Jhené Aiko‘s songs are intimate conversations, which have flourished since the release of her 2011 mixtape Sailing Soul(s). Her vocals are lithe enough to seduce, while her sharp lyricism and wordplay are tools to knife through a man’s crap.
On Aiko’s major label debut, Souled Out, the cuts run deep, searing with spite and indifference. Often, she’s calling a love interest out on his missteps. Even more, she looks inward, chronicling her wearisome romantic history. The bulk of the 12-song set is delivered in a quiet fashion, in the way the emotionless speak when their well’s run dry.
Souled Out is an insular album, not meant to spill from nightclub speakers or queued up on playlists at house parties. It’s ‘party of one’ music to overthink with and lines to quote when angry at a significant other–the soundtrack for hard times.
Check out Billboard’s track-by-track breakdown of Jhené Aiko’s Souled Out.
“Limbo Limbo Limbo”
Over twinkling keys and tumbling drums, Aiko veers towards a guy that has got too big for his britches. He once was a man that, “set aside all your extra pride,” she recalls.
Short for “Why Aren’t You Smiling?” “W.A.Y.S.” features an angel assuring Aiko that her future’s bright, and shakes off negative thoughts. “You have got to trust the signs,” she coos. “I gotta keep going,” she later sings several times over, as if pulling herself out of an emotional rut.
“To Love and Die” (feat. Cocaine 80s)
On this No I.D.-produced cut, Aiko sings of a lover she won’t quit on. After running through a few lines from 50 Cent‘s “Many Men,” she sings, “‘Cause I’m just a prisoner of your army of one/ But I’ll fight till the death or until your heart is won.” Singer-songwriter James Fauntleroy woos with backing vocals, filling out the hearty track.
Gliding along a chill guitar riff, Jhené Aiko sings of the transitions she’s made in her life as a wanderer. “Shame on me for changing,” she says to an old friend before confidently correcting herself. “Shame on you for staying the same.”
After meeting an amazing guy during a troubled time in her life, Jhené Aiko is all in. It didn’t start off as much, though. “And I’m not even gonna front/ At first I was just tryna fuck,” she admits frankly. “But you have got me so in love.”
Clearly ticked about how a guy has been treating her, Aiko knocks him and points to his parents for not equipping him with the tools to love. “Mr Serial Lover/ I wish your mother loved you like I could’ve,” she starts. “That way you would’ve known how to love a woman.”
On this dreamy song, Aiko paints the picture of what could potentially be a man’s nightmare: watching the girl he wants drift away because he’s afraid to step up and be great. “Should I be wading for you,” she asks. It appears Aiko is about to leave the guy at shore: “Don’t keep me waiting.”
Here Aiko deals with a relationship that reaches its end after one too many lies are told. “Major weed smoke in the air/ Pass it like you just don’t care/ Have you seen my fucks to give?” she asks coldly. “I have none.”
Jhene Aiko admires a guy for the bravery it takes to love her, a woman with “scars on my heart.” “If you decide to stay, know that there is no escape,” she warns him. “There’s no one here to save you.”
With pattering piano keys leading the way, Aiko looks back, thinking, “I’ve lived well/ Maybe I have made mistakes and been through my fair share of pain/ But all in all, it’s been okay.” As the album nears its end, it seems like she is finally cracking a smile.
Jhene Aiko opens this thoughtful cut with a verse about her child Namiko (heard in the background and on the hook) and the difficulties of raising her as a mom who’s also an entertainer. It’s a straight-up mommy-daughter conversation. The next verse, though, is dedicated to her brother Miyagi, who died of cancer a few years back. She admits that the combination of missing him and feeling as if she couldn’t go on without him led her to suicidal thoughts. But he sends her cautionary messages: “But then I hear you say that I better not do nothing crazy/ ‘Cause Nami’ really needs you.”
“Pretty Bird” (feat. Common)
Aiko wraps up the album with encouragement, telling those who are down and out that “there’s a blinding light inside of you/ And they can not deny you.” Common gets the last verse of the album: a spoken word where he says birds (or people) that have been “ripped apart and get put back together” are “the ones with the most beautiful feathers.” The solid ending to Souled Out is a simple message: endure.