel of sailing soul(s), with happier songs, fewer rap collabos and more spiritual healing. “This album, from top to bottom, sounds like you’re on a journey. Once you get to the last songs with my daughter, the songs where I’m talking about what life means,” she says, “it’s just enlightenment.”

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