Jhené Aiko was almost a teenage pop star.
At 12 she signed a deal with Epic Records, leading her to an opening slot on tour with R&B group B2K in 2002 and handful of movie synchs including You Got Served and Barbershop. The label wanted to turn her into another run-of-the-mill pop star, but Aiko wanted to write her own songs. By 16, she was asking to be let go from her contract.
Nine years later, the 25-year-old from California says that is still one of the best decisions she’s ever made. It allowed her to escape the fakeness of Hollywood and experience the real world by going back to school, holding down a full-time job as a waitress and eventually having her daughter Namiko in 2008.
Aiko has always lived by the motto that everything happens for a reason, so she doesn’t look back on her early years with any kind of anger. She goes with her own flow, an idea she termed “sailing herself” after a rather awkward label meeting in which it was suggested she try “selling herself.” The personal mantra has become a running theme in the titles of her releases, 2011’s Sailing Soul(s) mixtapeand new EP Sail Out.