Jhené Aiko releases emotional and powerful album “Trip”

Jhene Aiko performs at Bumbershoot in 2015 (Kayla Johnson/Flickr Creative Commons)

Jhené Aiko released her third studio project on Sept. 22 titled “Trip”, an emotional and semi-autobiographical album that deals with death, drugs, family, love and the human experience. “Trip” is structured like an acid trip. The first twelve songs represent the initial build-up. Each of these songs have a peppier and more positive beat. The trip reaches the full-on stage with the song “Overstimulated”, which quickly segues into “Bad Trip--Interlude”.

These songs are much slower and darker, reflecting the effect of the drugs. “Overstimulated” is also the first song in which Aiko utilizes voice-over, a technique she continues to use throughout the rest of the album. At the end of the song she screams, “What the fuck did you give me? Did you see that? Get me out of here! Why would you do this to me?!” Aiko’s voice-over  makes the listener feel like they’re taking a much more personal journey with Aiko.

The drug trip begins to dissipate with the song “Psilocybin (Love In Full Effect).” This song, along with the remaining songs on the album, are more pure and acoustic. “Picture Perfect - Freestyle” features solely a piano and Aiko’s voice, rather than the heavy hip-hop beats that were so prevalent in the first half of the album. This purity continues with the song “Sing to Me” a sweet duet between Aiko and her young daughter, Namiko Love.

The titular and final track “Trip” returns to the classic R&B sound Aiko is known for. The cyclical pattern of the album shows how the “trip” that Aiko references never really ends but continues for life.  

Although the influence of drugs are very prominent in the album, it is not the only type of “trip” that Aiko is singing about. In July 2012, Aiko’s brother Miyagi passed away from brain cancer. “Trip” is about Aiko trying to come to grips with her brother’s death, using coping mechanisms such as drugs, writing and love. Aiko’s desperate wish to “find” her brother is clear from the very first lyrics on the first song of the album, entitled “LSD”; “How you like it up there?/ What’s your view from there?/ I bet it’s so cool to jet across the moon/ That’s how I picture you in my head.”

Aiko constantly references her brother throughout the rest of the album. On the track “Oblivion (Creation),” Aiko narrates, “Dear brother/ Am I still asleep?/ Last night I saw you/ And you told me there was coin laundry on the moon.” This is her true “trip”: trying to accept her brother’s death and, while not forgetting him, continue on with her own life.

Aiko also released a 23-minute short film entitled “Trip” that goes along with the album. The film speaks directly about Aiko’s struggle to come to terms with her brother’s death. In addition, Aiko released a statement about the film and album entitled “MAP Mission” in which she explicitly describes her relationship with her brother.

“My brother and I were very close. We were only two years apart. I never thought of him as a separate person, but an extension of myself,” Aiko said. Aiko further elaborated on her self medication following her brother’s death; “I try to get closer to my brother by doing different drugs, hoping that if I get high enough I can reach him, but they only take me further away.”

Aiko finished her statement by talking about the universality of loss and suffering: “In sharing this MAP, I hope to inspire others to share their grief and pain because I believe suffering can be alleviated when we understand we are not going through any of it alone.”

The deeply personal content of the album transforms it into an extremely strong piece of art. Aiko’s ability to capture all of the feelings of grief, from the highs to the lows, creates an incredibly unique listening experience. The many different genre and tempo changes, including Aiko’s capability to blend music, poetry and film, are also very ambitious and makes for a powerful piece. While each song on the album is strong and is able to stand on its own, it is when they’re all put together that the album becomes the powerful emblem of hope, loss, suffering and gratitude that Aiko intended it to be. If Aiko’s goal was to create a powerful album that both honored her brother and created a relatable human experience, she certainly achieved it.