Jhene Aiko’s debut album “Souled Out” was released on September 9. She has become something of a cult obsession in R&B this decade. Her musical styling often compared to the late Aaliyah, has made her a favorite of rapper Drake, who is in love with the late singer.
After two prior releases, an EP and mixtape, the singer finally delivers a full length album. “Souled Out” is certainly cohesive, not straying away from her signature sound but at times unvaried.
Aiko is the queen of whispery lost love tracks. Some of her best work has been with prominent rappers like Lil Wayne and Big Sean. She’s still discovering herself as a solo artist and has decided to keep the features on “Souled Out” to a minimum. One of the highlights on this album is the closing track “Pretty Bird” which features rapper Common. It’s a delightful collaboration that flows well with Aiko’s spoken-word style R&B.
Aiko is great at writing memorable, repetitious lyrics that hook her listener in. On the song “W.A.Y.S” she repeats the line “gotta keep going” for the majority of the song. While this works for this track those same two or three word phrases she may decide to use on each track on the album make the record monotonous at times.
“The Pressure” Video
Aiko’s unique tone is what carries her on this album. It’s not a powerful voice but it is at times intriguing. How she uses her light voice on these tracks is what has made her a rising star in R&B today.
This album is surely going to have some listeners in their feelings. While the singer isn’t as soulful as she lets on, her lyrics are certainly impassioned at times. Staunch fans of the singer are able to appreciate the singers sensitive delivery, but a broader audience may have to warm up to it as it can come across as humdrum.
The majority of the album is produced by Kanye West’s former mentor No I.D. and the majority of it is written by Aiko and a small group of collaborators. The handful of people she’s worked with on this album is a testament to her loyalty to keep to her own specific sound, but may it not will her a sure-fire hit single as she’s opted to stay away from bigger name producers.
Aiko is the singer your cool, hip friends have always known about, but if she’s ready to break into the top tier of R&B a greater diversity in her sound would be a great step to make. Jhene has a similar laid back approach as her R&B peers Solange or Frank Ocean. Solange featured Aiko on her collaboration album “Saint Heron”, but where Solange or Frank offer a little more grit and variety, Aiko may lack.
“Souled Out” is cohesive and its tracks blend while taking listeners on a cosmic journey. The sound of the album is at times acute, airy and it leaves you feeling like you’re in an emotional deep-sea. Aiko has to come up for air though and command a little more of a presence on her own tracks or else she will sink.
Standout Tracks: “Pretty Bird (Freestyle),” “Spotless Mind,” and “The Pressure”
Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars