Jhené Aiko’s full-length is a testament to the power of patience. Though she’s only 26, the Los Angeles native has been at it for more than a decade — first, inauspiciously, as a satellite artist hovering in the orbit of prefab new-jack teens B2K. When pretending to be Lil’ Fizz’s cousin didn’t bring her R&B domination, she took time off to finish school, start a family, and develop her songwriting chops, which led to increasingly high-profile collaborations with the likes of Drake, Miguel, and Kendrick Lamar.
Much of Souled Out is far more pop-friendly than last year’s Sail Out EP (which yielded ”The Worst,” her first Billboard Hot 100 moment), but Aiko’s lush, glowing compositions do take time to reveal themselves. Take ”W.A.Y.S.,” which opens with a lazily strummed guitar, then welcomes in a distant, ominous drum march. Slowly, everything widens and deepens as Aiko croons like a millennial shaman, ”You have got to lose your mind/Just to find your peace of mind.”
That process repeats itself throughout Souled; the more you give in to tracks like the hypnotic, undulating ”To Love & Die” and the gently lapping ”Eternal Sunshine,” the more they take hold. Had Aiko followed the muse she was chasing as a teen, ”The Pressure” would probably have been turned into a disposable piece of Hot 100 radio bait. Instead, like much of Souled Out, it’s an otherworldly neck-snapper — the coolest party soundtrack for a parallel dimension where the future of R&B arrived a long time ago. A-