Jhené Aiko has sung with a long list of hip-hop stars.
Jhené Aiko drifts in and out of a dream when she sings. With her feathery tone, sky-high pitch and dazed delivery, she floats above the beat, sexy and aloof.
It’s an apt instrument for a swelling wave of chilled-out hip hop. Starting with Kanye West’s game-changing “808s & Heartbreak” in 2008, a whole wing of rap has gone woozy, aided by spaced-out songs from Kid Cudi, Drake, Future and, on the R&B side, Frank Ocean.
On Aiko’s debut EP, she arises as the female answer to Ocean. While “Sail Out” marks Aiko’s major-label solo debut, she has a long and high-profile history in the industry. The 25-year-old Los Angeles native — whose first name is pronounced Juh-NEH — has been serving as the sultry secret weapon in key songs from Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Big Sean, J. Cole and, most prominently, Drake. Aiko released a mixtape two years ago that featured cameos by stars including Miguel and West, and she appears as a guest on Drake’s current tour.
On this half-hour, seven-song EP, she never breaks a sweat, by design. It’s rigidly confined in both pace (downtempo) and vocals (a two-note drone). Aiko’s subject matter, too, stays sleepy. The video for “Bed Peace” re-creates the famous, 1969 scene in Amsterdam when John Lennon and Yoko Ono camped out in a bed as an eccentric protest against the Vietnam War. Other tracks take place at “3:16 am,” or speak about going into the ozone of a drug-induced high (“With”). Outside of a sharp acoustic guitar that pockmarks the last track, all the music oozes.
It certainly has consistency on its side, as well as a hot run of guest rappers, from Lamar to Childish Gambino. Too bad Aiko’s unendingly numb readings make Lana Del Ray seem like Tina Turner. They lapse into dullness so early, it won’t be long before it’s the listener, not Aiko, who drifts away.