This year, Billboard and Ford have teamed up to bring you a stellar run of intimate experiences with Ford Front Row. So far, Los Angeles saw R&B star Tinashe entice the crowd and in Miami, it was Dashboard Confessional who rocked the house. This month the headliner is the soulful Jhené Aiko at the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta on September 25. We caught up with the LA native in advance of the show to talk about breaking into the industry and her upcoming plans.
Hey Jhené, what do you love about playing Atlanta?
Jhené Aiko: “It’s always an open, great crowd. When I was younger I recorded in Atlanta for three weeks and we drove around these landmarks, eating all the great food. I was surprised by all the greenery. It felt familiar to me. Even people would be like, ‘Are you from Atlanta?!’”
Let’s rewind back to the beginning. When did you realize you were gifted?
“When I was in elementary school my sisters were in a group. Everything they did I wanted to do. I would sing along. I did a talent show in the second grade and sang a song by 702. I knew it was something I was good at but my true passion was always my writing. I fell in love with writing when I learned how to read.”
When was your first break?
“When I was 12 I signed my first deal with Sony Epic. Growing up in LA the opportunities were there. My older siblings were involved in the business. It was something I fell into. I was going through the motions, recording songs, but there wasn’t any passion involved. When I was 16 I decided to focus on finishing high school. I went to community college, took English classes. I was diving into writing, poetry, short stories.”
“I was 20 and I got pregnant. I started working on my mixtape and decided to buckle down, so quit my waitressing job. From that point on I was really passionate about creating music. Being creative wasn’t the problem, the drive was. My daughter’s imagination inspires my imagination.”
How important is it for you to be as involved behind-the-scenes as it is for you to be an artist?
“It’s so important to have a grip on it all. Everything I write is super personal. It’s my vision. When I was younger I felt like I had to be super nice and listen to everyone but as I got older I didn’t wanna settle. There’s this thing where women are ‘bossy’ if they’re doing that. But no. I’m going to take control. Women have to go harder than men because of that. We have to raise our voice a little louder.”
You’re working on a new project you’ve referenced as “The Map,” right?
“Yes! I’ve been working on it for five years. It’s an acronym. M, A and P all stand for something. It’s about a journey of self-discovery. It’s definitely the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done.”
Finally, when was the last time a gig felt super intimate to you?
“My first John Mayer show. I was going through a crazy thing with a boy at the time. He talks a lot in between songs and he was talking about love. It was from the heart. I remember crying. Ever since that show I’ve made sure that I bring that to my shows. I’m not about trying to impress. It’s more therapy for me. Even though that show was in an amphitheater it felt like he was connecting with every one of us.”