Jhene Aiko stands around 5 feet tall and weighs perhaps as much as a decaf macchiato; the 2015 Cadillac Escalade stretches 18-and-a-half feet and tips the scales at nearly 6,000 pounds. Right now, the buzz-building singer-rapper - she has performed with her friend Drake on Saturday Night Live and with John Legend at the BET Awards; in September she'll release "Souled Out," her debut album - is piloting the massive Caddie oceanside in the L.A. neighborhood of Marina del Rey, purring a melody.
"The car drives really smooth - it definitely doesn't feel as big as it looks on the outside," she says from the front seat, looking like Fay Wray wrapped in King Kong's fist. "It doesn't pick up speed like my BMW" - a 4 series she selected after her Prius was totaled in an accident (she wasn't driving it at the time) - "but it doesn't feel as heavy as I thought it would."
The Escalade has a long - and for Cadillac, extremely profitable - relationship with urban artists. Starting with the Escalade's second generation in 2002, which introduced the SUV's distinctive slanted prow, the many rappers who have featured the Escalade in videos or name-checked it in lyrics include Big Tymers, Lil' Kim, Nelly, Kayne West, Outkast, Ludacris, Jay Z, The Game, 50 Cent, Usher and Ja Rule. Hip-hop's embrace of the Escalade and its effect on sales (in 2006 alone, more than 62,000 of the high-margin brutes were sold) worked like a pair of defibrillator paddles on Cadillac's wheezing corporate corpus. The 2015 Escalade that Aiko steers with her slender hands represents a stem-to-stern reboot that boasts an even more aggressive fascia. It features stacked LED headlights, a 6.2 liter V-8 engine with 20 more horses than its predecessor and a refurbished interior bristling with technology, including a heads-up display, five USB ports, 4G LTE wireless connectivity and automatic braking when the car perceives an imminent collision. Triple-sealed doors, double-paned glass and active noise cancellation lend the impression of driving a leather-lined bank vault.