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Q&A: Rising R&B singer songwriter Jhene Aiko on her 3 Grammy nods, battling Beyonce, Drake

By Mesfin Fekadu



NEW YORK _ Jhene Aiko released both an EP and an album ahead of the Grammys, but it’s her seven-song effort that’s competing for a Grammy against Beyonce, Pharrell and Chris Brown.

The rising singer-songwriter released the EP “Sail Out” in November 2013, which features collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino. It debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and launched the R&B hit “The Worst.”

Now, the EP is nominated for best urban contemporary album at Sunday’s show in Los Angeles, and “The Worst” is up for best R&B song against smashes like Beyonce‘s “Drunk in Love” and Brown’s “New Flame.”

“It was something unexpected,” Aiko said. “I don’t think it will sink in until I’m there.”

Aiko released her first full-length album, “Souled Out,” in September _ in time for Grammy eligibility _ but it didn’t receive any nominations.

In a recent interview, the 26-year-old talked about competing with friends like Brown and Drake, her thoughts on THAT Beyonce album and what she’ll wear to the Grammys, where is she also nominated for best rap/sung collaboration for “Blak Majik” with Common.

AP: How does it feel to have your EP nominated for a Grammy?

Aiko: That was what I was most surprised about _ that it was for the EP. I didn’t even know it could technically be nominated for an album category … when I made the EP … I was like, ‘It’s an EP, let’s just put together these songs,’ and everything just sort of was a very easy process. And then when it came to the album, we were overthinking it a little too much … because we had so much more to work with. … But with the EP, I feel like that was a true representation of just like going with the flow and doing what was coming naturally. It kind of taught me a lesson _ being that it was recognized (by the Grammys). Like, ‘OK, this is how I should feel when I make a project.’ It just totally felt easy.

AP: For best R&B song, there are eight writers listed on Beyonce‘s “Drunk in Love,” 10 for Chris Brown‘s “New Flame” and six for Usher’s “Good Kisser.” For your song “The Worst,” it’s just you and two other folks.

Aiko: It’s me and the producers. They get publishing because they wrote the track. … I didn’t know that was so rare until I saw that. … It didn’t make me feel like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m so much better than these other artists ’cause I wrote the song.’ I write all of my songs so that’s not a big deal to me.

AP: You’ve worked with Chris Brown and Drake. What’s it like to be competing with them at the Grammys?

Aiko: I think it’s really cool. I listen to a lot of male artists because I kind of get inspired by rappers because they can do a full song, just them, and no one is saying, ‘Where is the feature?’ No one is begging for a feature because they can hold their own. And so for me, that’s where I pull motivation from because I feel like I can do the same thing. I feel like I can write a song with me as the writer and it can be as good as a Drake song. So that’s my hope _ that I am competing with the boys because I can. And I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m getting there.

AP: You and Beyonce are the only female performers nominated for best urban contemporary album and best R&B song. Are you a fan of her latest album?

Aiko: I honestly have only heard a few songs. I love Beyonce. I think she’s an amazing singer. Especially last year, I wasn’t listening to a lot of music ’cause I was making it. … But definitely, of course ‘Drunk in Love’ _ that was obviously like a major hit that you can’t help but sing along to. But, yeah, I know (the album) was widely received and had rave reviews for it, so I’m sure it’s a great album. And she’s Beyonce, so you know, she doesn’t make anything less.

AP: Have you decided what you’ll wear to the Grammys?

Aiko: We’ve been working on that. … (Making) sure I feel comfortable for the most part because that’s what I’m all about … just me being me at the Grammys. (Laughs.)





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