Jhene Aiko, her agent and her manager are huddled together on a recent afternoon going over upcoming gigs for the buzzing alternative-R&B star.
The women discuss potential opening acts, production logistics, collaboration requests, whether or not she can make time for Coachella -- her set last year was a highlight and she may pop up as a surprise guest this year -- and fitting in a vacation to the Himalayas around rehearsals and
In 2010 she began collaborating with Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster of rappers and appeared on early mixtapes from L.A. rappers Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, before each had their own breakout moment. Her 2011 mixtape, “Sailing Soul(s)” led to a deal with hip-hop producer No I.D. (Kanye West,
“Knowing that more people are listening, I only want to be progressive. I only want to grow,” she said. “The extra attention validates my reason to want to do more with the music. I want to be consistent and remain myself -- being myself got me nominated, so I guess I’m going to stick with that.”
Being able to float between R&B and rap allowed her to become a hip-hop “it girl,” offering sultry, expressive hooks on singles from
Her EP was a Top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 and featured Aiko’s first big hit, “The Worst,” a mainstay on urban radio (and a nominee for R&B song). That preceded her years-in-the-making full-length “Souled Out,” which debuted at No. 3 when it was released in September. And she’s already at work on new music.
“The album that I put out last year, all those songs I had been working on for so long, it’s old to me now,” Aiko said. “I’m in a different place now with my writing and my singing. Everything has progressed and that’s what I always want to do. Everything should trump the last thing.”
Later, Aiko retreated to a studio room. Her engineer played part of a track she may lend a vocal to for a remix (the collaboration could introduce her to a wider audience). She pulled out a pad of paper and began humming a melody and writing lyrics.
"Even though I've been doing this since I was 13, I feel like this is the first time that I'm in it and 100% focused," she admitted. "It's all working for me, so I need to work for it."