Jhené Aiko narrowly misses her potential on ‘Chilombo’

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

The title of Jhené Aiko’s latest album, Chilombo, is an homage to the singer’s actual surname. The name, which, according to Aiko, means “wild beast,” traditionally exudes images of strength, confidence and grace. The singer sets out to fulfill this image throughout the record, crafting each song with the goal of allowing listeners to experience all of the pain and beauty that she associates with love and heartbreak.

Although Aiko seems to have a clear idea of what she hopes to accomplish with Chilombo, the artist doesn’t quite reach her potential. The record incorporates everything that Aiko has done well in the past: She is known for exploring difficult romantic themes with a signature sensuality, and she successfully accomplishes this on Chilombo. The album’s merits, however, are obscured by salient stylistic and structural issues.

Chilombo has several highlights that are reminiscent of Aiko’s successful past works, but these tracks are muddled by a number of lyrically repetitive and stylistically dull songs that detract from the album’s progression. And while the album’s organization theoretically complements the journey of healing that Aiko attempts to create, its structural merits are easily forgotten because of its drawn-out length (the album is 20 tracks long and runs for more than an hour).

That being said, Chilombo’s flaws are markedly absent throughout the first several songs. The minute-long intro track, “Lotus,” sets the album’s tone perfectly. Aiko sings, “There was a woman born from a Lotus/ Her heart was golden, deep as the ocean/ And then this one man, he came and broke it/ … She found her focus, the beast awoken.” With “Lotus,” Aiko prepares listeners for a journey of heartbreak, healing and self-discovery.

“Lotus” is followed by “Triggered,” a strong freestyle in which Aiko openly explores the confusing, intense emotions that can result from a breakup, allowing listeners to experience her anger’s full extent. The next track, “None of Your Concern,” is equally emotional and cathartic. Aiko teams up with her ex-boyfriend Big Sean to contemplate their breakup, singing, “I was traumatized and suicidal, I’m sick and tired, I am not to blame/ Once I felt a way, but not today, I’m not afraid.”

In the next two tracks, the upbeat “Speak” and “B.S.,” Aiko provides a change of pace as she celebrates her singleness and the sense of independence that comes with being single. After these songs, however, the album begins to fall flat. The next four tracks sound mostly the same, all incorporating similar trap beats and shallow lyrics that do nothing to contribute to the album’s themes.

Chilombo picks up slightly at the halfway mark with “Tryna Smoke,” a fun track about using marijuana to escape relationship issues. With the two songs that follow, “Born Tired” and “LOVE,” the album reverts to the shallowness of the previous songs, offering unimaginative pop beats, dull lyrics and not much else.

The rest of the album has a couple of highlights – “Mourning Doves” is a slow, emotional track about revisiting past relationships and “Lightning & Thunder” explores the residual feelings that can remain after a breakup. The album, however, ends on a weak note with “Party For Me,” a confusing trap-pop song that sounds too buoyant to fit with the rest of the record.

Chilombo has all of the components it needs to be a poignant tale of heartbreak and healing; throughout the album, Aiko reminds us of her talent and depth as she shines bright on tracks like “Triggered” and “Mourning Doves.” Chilombo only falls short of its potential because of the number of unnecessary tracks and its exhaustive run time, resulting in a somewhat disjointed album that fails to keep listeners’ attention.

Contact Salem Sulaiman at [email protected].