It’s not the first time Aiko, 31, has explored sound bowls: Last September, she uploaded a six-minute meditation called “Trigger Protection Mantra” to Instagram. Chilombo is, however, Aiko at her most confident in the practice.
The Los Angeles-bred singer, born Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo, first gained mainstream attention with her 2011 mixtape, Sailing Souls, which she released independently. It boasted features from Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. By the end of the year, Aiko had signed a recording contract with ARTium, producer No I.D.’s Def Jam-distributed label. Her 2013 single, the piano-led “The Worst” (off the EP Sail Out), established her as a compelling new voice as she sang: “I do not depend on nothing or no one.”
When her 2014 debut full-length, Souled Out, hit Nos. 1 and 3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and the Billboard 200, respectively, Aiko cemented her place as one of R&B’s rising stars. She set herself apart from the rest with the hazy, psychedelic Trip, a surprise drop that arrived in 2017 and landed in the Billboard 200’s top five — without a publicity push.
Trip’s success helped inform the “off-cycle” streaming strategy that she and her team employ today, in which they intentionally release a new track just outside of the window when streaming platforms typically update playlists, which “is liberating from a pressurized playlisting strategy,” says Def Jam GM/executive vp Rich Isaacson. “It’s important to her that each track release is its own ecosystem. Jhené and her team feed each one with unique content strategies to prolong the life cycle, and over the course of eight to 10 to 12 months of steady consumption, she racks up really impressive numbers.”
Even without maximizing a track’s immediate exposure on streaming services, the three singles already released from Chilombo — which finds middle ground between her early, more traditionally styled R&B with the atmospheric sounds of Trip — have collectively garnered 363 million streams, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. It doesn’t hurt that the first two singles before “P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)” fueled speculation over Aiko’s relationship status with on-again-off-again partner Big Sean. Lead single “Triggered” arrived last May and offered a gripping take on how bad habits in previous relationships tarnished Aiko’s outlook on love, leaving fans to assume that she was trashing the rapper. It became her highest-charting Hot R&B Songs solo hit, landing at No. 3; six months later, she upended expectations with her Big Sean collaboration “None of Your Concern.” Elsewhere, Aiko enlists Future and Miguel on the savory “H.O.E. (Happiness Is Everything),” and on the sobering “10K Hours,” featuring Nas, she seeks peace and restoration.
Aiko, who will head out on tour this May, believes the notion of the phrase “none of your concern,” in particular, extends well beyond her love life, saying that self-discovery played a crucial role in the creation of Chilombo, for which she trekked to Hawaii to record. It was there that she decided to turn her last name into the album title. “ ‘Chilombo’ is a word that means ‘wild beast’ — they’re strong, confident and graceful,” she says. “Beasts are also beautiful.”
She likens herself to the many active volcanoes that surrounded her while she recorded on the Big Island, saying: “In a sense, I am like a volcano, and this album is an eruption. It starts with ‘Triggered,’ and there’s a lava flow with all these songs where it’s a free-flowing jam session. And then it settled — and it became this beautiful land where there’s new life.”