Jhene Aiko’s “Trip” is an Honest Look at Loss and Love

When Jhene Aiko surprise-dropped “Trip” in late September, many fans were unsure of what to expect.  In the past, Aiko had mostly stuck to an electronic-influenced, R&B and hip-hop style, releasing many collaborations, a solo album, and an album with rapper Big Sean as duo Twenty88.  However, “Trip” is Aiko’s first solo album since she has had time to reflect on the loss of her brother, Miyagi, to cancer in 2012. Her loss is felt throughout the album: “Trip” is a concept album detailing Aiko’s journey of coping with her brother’s death, first by using drugs, and later by recognizing the present and being grateful for it. The album, while rooted deeply in contemporary R&B, has many moods, but still manages to sound like one cohesive project thanks to its tropical feel, subject matter of love, psychology, and drugs, and Aiko’s smooth, colorful vocals.

As alluded to by the album’s title, much of the album deals with drugs and how Jhene used them to cope with her brother’s death.  In fact, most of the album follows a cycle of Jhene, through the character Penny, trying a new drug, then dealing with its effects, usually spending one or two songs on a “high” or in an ethereal state, followed by one or two songs where she expresses negative feelings, before being introduced to a new drug.  For example, after the song “Sativa,” which is the name of a strain of marijuana, Jhene talks about being at peace and feeling close to her brother on the songs “New Balance” and “You Are Here,” but then expresses anger and insecurity on the songs “Never Call Me” and “Nobody.” Finally, a new drug, probably cocaine, is introduced on “Overstimulated,” which then renews the cycle. This cycle and abrupt variation of moods is not easy to pull off, but Aiko shows great skill in knowing when to include electronic influences, or, conversely, strip down songs to add emotion when needed.  Her vocals and electronic influences are a major component of why these stylistic changes work; on a standout song, “While We’re Young,” her lyrics and voice are warm as she sings over tropical-synths, giving the song the optimistic feeling of what Aiko calls her “ideal love situation.” As effective are the trap beat and low, seething tone of her voice during “Never Call Me,” which create the angry tone of the song.

In the final portion of the album, Aiko goes through a sort of reawakening, realizing that she doesn’t need to live with grief and should enjoy what is in the present.  She demonstrates this transition with “Sing to Me,” a duet with her daughter, who she has said, “in real life … brings [me] back to reality.” The last four songs of the album have a forward-looking and positive tone.  In “Frequency,” Jhene sings, “Bless the generation, let them know/know that there’s love,” expressing her hope for the future.

“Trip” is an album with much importance and meaning in Jhene Aiko’s discography.  While the enormous length of the album (22 songs and 85 minutes) could easily scare some listeners away, “Trip” feels very cohesive, with each song merging into the next and telling a story, and the album does not drag on much.  This was a surprisingly strong album and could function as a deep listen for lyrics and meanings, or a more casual listen for the atmospheres and textures created by Aiko’s versatile vocals and production.

Essential Songs: “While We’re Young,” “New Balance,” and “Nobody”