Some wonderfully weird Jhene AIko fan art made by @MyLisaHeaux.
This past Sunday, I was given seven minutes to sit down with Jhene Aiko before she headlined the awesome Manifesto Festival in Toronto. Jhene performed outdoors at our city’s version of Times Square or Picadilly Circus—the plainly titled Yonge and Dundas Square—and for a performer without a major LP release under her belt she packed the space. You can even watch her entire set right over here.
Anyway, this is a big week for Jhene. She’s one of the only features on Nothing Was the Same, that new Drake album that’s rightfully dominating every pocket of conversation in pop culture, so I figured now is as good a time as ever to figure out exactly who she is in the tight timeline I was given.
So here’s how it went.
Noisey: I don’t know how well this is going to go because we only have seven minutes but uh…
Jhene: Okay, okay I’ll talk fast! I’ll keep ‘em short.
Ok so I was reading your Wikipedia article, and one of the things that stuck out to me was how your original record label made you pretend you were cousins with Lil’ Fizz from B2K. That’s pretty odd. You wouldn’t see a label try and pull that shit today. How was that experience?
Well we were close, because we grew up together, so it was a thing where it was like “you guys are play cousins.” But now I’m older and really into being myself and telling the truth—I’m glad I’ve moved past that type of stuff.
I would never do something like that again. I really believe in being honest with my fans and being honest with myself, so I’m glad that it’s over.
Yeah and that was eleven years ago, but you’re only 25. So this has been your life forever basically. What’s it like to grow up in the entertainment industry?
I decided to finish school, because I had been doing the entertainment thing as a child and saw that I was getting behind in my schoolwork. I’ve always loved school and I’ve loved learning, so I took my time. I took a few years off of music, but was still recording. I’ve always been writing and I’ve always loved poetry. I had a daughter, and when she was one and a half I did the Sailing Souls mixtape—and that whole journey has lead up to this point.
Cool. And how did meeting No ID put you on another level?
When I met him I didn’t really know what it was for. I thought he wanted to do production for me, but he was actually asking if I was down to be his first signee to Def Jam when he took his position. I was wary of doing a label thing because of my previous experience—what I had dealt with before—but he made me feel really comfortable. He’s a creative person.
So he didn’t make you fake any cousins?
Exactly. He was like: ‘we can take as much or as little time as you want; it’s up to you. However you want it to sound, however you want it to be.’ He saw the vision. And I wanted to be a part of it.
Here's what the Drake and Jhene song sounds like as if you didn't already know.
You’ve already had so many awesome collaborations, who are you still looking to work with?
Kid Cudi and John Mayer are my dream collaborations. Eminem—because I grew up on him. He’s one of the main reasons I got into rap. Those are the top three.
What’s your favorite Eminem line?
Oh my gosh! My favorite Eminem line would probably be something from ‘The Way I Am” [Jhene starts rapping] ‘I am whatever you say I am/in the paper, the news, everyday I am.’
But that’s a really hard question because I love literally the whole Marshall Mathers LP. I studied the words, even though the words were in the booklet, I would write them out because I just loved how he puts words together and, yeah—I love him.
Really? Listening to “Kim” as a girl in the sixth grade must have been kinda weird.
No! I had an older brother who was two years older than me and he loved Eminem, so we would just listen to him together, and I don’t know, we were going through teenage angst I guess because Eminem was our go-to. When we were angry we would just put on “Kim” and blast it and just shout the lyrics like crazy kids.
That’s pretty awesome. I heard you’re into meditation. So in comparison to blasting “Kim,” what does meditating do for you that the Marshall Mathers LP can’t?
It brings me back to my senses. It keeps me calm. I like to say I have a good balance between my spiritual side and my crazy, out of my mind side. Meditation helps bring me back and keeps me from acting out on any of the craziness that’s going on in my head.
When you do act out on your craziness, what do you do?
I write. And I make a song, or write a line that’s a little disrespectful or I’ll say a cuss word on a record here and there, a few fucks and shits and all of that, but for the most part that’s why I meditate. I don’t ever want to put that out in the universe. Even though I have crazy thoughts and all that, what’s really important are your actions and that’s how I keep from acting out on those things. Meditation.
Great. Ok some guy is waving at me to leave. Last question. What is your favorite story from touring with Nas and Lauryn Hill?
That was a new crowd for me, a lot of older people come to see Nas and Lauryn Hill because they’re legends and they’ve been doing it for so long. One night,I don’t even remember what city we were in, but the crowd was full of men, crazy hardcore hip-hop fans.
Everyone who had seen the crowd was like, ‘I don’t know, we’re going to have to cut the set short because I don’t know how they’re going to respond to you.’ And after the first song I could see everyone in the crowd like, ok, and by the end of my set they were completely into it and clapping and shouting. That was the moment where I was like, ‘I can win over crowds. There’s no crowd that I can’t perform in front of.’
That’s the goal. To win over any crowd. That was a good moment.
Cool, I have to go. Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you! Thanks.
You can tweet at Patrick on Twitter if you want to do that: @patrickmcguire