Breakups are rarely ever pretty. At first, you might be set aflame with the initial love’s infatuation that leaves you glowing. If the relationship goes south, though, and you need to let the love go, there’s every possibility of being covered in burns. But Jhené Aiko addresses her pain on her newest drop “Chilombo.”
The singer-songwriter gets raw and vulnerable on the 20-track LP, walking you through every step of her recent journey through the death and rebirth of a nasty breakup. She plunges into her psyche, to the part of the breakup where you start feeling yourself again, you recognize the fullness of your inner beauty and you forgive your former partner and yourself.
On March 6, Aiko released her fourth full-length album, “Chilombo.” Aiko tells Billboard how she spent her time songwriting the LP while soaking up inspiration from the nature of Hawaii’s Big Island. She connected to the island’s vast, therapeutic beaches and volcanoes, along with her familial roots, as Hawaii is her great-grandmother’s place of birth. Throughout her month-long stay on the Big Island, a large portion of composition and production took place and the creative process thrived.
Aiko polished the songs later on in her studio in Los Angeles, gathering her crew of features including H.E.R., Miguel, Future, Nas, John Legend and more. But the studio time Aiko spent in Hawaii laid the solid foundation for “Chilombo.”
Melodies and lyrics developed from her mind via freestyle — “free flows” as Aiko calls it — the creative process that she used to write all the songs on the new album. Fans love her unconventional, but effective songwriting style. One of the album’s singles, “P*$$y Fairy (OTW)” has so far spent seven weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, peaking at No. 55.
While Aiko gained musical vision from the Big Island of Hawaii, she also received inspiration from her heritage. The album title pays homage to the surname Aiko’s father gave himself as a young adult. Although fans may mistake Aiko for the vocalist’s last name, her real last name is Chilombo. In her latest interview with Billboard, she shares a newfound appreciation for her last name, explaining that the name means, “Wild beast.”
But Aiko goes even deeper into the meaning on a previous Instagram story. She ventures into the name letter by letter while soft mood lighting from a rotating lotus and incense smoke envelop the room as she plays an instrument or sings into her mic: “CHI,” the Instagram story’s text read.”Is the life force. L is for love. OM is the sound of the universe. B is for base; basics; beginnings. O is eternity, infinite, wholeness.”
Healing is a big theme of the album’s lyrics. But Aiko also infused the vibrational healing of crystal sound bowls into each track. In an interview with Nylon, she maps out her experience with the ancient healing method involving sound. While the artist’s 2017 album “Trip” focused on a variety of mind-altering substances beloved by the songwriter at the time, she spent most of her time writing the tracks for “Chilombo” sober. Aiko lost herself in a pure head space under the sounds resonating from the crystal.
She discovered the connection between sounds and chakras — focal points of concentrated energy in the body. Once she immersed herself in learning more, she decided to extend healing to all of her fans by playing sound bowls in the background of her songs. “I really wanted to put that intention into the music,” Aiko professes.
An example of her giving healing within a track finds itself in the sixth song on the album,“P*$$y Fairy (OTW)” featuring a bowl playing in the key of D. This key corresponds with the sacral or second chakra, an energy spot located in the lower back or stomach ruling over the sexual organs. “Even though the song is fun and sexy,” Aiko said. “There’s an actual healing instrument in there to help balance you out in those areas.”
Although the song is fun and sexy like Aiko says, other tracks on the album are harsh and confrontational. Just how “Chilombo” means “wild beast,” her inner monster unleashes itself throughout the LP. She knows the power of true strength: vulnerability. Whether it’s anger and bitterness, high self-esteem and empowerment or reflection and forgiveness, she fearlessly feels it all, loudly and proudly.
“Lotus – intro” sets the stage for the album, giving a preface to the growth Aiko has undergone. Old-school vinyl crackling underlies the LP’s first song, along with seven other tracks throughout the album. Jazzy piano chords ground Aiko’s siren crone and bubbly runs.
The artist bares her teeth in fury on the album’s leading single “Triggered (freestyle)” and the following track “None Of Your Concern (feat. Big Sean).” In a now-deleted tweet still visible on Genius’ lyric page for “Triggered (freestyle),” Aiko confessed, “I realized that instead of running away from my emotions … I needed to sit with them, express myself and say whatever came to mind.”
With her anger out in the open and fully felt, the vocalist decides to move on with “Speak,” an anthem of joy and freedom. A harp strums a chord of victory as she proudly belts out that she’s moving on and putting on her favorite dress. The song’s harmonies reflect the singer’s open heart. But Aiko hones in on her carefree attitude and flips it into “flexing” on her exes in “B.S. (feat. H.E.R.).” Aiko expresses just how fed up she is and has no problem insulting her ex with the lyric “I just seen your new b****, it boost my self-esteem.”
“Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E.) (feat. Future & Miguel)” proves that Aiko never lost her ability to own her sexuality with confidence. She lets her hair down and has fun with herself. But the singer-songwriter doesn’t stop with those two tracks, and keeps dancing to the beat of her own drum in “Tryna Smoke” and “Party For Me.”
After her cathartic anger and rejuvenating rebirth, the tracks take on a new focus: forgiveness. Aiko wears her heart on her sleeve in “Pray For You” and “Mourning Doves.” She tackles serious reflection about where both people went wrong and how open her heart is to forgiveness.
Aiko makes the most of her music by healing herself. “Chilombo” gifts that restoration right back to her listeners, one wispy, smooth melody at a time.