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Jhené Aiko has had a crazy week. When Drake's Nothing Was The Same leaked last week, she hopped on RapGenius and decoded her lyrics off of the Noah "40" Shebib-produced "From Time," which features piano from Chilly Gonzales. It's a beautiful song that works more as a conversation between her and Drake than just a simple feature. It was her first time working with Drake in the studio, which also led to her vocals on "Wu-Tang Forever"—something she wasn't even aware of until she heard the final song.
And then she released the Childish Gambino assisted "Bed Peace." The album art is inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-Ins for Peace, which was their non-violent way of protesting the Vietnam War. And the sight of Childish and Jhené as John and Yoko has sparked plenty of dating rumors, but she insists that they're just "good friends" and that "time will tell." She originally wanted Drake on the track as well as another song now called "Stay Ready (What A Life)." But with his album out and an upcoming tour, Drake wasn't as available. However, she did get Kendrick Lamar on "Stay Ready" instead and his verse is supposedly so good that it made her go back and rewrite her parts.
Both "Bed Peace" and "Stay Ready" are on her forthcoming mixtape, Sail Out, which drops Oct. 29. The mixtape will feature appearances from Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, Ab-Soul, and more. She's made so much music since her Sailing Soul(s) mixtape that she wanted to release something before her big debut album expected next year called Souled Out. We spoke with Jhené yesterday about working with Drake, what she thought about "Wu-Tang Forever," and how "Bed Peace came together.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
Did you go out yesterday and buy Nothing Was The Same?
I did. I bought several. [Laughs.]
Tell me a little bit about “From Time” and how you and Drake started working together.
He contacted me a while ago and he was like, "You know, I think we need to work together again," because "July" wasn’t really a collaboration. I had a song, he heard it, and he used the hook. We set up a session just to listen to music, just vibed out and he played me a few things.
He played me that track and I told him, "I want to write something to this." I took it home with me and I just rode around to it for a while. I was coming up with this completely different concept but right before I sent it to him. But I went into the studio and I wrote something completely different to it.
What was your initial concept?
The initial concept is actually "Beautiful Ruin," and I put out an acoustic version of that song on YouTube that is gonna be on Souled Out, it's by No ID. It was too specific, I didn't wanna be singing about what I'm going through. Instead, we had more of a conversation on the record. So, I sent it to him and he was like, "Yeah I love this. I’m going to use it like this." I didn’t know it was going to be called “From Time,” though.
Originally people thought it was called "Momentous Occasions," how did it become “From Time?"
He had asked me what I thought the name should be. I came up with a few things but I was like, "I don’t know, honestly, I think you would come up with a better name," and he was like, "It’s gonna be 'From Time.'" I don’t know if it’s Canada, or just Toronto but it’s like saying, "Since the beginning of time."
When Drake was writing his verse he calls me and was just like, "I’ve been riding around here to what you sent me, and this is what I came up with" and he rapped it over the phone just to keep me involved, which was really nice because a lot of people don’t do that.
What was the vibe between the two of you in the studio?
With "July," I met him but I didn’t [work with him in the studio]. This time I was a little nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect. Someone like him, you see him all the time but you don’t really know him. I don’t like to have any expectations with meeting people that I look up to in music, but he was super down to earth.
I brought my best friend with me and he made us feel very comfortable. He was super nice and it actually made me a bigger fan, it made me want to go listen [to his music]. After that for like a few weeks, we were just so impressed by how humble he was.
I recorded my part at the Fisticuffs Studio and he recorded his at his studio. When he was writing his verse he calls me and was just like, "I’ve been riding around here to what you sent me, and this is what I came up with" and he rapped it over the phone just to keep me involved, which was really nice because a lot of people don’t do that. That’s why I say this is a real collaboration, because it was really like he wanted me to be a part of it at every step. When he recorded it, he called me into the studio just to listen to it and it still wasn’t the final product with Chilly Gonzales. I didn’t hear the complete thing until the leak.
What was it like working with Noah "40" Shebib?
He’s the same, super nice and humble. You would never know that these two people are superstars and they made me feel super comfortable and just catered to, like, "What do you want to do?" "What are you thinking?" and they’re super laid back, too. We had one session when I picked which beat I wanted to work on, we were all together and he played me a few things.
Was that how “Wu-Tang Forever” came about?
Drake started off by just playing me a few cuts from the album, and “Wu-Tang Forever” was one. By the second hook, I was singing along to it and I was like, "What do you think if I just sang on top of your singing?" I literally went in and did that super quick, came out and we started listening to more stuff.
A lot of producers, especially on 40’s level, they’re like "You can’t take this with you. You have to write this here" or "I’m not going to email this to you, it has to have a password." 40 was just like "Okay, give me your flash drive." When they played me the song, I actually met them all at Marvin’s Room in Los Angeles.
When I came there the first day, in my mind it was all about work, so I came in with my laptop and my notebook like "I’m ready to work!" Then I got in there and it was super chill like, "Take your time. We don’t have to do anything tonight."
Tell me about Marvin’s Room. Was it your first time there?
It was my first time and it felt like an energy. It felt like it was a sacred place. I love Marvin Gaye. I was born where he died, in the same hospital. I always try to find the connections like "Yeah, do you know? I was born where he died," so that was a little moment. Other than that, yeah, it was just those two instances where we were all together.
When I came there the first day, in my mind it was all about work, so I came in with my laptop and my notebook like "I’m ready to work!" Then I got in there and it was super chill like, "Take your time. We don’t have to do anything tonight." It was very inspiring for me. It was just a magical setting. I just wanted to write an album right then and there, especially with 40 playing tracks.
What was your reaction to the song being titled “Wu-Tang Forever”?
I didn’t know that it was called that. I was on Twitter casually browsing around and people were like, "Is that you on ‘Wu-Tang Forever?!" and I was like, "What are you talking about?" I didn’t know what anyone was talking about and that had happened before with Kendrick Lamar. A lot of people thought the girl singing on "Money Trees" was me, but when I hadn’t heard it, I was like, "Did he sample me? I don’t know," and then when I went [to listen to it]. I had to clear that up.
I did the same thing with the Drake song, I was like, "Well, let me listen to what they’re talking about because I for sure did not do a song called Wu-Tang." It was me, though. I loved the song from the first time I heard it. I think it’s clever and I like when the titles of the songs have a little bit of something to do with the song, because the obvious choice for that song would be "It’s Yours." I think it was really clever and it got people talking, and it was a Wu-Tang sample, so it does make sense.
Let's talk about your new single, "Bed Peace." How did that come together?
I had “Bed Peace” recorded and I left a verse free because I felt like it could use a feature. I wanted to find my John Lennon for that song because I had the vision for the whole thing in my head. I sent it out to a few people, and everyone’s busy and there were a few people who were definitely on board to do it but it was just scheduling and I would’ve had to wait for them.
Who were some of the people you were trying to work on it with initially?
First, it was Drake. In our initial meeting, I played him two songs and I was just like, "I could hear him on [that]." I played him one song that’s not "Bed Peace" and it was the one that I really heard him on. I was like, "You can listen to everything but I wanted it to be something you like."
When I played all of them that’s the one he loved. But with his album and everything, and me being on a timeline it was just that our collaboration [on NWTS] was our song. Not to toot my own horn but it wasn’t just a feature, so I feel like its sort of both of ours. It didn’t really matter if he didn’t end up on "Bed Peace."
What ended up happening was, I was performing with Big Sean on Jimmy Kimmel and my publisher took me out to eat afterward. Childish Gambino came because he’s friends with one of my brother’s friends. That’s where we met, and we just talked and clicked. I really know him from his acting, from Community, and I knew that he rapped, but I never really listened and then, of course, I did my homework and I was like "You’re dope."
In middle school my friends used to call me J-Henny because J-h-e-n-é, if you separate the J from the rest you can pronounce it J-Henny. And as I got older, Hennessy was my drink of choice, so I was like “J-Hennessy on the track” or whatever, just playing around.
We sent him the song maybe the next day, and he sent it back within the same day and he was the only person who did that—the only one that was excited about it. I told him my idea about John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and really just creating, like "You have to know that this means you’re my John Lennon now" and he was down. He’s really cool. We’re good friends.
Do you have another project with him in the works for his upcoming projects?
Yeah, we worked on a song for his project. He’s super creative with his writing and stuff and he gets very specific and it’s a really feel-good song. He’s singing and rapping on it and I’m singing.
What is this rap alter ego I’ve heard about?
For me, a lot of people don’t know that I’m very goofy. In middle school my friends used to call me J-Henny because J-h-e-n-é, if you separate the J from the rest you can pronounce it J-Henny. And as I got older, Hennessy was my drink of choice, so I was like “J-Hennessy on the track” or whatever, just playing around.
I’ve always freestyled for fun, that’s just something me and my friends do when we’re bored, or we were drunk, or high we’d just freestyle and turn into rappers. I say when I get more into my lyrical and get more into my flow and I feel like there’s a singer Jhené, and I’m not going to call it rapping…but it’s more like a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony type of rap but not as fast. But it’s not really focusing on how I’m singing, it’s focusing on what I’m saying and the flow. And so yeah, it was between JC Penny and J-Hennessy. JC Penny is probably the rapper.
For me it’s joking a little bit, but I do feel like I have so many different personalities, why not give them a name, like yeah, that’s J-Hennessy. And also I always sip on a little bit of something before I perform and it’s usually Hennessy so that’s who's on stage.
Did you happen to rap for Drake?
I didn’t but I would. That’s one thing when he listened to everything he was like, "Wow, you have bars." As a writer, I know that he understands that just because I’m singing it doesn’t mean that they’re not bars. But I didn’t [rap for him], I wasn’t that comfortable.