Chilombo is a well-executed, smooth album from Jhené Aiko

Courtesy of ArtClub International/ ARTium Recordings/Def Jam Recordings Aiko recorded Chilombo in Hawaii.
Courtesy of ArtClub International/
ARTium Recordings/Def Jam Recordings
Aiko recorded Chilombo in Hawaii.

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer


The juxtaposition of overly emotional lyrics with stoic jazz has always been a mainstay in Jhené Aiko’s music, but it never quite reached its peak before Chilombo. Jhené Aiko’s newest album Chilombo is like floating in a vat of your feelings. The music transitions like water, seamlessly flowing while you float at the top. The emotion distilled in this album is felt like a constant presence, but it still maintains an aura of numbness.

As this is Aiko’s third studio album, it appears the third time truly is the charm. This work, simply put, is something that an artist can only achieve with a certain amount of emotional and artistic maturity.

The first track, “Lotus – intro” sets the tone. The song is a one minute, 12-second presentation that encapsulates the timeless sound of jazz melodies while maintaining Aiko’s voice as she discusses the pain of ending a relationship only to blossom from the aftermath.

Then the album creates a feeling of deep reflection for the next several tracks like someone floating in the ocean or someone’s mind during meditation. All the while, ideas are building beneath the surface.

By the seventh track, the lead single for the album, “Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E.)” featuring Future and Miguel, the album has a mental and spiritual break from the spreading of the sound experienced since the start. This is also the only song that truly stands out as unique on the album. Everything else kind of runs together.

The music on track seven is an energy shift not only because it favors catchy rhymes over melodic singing, but this is also when the theme of a relationship ending halts. On track eight there is a return to this sense of reflection, but the spreading and topicality shifts slightly.

Now, the focus is on the latter half of the introductory song, “Lotus – intro” where individuality is favored over the security found in a relationship. The sonically induced feeling of reflection also changes from a sense of aimlessness found at the onset of the album to one of meditative discovery.

This newfound feeling continues until the thirteenth track “LOVE,” when the sound finally feels grounded and centered in the moment without reflection. This definition of love is less about dependence and more about an orientation toward personal growth with someone else.

With the shift in the topic, the music changes too. Now, the drifting feeling that was commonplace in this album changes to a sense of focus. However, this focus is not crystal clear because the jazz melody still reflects the depth of character and emotion felt on each song. There is still some exploration to be found and the richness of jazz is a great way to convey a depth of character to the listener subtly.

This feeling of exploring individuality on both sides of any couple plays out until the seventeenth track “Pray For You.” In this song, the spreading of the sound felt from the previous melodies returns, but without the sense of floating. Now, the spreading adds a reflective feeling where maturity is expressed most profoundly. Aiko demonstrates lyrically and through sound the ability to separate her wants and needs from those of her partner.

The album comes full-circle by the final track, “Party For Me.” This track is where Aiko has expressed enjoying the relationships she has had and how those helped her grow as a person. This song is also where she recognizes the need to put herself first since no one can do that for her. The music is energized and shows no jazz influence. The idea of having a party centered around yourself adds the balanced maturity that the previous drifting allowed the listener to arrive at.

Overall, this album is not particularly intellectually deep, but the execution of the album is brilliant. For that, Aiko deserves all of the praise because her past albums have never flowed this well. Her past works were not bad, but this album is seamless. The music truly captivates this feeling of searching for meaning through relationships with those around you. The journey of self-discovery through others is something often overlooked, but a part of obtaining maturity and discovering what you want. While this may just be another album collecting love songs, it manages to stand out.