In the early 2000s, Jhené Aiko was a B2K associate signed to TUG, the Epic subsidiary operated by Chris Stokes. The teenage singer appeared on B2K projects and numerous compilations and soundtracks, released a solo single, and recorded an album that was shelved. She subsequently left the industry for several years, then resurfaced in 2010 like a new artist -- one with a voice and approach different than squeaky and peppy, less Yummy Bingham's "Come Get It," more Cassie's "Me & U." Featured roles on tracks by Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q boosted her profile and cred, as did a 2011 mixtape that involved the likes of Lamar, Kanye West, Drake, and Miguel. Producer No I.D. signed her to his Def Jam-supported Artium, where she released a late 2013 EP led by "The Worst," a Top Ten R&B single. As that song was finishing its run, she followed up with early singles from Souled Out, her proper debut album. When the set was released, Aiko's style -- shaped in part by accommodating producers like Fisticuffs, Dot da Genius, and No I.D. -- was instantly recognizable. On Souled Out, the singer and songwriter's form of contemporary R&B continues to blur the line between seductive and sleepy, her voice among the lowest wattage in commercial music history. Just as she is wistful about "summer nights and water fights" (in "Eternal Sunshine") and "turquoise seas and ocean breezes" (in "Spotless Mind"), she often injects sharply contrasting melodrama ("Now many men/Many, many, many, many men/Wish death upon me") with only minor variations in tone. Sonically, the majority of these songs can be classified as slow jams, but Aiko deals with some form of relationship turmoil in nearly every one of them; given the amount of introspection, the album is most suited for coping with stress. Aiko can be maddeningly platitudinal and singsongy, but her one dimension is a specific balmy backdrop provided by no one else.
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