As critics and purveyors of the art forms, the gesture of offering readers a comparison to another author for the sake of clarity seems to have become an innate part of describing the craft of any artist. Although there’s truth in the ideal that comparisons assist in painting portraits of musicians for the uninformed, in the case of Jhené Aiko, it’s comparisons that have somewhat confusingly lauded her in with collaborators and contemporaries that – for the most part – are quite dissimilar. Whilst one may indeed be able to carve out hollow similarities between herself and say, Drake – the quotability of lines such as “have you seen my fucks to give?” make them prime lyrical fodder for social media driven teenagers feeling some type of way – to do so formulates a skewed perception of Aiko’s artistry, unjustly clouding her own personal merits behind the definitive traits of others.
The most glaring reason that comparisons prove to be such unnecessary descriptors in relation to Aiko’s debut album Souled Out is because, as a body of work, it’s comprised of all the attributes that make her such a unique figure within the field of contemporary R&B. Patented with her distinctive rhythmic vocal patterns and her free-form brand of lyricism that eloquently drifts the aether between conversational and spiritual, Souled Out steers strictly close to Aiko’s signature characteristics – and yet it manages to do so without ever traversing stale or uninteresting waters. Her musical essence even seeps into the album’s production – largely handled by No I.D. – which is stylistically curated to match Aiko’s unrestricted stream of consciousness throughout each track, whether it be the encompassing ethereal pads that engulf ‘Limbo Limbo Limbo’ or the breezy acoustic vibes that flutter through ‘Spotless Mind’. It’s everything a first album should be – an accurate portrayal of what makes its creator such a imaginative and intriguing individual, from their perspective.
Culminating with ‘Pretty Bird (Freestyle)’ – a song that bursts with unbridled emotion and spontaneous momentum – Souled Out serves as a blinding indication that Aiko stands alone as the most untameable and thought-provoking modern day trailblazer of her genre.