If there's a right time to release a long-delayed EP, it's when you're sky-high, touring the world with Drake. On Sail Out, Jhené Aiko remains on her cloud, delivering 30 minutes of alt-R&B respite from reality, displaying soothing vocals, double-entendre-laden wordplay and a knack for choosing collaborators. Bed Peace, with Childish Gambino, is a sugary-sweet standout, with Aiko's shining vocals detailing her ideal day.
Having already made a big impression in 2013 with appearances on singles from Big Sean ("Beware") and Drake ("From Time"), breathy R&B vocalist Jhené Aiko fleshes out her character on Sail Out, a relaxed debut EP that suggests that this girl is on permanent vacation. That's not a negative, but a positive, as the singer seductively slinks her way through heartbreak during the intoxicating cut "The Vapors," where sweet nothings like "Can I hit it again?" could either mean the bedroom or the bong. All the hard work Lennon and Ono did while on their backs in the '60s gets a cheeky twist when the light-stepping "Bed Peace" offers "If I had it my way, I'd roll out of bed, say, 'bout 2:30 midday/Hit the blunt, then hit you up.
Jhene Aiko has already had a storied career. When B2K posters were on the walls of teenage girls everywhere, Jhene Aiko was there—signed to the T.U.G. imprint at the age of 13. Before Kendrick Lamar was acknowledged as one of the top rappers in the game, and releases from the other members of the Black Hippy Crew were annually some of the most anticipated nationwide, Jhene was a frequent collaborator with them all.
It is easy to see the feather-voiced R&B singer Jhené Aiko in the lineage of female artists whose music hinged on the paradoxical power of vocals that felt like an outgrowth of a whisper. There is Cassie, the one-hit wonder who eventually achieved near-idol status amongst electronic producers enchanted by the icy sensuality of her music, and there is Brandy, whose voice is much richer but who nonetheless found her songs being clipped and looped by the same sort of producers (Burial, James Blake). There is someone like Ciara and, of course, there is Aaliyah, revered now like a goddess thanks to the crushing emotionality of a voice that put her far out of step with the divas of the 90s.
"Ain't nobody here, baby, let's get wasted/We should just get naked," purrs 25-year-old Jhené Aiko on "Bed Peace," her winning hip-hop-soul tribute (with Childish Gambino) to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 anti-war "bed-ins." Of course, by the time the singer-rapper adds, "Go 'head, tell your baby mama you gon' be with me tonight," the "peace" business has gotten a little complicated. It's the high point of an EP showcasing the adorable stoner flow that got the best line on Drake's last LP ("I love me enough for the both of us," on "From Time"), and it proves Aiko is more than a hook singer. If her writing is still a work in progress, it's progress that's worth watching.
Jhené Aiko isn't a powerful singer, but she makes up for it with charisma and confidence. Her Sail Out EP is intended to keep people sated until her long awaited full-length (tentatively titled Souled Out) arrives sometime next year. Given the time it took for this seven-track project to come out, expect a long wait. For her short career, Aiko has been cool to coast on her airy vocal delivery and Sail Out finds her without reasons to change it up.
Jhene Aiko isn’t the best upcoming R&B artist, but she is one of the most accessible. Much like Kendrick Lamar (a feature on Aiko’s new album, Sail Out), her persona contrasts her actions. Lamar plays the humble, everyman who’ll paradoxically show off his world-beating rhyme skill. Aiko is similar in her reserve, as her only sign of actually being the femme fatale she’s trying to be lies in her focused gaze and arched eyebrows.