Jhene Aiko sails at her own pace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Jhené Aiko’s rise has been slow and steady, and that’s just the way she likes it.

The 26-year-old singer-songwriter’s profile has been blossoming since she broke out with her debut mixtape “Sailing Soul(s)” in 2011. Several years, a few major guest appearances and three Grammy nominations later, the Los Angeles native is headlining her first tour, which drops by the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Friday.

“I feel like nothing has happened too fast or too drastically; it hasn’t been like one day, nothing, and then today I have everything,” says Aiko, on the phone this week from her home in L.A. “It’s still a work in progress, and I really appreciate the pace of everything that’s been happening.”

Aiko learned an important lesson in patience and waiting for things to take their course during her teenage years. She was an early affiliate of boy band B2K, and appeared on several of the group’s songs in the early ’00s. Around that time she was set to release her debut album, but it was shelved by her record company and never released.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Aiko says now. She was having fun going on the road, but she had yet to develop her passion for her craft, and says she doesn’t feel she was ready to be an artist.

Aiko concentrated on school, and while taking English courses she learned to meld her interest in writing with her love of singing. She was working at a restaurant and was feeling stressed at work when she decided to record her own project, and when “Sailing Soul(s)” started coming together, “it was like an out-of-body experience,” she says. “It was a really good feeling.”

After the release of “Sailing Soul(s),” the industry began to take notice of Aiko. She signed a deal with Dion “No I.D.” Wilson’s ARTium Records and began working on her first EP, “Sail Out.” She lent her airy vocals to tracks with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, and after appearing on Big Sean’s “Detroit” mixtape, she re-teamed with the rapper for his single “Beware” in 2013 and scored her first Top 40 hit.

Also in 2013, Aiko appeared on “From Time,” the emotional cornerstone of Drake’s “Nothing Was the Same” album. That duet led to an opening position on Drake’s tour, and set the table for Aiko’s full-length debut album “Souled Out,” which was released in September and debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart.

This month’s Grammy nominations included three nods for Aiko: Best R&B Song (for her gold-selling single “The Worst”), Best Urban Contemporary Album (for “Sail Out”) and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (for “Blak Majik,” her duet with Common).

“I was surprised and shocked,” Aiko says of her nominations. “They’re all tough categories, but it’s cool to me that I was considered.”

Going forward, Aiko isn’t in any rush to speed up the trajectory of her career. She doesn’t plan on rushing her follow-up to “Souled Out,” and respects artists like D’Angelo, who this week released his first album since 2000.

“I feel like he’s a true artist,” she says. “He took that time to work his craft and put his all into that project. You can’t rush creativity. People are used to people putting out two albums a year, those people are not artists of the world. Those are the performers. They’re not the people that are creating. Fourteen years to me isn’t a long time. That’s what it takes.”


Jhené Aiko

with SZA and the Internet

7 p.m. Friday

Royal Oak Music Theatre

318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak

Tickets $29.50 advance, $35 door

(248) 399-2980