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The soulful R&B singer talks creepy older fans, showing skin, and not snitching in songs.
This feature appears in Complex's August/September 2013 issue.
Diminutive R&B star Jhené Aiko can probably still fit into clothes she wore in 2002, when she gained fame singing on B2K records at age 14. But at 25, she’s all grown up. Aiko, who has a 4-year-old daughter, debuted a more mature sound on her 2011 mixtape Sailing Soul(s), pairing soft, chilling vocals and open-book lyrics with hip-hop-friendly production. Now signed to No I.D.’s Artium Records, she’s been in the studio developing her debut, Souled Out, with artists like Black Hippy and Cocaine 80s. The kid shit is over.
What should fans of your mixtape expect from your first album?
Souled Out is like Sailing Soul(s) on steroids. It’s me reaching deeper into my stories. The music, the production—everything is to the tenth power.
How do you decide how much of your personal life to share in your music?
I don’t have any restrictions when it comes to writing. My songs are almost like diary entries. I don’t have many secrets. I might omit a name, though. I don’t like to put someone else’s business out there.
I am comfortable with having sex appeal. As a mom, I’m honest with my daughter; I lead by example and try not to shelter her.
When you were younger, did pervy older fans act creepy around you?
Even though I’m small, some people thought I was older, maybe from conversation, and they flirted with me. It creeped me out because I felt I looked even younger than I was. But I’ve always been mature about it. I don’t like to assume that someone’s hitting on me—that’s a little cocky. I told myself, “He’s just being nice. He just wants me to feel good about myself.” I tried to take the creepy part out of it so I could feel better about that person.
How important is control of your career to you now that you’re no longer a child star?
When I was younger, my mom managed me. I didn’t want to be a part of business decisions. As an adult with a daughter, it’s important for me to make those decisions for myself. I can’t let anyone else control what’s being put out there for my audience.
Did you consciously make your image more mature in recent years?
The image hasn’t really changed, I have. Time has changed me. I’m less afraid to do and talk about certain things because, as an adult, I’m doing adult things. I’m all about being comfortable, and I am comfortable with showing skin. I accept my body.
How do you balance being a mom with being a sexy R&B star?
I am comfortable with having sex appeal. As a mom, I’m honest with my daughter; I lead by example and try not to shelter her. I was never afraid to show that I was a girl with a flirty, sexy side.
If your daughter asked you what “sexy” is, how would you describe it?
Sexy is a state of mind. It doesn’t mean that you’re having a lot of sex. It doesn’t mean slutty. It’s being comfortable with your sexuality.
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Kyle Blackmon. (HAIR) Andrea Pezzillo. (MAKEUP) Caroline Ramos. (CLOTHING) Swimsuit by The Blondes / Watch by Rolex / Lace Cuff Rings and Belt by Tanaya Henry. (CLOTHING) Top by Jeremy Scott / Shorts by Open Your Eyes / Body chains By Tanaya Henry / Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti