Souled Out is Jhene Aiko's debut studio album that was released on September 9, 2014 by ArtClub, ARTium and Def Jam Records.
- Limbo Limbo Limbo 4:19
- W.A.Y.S. 3:59
- To Love & Die 3:23
- Spotless Mind (featuring Cocaine 80s) 4:29
- It's Cool 3:55
- Lyin King 3:33
- Wading 4:36
- The Pressure 3:58
- Brave 3:52
- Eternal Sunshine 3:31
- Promises (featuring Miyagi and Namiko) 4:57
- Pretty Bird (Freestyle) (featuring Common) 4:50
Deluxe edition tracks
- Remember 3:18
- Blue Dream 3:36
In 2003, Jhene Aiko released a video for her debut single, "NO L.O.V.E", when she was 15 years old. She was set to release her debut album, then-titled "My Name Is Jhené." However, the album was never released due to tension at the record label Epic, which ultimately led to Aiko asking to be released from the label.
After that, Aiko began to focus on school and continue her education. Following the birth of her daughter, Namiko, she began to make her return to music in 2008 and began meeting with labels.
In 2011, she released her debut mixtape "Sailing Soul(s)" which was received well by critics and was certified Gold by mixtape-sharing website DatPiff, for downloads of 100,000.
In 2012, Aiko met with No I.D., record producer and vice president of A&R at Def Jam, who ended up signing her to his ARTium Recordings imprint through Def Jam.
Following Aiko's signing to the label, she released her debut extended play "Sail Out" in 2013; the EP was met with positive reviews from critics and debuted at #8 on the Billboard 200, with first week sales of 34,000 copies in the United States.
Recording & Writing
Aiko stated that she was working on the album every day either recording or writing, but is taking her time as she doesn't want "to put out some nonsense."
During the album's recording Aiko set up workshops in which she and the producers would talk about the songs in order to create a cohesive sound and the belief that the music is "from one artist and this culmination of minds that share the same vision".
In April of 2014, Aiko began recording her interviews in order to put something together to show her fan base the process of the album and "the work that went into it, and little random things".
During the recording process of the album, she would write music while under the influence of cannabis in order to use the feeling as inspiration, and then record the song when she was sober (unlike her debut mixtape which she wrote and recorded under the influence).
During the recording of the album Aiko opted to freestyle when writing the album, she would have a beat or would sit with producers and she would sing a melody until she had words, she described the process as not having a lot wrote down and any writing that was done, was done to make sure the songs made sense.
On average, Aiko was writing and recording four songs a month. In February, she stated that she was going to write and record at least ten more songs; she also said she had enough material for an album but would continue to record.
Aiko did a large proportion of studio sessions with her daughter in which she would record and sing directly at her daughter, as well as writing verses about her late brother, Miyagi.
Aiko described "Spotless Mind" as being the easiest song to write; the song was written while touring with Lauryn Hill and Nas in 45 minutes using GarageBand. She also revealed that "Eternal Sunshine" and "Spotless Mind" titles were inspired by the 2004 film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
During the recording of the album, Aiko released her debut extended play using some of the material she has intended for her debut. In June 2014, she revealed that only Cocaine 80s and her daughter Namiko would feature on the album.
During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Aiko revealed the recording process for "Promise" and having her daughter as a guest feature: "I practice my songs in the car, and she's usually in the back seat, so she knows them", continuing to say, "I brought her in the studio and said, 'Remember that song we've been singing?' and recorded the song from there".
Aiko began working with Dot da Genius after meeting in 2012; upon their meeting Aiko initially had no intention to record, however, she had a song that fit "perfectly" with one of his tracks. Aiko also worked with producer Key Wane.
In October of 2012 (after performing at SOB's in New York City), Aiko revealed that she was recording the project with No I.D. and other members of Cocaine 80's. During the album's production, she wanted to work with a variety of artists including Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul.
Aiko revealed that she had been sent many songs for her debut, saying, "I've been getting so many tracks lately and I'm not used to that. I’m used to just having a handful to work with but now that the label (Def Jam) is involved, they're sending me so much great stuff and I've just been writing and writing and writing!"
In 2014, Aiko revealed she worked with No I.D., Key Wane, Fisticuffs and Dot da Genius and stated she would only be working with them so the sound was cohesive; she also revealed that her and the producers were working together in order to "make sure each song goes well with the other".
During the album's production, Aiko embarked on creating a more "intricate" sound with the use of live instruments.
In November of 2013, during an interview with Vice, she stated that the album's production was done and all that was needed was finished touches and mixing; she also revealed that she would still continue to record new material.
An alternative R&B album, "Souled Out" explores a variety of genres including psychedelic music, classic R&B and hip hop music.
Described by Erin Lowers from XXL, the album is an alternative R&B album, described as being created with the use of heavily used synthesizers and "wooly drum loops". Lowers said the album's genre is caught in a "revolutionized limbo".
The album's songs blend the neo soul, hip hop and electronica genres into downbeat, loosely structured soundscapes according to Julia Leconte of Now.
Siyabonga Dube of News24 described "Souled Out" as being a combination of "diverse" sounds and genres, noting the incorporation of hip hop, R&B, alternative, and elements of electronic, describing the album's genre as being a "new age of music".
Bradley Stern of Time compared the album's musical style to the work of Sade, calling the album's genre "future R&B"; Stern also compared "Souled Out" to the work of The Weeknd, Tinashe and FKA Twigs.
The album's production has been characterized as being expansive, endearing, and enigmatic.
Troy L. Smith of The Plain Dealer called the album's production one of the "strongest points", noting its electronic guitar sounds, synths, drums and atmospheric noises.
Lowers described the album's production as being "silky psychedelic", channeling spaced out melodies and hypnotic synths.
Stern noted the album's production as having stretches of instrumentation that contain slow-burning and "honey-soaked" melodies, flowing from start to finish, comparative to a "modern meditative chant".
According to Rick Florino of Artistdirect, Aiko sings with a soulful delivery and raw emotionality throughout the album. Her vocals were described as fusing "perfectly" with the album's production, in which they float over the album's beats creating a "luminous aura".
Other critics compared Aiko's vocals to that of Aaliyah's noting a similar falsetto and Aiko's ability to "convey a sultry innocence" with her voice.
Dana Moran of RedEye described Aiko's voice as "velvety", continuing to call her vocals "husky and sleek, guarded and seductive".
Andy Kellman of AllMusic described Aiko's vocals as being seductive, noting Aiko's wistful tones on songs like "Eternal Sunshine" and "Spotless Mind", as well as her injections of sharp and contrasting "melodrama" on "To Love & Die" with only minor variations in her tone.
"Souled Out" is a concept album that goes through an evolution, something Aiko described as a "path".
The album tells the story of a woman going through heartbreak, confusion, and being in a dark place before becoming enlightened and growing. She stated the album's lyrical content revolves around relationships, life lessons, philosophies and truths.
The album also touches upon vulnerable insights of Aiko's personal life such as her fears as a single parent and the death of her brother Miyagi.
In an in-depth review of the album's lyrics Ken Capobianco of The Boston Globe wrote: "The set is smartly conceived with a finely calibrated continuity as her songs reflect a young woman in search of life's foundations; through 14 tracks she traces the vicissitudes of love, journeying from promise through hurt into hope. Aiko's producers, including No I.D. and Dot da Genius, create expansive, inventive tracks that mirror the allure of her lithe vocals and intimate phrasing. Aiko demonstrates remarkable honesty and confidence. The songs are often grounded in frank sexuality, and filled with healthy contradictions as she navigates her way to the wonder."
Brad Wete of Billboard called the album's lyrical style sharp and noted its wordplay; Wete also described the album as "insular" with lyrics containing "cuts" that "run deep, searing with spite and indifference", continuing to note the album's themes as revolving around love interests, inward thinking and "chronicling her wearisome romantic history."
Erin Lowers from XXL noted relationships, dreams, and aspirations as the three main concepts layered throughout the album.
Bradley Stern from Time, called the album's lyrical content "occasionally snappy", which he described as keeping the otherwise "gentle pulsations" of the album feeling "fresh" and "employing expressions".
The album opens with "Limbo Limbo Limbo", built over "twinkling keys and tumbling drums"; the song's lyrics revolve around a man who "has got too big for his britches."
"W.A.Y.S." is an acronym for Aiko's later brothers Miyagi's favorite saying, "Why Aren't You Smiling?". The song is built over crashing sounds over a hip hop production and contains underlying string instruments and echoed drumbeats, with lyrics that speak about Aiko having a "bright future" and for her to shake "off negative thoughts."
"To Love & Die" is a contemporary R&B song with an "atmospheric" and "sparse" production and R&B "textures." Built over a "dark and melodic" production that contains "tripping drum loops and hypnotic, spacey synthesisers." The song also interpolates American rapper 50 Cent's 2003 cult classic song "Many Men (Wish Death)." Lyrically, the song revolves around love and affection.
"Spotless Mind" is a "smooth" track built over a "chill beat" and contains an "island vibe". The song is predominately an R&B track that is backed by a "funky bass, gentle rhythm and acoustic guitars" inspired by soft rock. Lyrically, Aiko wanders into a reverie, in which she discusses different love and mental rest stops that she's visited.
"It's Cool" is a breezy R&B track that contains bluesy riff and instrumentals and lyrically describes Aiko developing love for a man who was initially just a physical interest.
"Lyin King" contains a fluid production, built over synths, the track is a bass-heavy song with lyrics directed to an ex-lover. The song uses the metaphor of a lion to emphasise the "pain she feels, saying he steals hearts and feeds them to his pride."
"Wading" is a mid tempo song, with a "dreamy" production. Lyrically, Aiko speaks on the idea of a man watching the girl he wants drift away because he's afraid to step up and be great.
During the song, Aiko samples a Tupac verse and turns it into a metaphor for "losing her love", during the end of the song "Wading" becomes ambient and Aiko's voice echoes and fades out.
"The Pressure" is an alternative R&B song built over a hip-hop production, containing guitars and synths, and backed by "metallic slaps and a shaky beat." Lyrically the song was inspired by the Aiko's stress of finishing her debut album.
"Brave" is a hip hop song backed by a surf guitar. The song is built around inflections of a horn, which was compared to the work of Sade. The song's lyrics are "dark", in which Aiko describes the danger of loving who she is.
"Eternal Sunshine" is backed by a "hypnotic piano riff".
"Promises" is produced by mentor No I.D. and features Aiko's daughter Namiko performing part of the hook. Lyrically, it is a message to Aiko's daughter and late brother. The song contains an electric guitar infused backdrop provided by Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp; the song also features vocals from her late brother.
The album closes with "Pretty Bird" which features American rapper Common, making it the second time the pair have worked together after Aiko previously featured on "Black Majik" from his 2014 album, "Nobody's Smiling."
Described as a pop rap song, Erin Lowers of XXL called the song "dynamic" and compared it to Nina Simone's "Blackbird"; lyrically "Pretty Bird" sees Aiko singing about the troubles she's faced to get here.
The standard deluxe edition of the album contains two bonus tracks, "Remember" and "Blue Dream".
"Blue Dream" was initially released in March 2014, as "My Afternoon Dream" with production by Key Wane. The song's lyrical content was described as revolving around Aiko losing herself in blissful thoughts of a man. However, Aiko revealed that the song's lyrics were written about "Blue Dream", a strain of Cannabis sativa.
The song was later renamed and featured new production courtesy of No I.D. The album's Target exclusive edition also contains two extra songs; the first being "Beautiful Ruin" which features live guitar from Steve Wyreman, with production built around the guitar by No I.D.
The second song is an acoustic version of "You vs. Them", a song originally recorded by Aiko for her debut mixtape, "Sailing Soul(s)". The song features just Aiko's vocals and a guitar.
"Souled Out" debuted at #3 on the US Billboard 200, selling 70,000 copies in its opening week, becoming that week's second highest debut.
The album doubled the first week sales of her debut extended play "Sail Out." It also debuted at #1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Billboard's R&B Albums charts.
The following week, the album fell to #15 on the Billboard 200 chart selling a further 20,000 copies, bringing its total to 90,000 copies.
As of October 29, 2015, "Souled Out" had sold 125,000 copies in the United States.
"Souled Out" received generally positive reviews from critics. At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 76, based on 10 reviews.
Kyle Anderson, writer for Entertainment Weekly, found the album to be more pop friendly that her debut extended play "Sail Out", continuing to call it a "parallel dimension where the future of R&B arrived a long time ago."
Pitchfork's Craig Jenkins concluded: "Souled Out capably buffs Jhené Aiko's strengths and shellacks her faults, but the moments where she steps out into the depth of her story transcend the synergy of a group of musicians with good chemistry."
Marcus K. Dowling of HipHopDX felt that Aiko's writing was "intentionally simple and evocative", continuing to say "you're as much sucked into wondering just what she's going to say next as much as you just want to hear a high-quality song."
Tshepo Mokoena of The Guardian said, "She may purr like a revamped Ashanti, but she sounds tough as nails when it matters."
Ken Capobianco from The Boston Globe concluded that "Aiko's producers, including No I.D. and Dot da Genius, create expansive, inventive tracks that mirror the allure of her lithe vocals and intimate phrasing."
Brad Wete of Billboard called the album as "party of one", continuing to state that it is "music to overthink with and lines to quote when angry at a significant other—the soundtrack for hard times."
Ryan B. Patrick from Exclaim! stated that "Souled Out is an intriguing record from an intriguing artist who has tapped into the zeitgeist and delivered something that is both reflective and forward-looking."
Erin Lowers from XXL called Aiko and the album a "breath of fresh air in a musical sea that's often changing tides and taking artists with it."
Rick Florino of Artistdirect named Aiko as one of musics most "important voices", continuing to note Souled Out as being one of 2014's best albums.
In a more mixed review Julia Leconte of Now said, "It's nice to see Aiko atypically solo (Common provides the only rap feature), but more variety would be welcome."
Although he praised the album's introspective themes, Andy Kellman of AllMusic felt that Aiko could be "maddeningly platitudinal and singsongy", however Kellman believed that her "one dimension is a specific balmy backdrop provided by no one else".