At the age of just 25, Jhené Aiko has already spent more than a decade in the music industry. Far removed from her early days working under the B2K umbrella, she’s stepped out on her own over the past few years with a highly acclaimed mixtape, Sailing Souls, features on projects with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q, and a new record deal with Def Jam under No ID’s Artium Records imprint. And with the summer kicking into full swing, she’s been featured on tracks from some of the biggest projects of the season—J. Cole’s “Sparks Will Fly,” a bonus cut off the deluxe edition of Born Sinner, and Big Sean’s “Beware,” which also features Lil Wayne, the first single off Sean’s upcoming Hall Of Fame album slated for August 27th.
“[Big Sean] worked out of No ID’s studio, so the first time I met him…he just came over and played [me] some stuff,” Aiko says about the duo’s collaboration during a phone conversation with XXL. “We did that song maybe last year, around the time we did ‘I’m Gonna Be’ which is on his mixtape [Detroit]. I didn’t even know it was gonna be a single until recently, and he was like ‘Yeah, we put Lil Wayne on it.’ So, I was like, yeah I’m down, you know? He’s like family at this point.”
For Aiko, her musical family keeps expanding, from Big Sean to Nipsey Hussle, from her producer No ID, to the TDE boys, a couple of whom will be appearing on her upcoming Def Jam debut, Souled Out, which is completed but has no release date. She expanded her fan base with a summer tour opening for Nas and Lauryn Hill last year, and with more features that may appear on upcoming Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q projects—”Working with them, it’s a no-brainer,” she says—the buzz is certainly building for a full-length release. But that doesn’t mean she’s in any hurry to rush her project.
“It’s a timing thing, setting everything up the right way—I’m not the type to rush just because I have this single with Sean,” she says. “Souled Out—it’s raw. I don’t do a lot of backgrounds and all the extra stuff, but it’s a commercial release, so we [are] really making sure that no one can complain about anything on this album—musically, lyrically, vocally. That’s why we’re taking so much time, so that it can just be an all around good piece of art.”
With so many high-profile tracks getting buzz, Aiko spoke with XXL and outlined her dream mixtape—five rappers she’d love to work with in the future. See who’s on the soulstress’ wishlist.—Dan Rys (@danrys)