The road to Jhené Aiko’s Chilombo has been long, but the R&B songstress’ third album has finally arrived. The album is a deeply sensual record that is steeped in sound healing and water-based spirituality. Trip, Jhené’s last album, a concept album centered on grief and the journey forward, was a heavy piece of work. Chilombo, on the other hand, feels lighter and more fun; Jhené has reached a new level of inner peace and wholeness on this album, you can hear it in her joyful vocal performances and smart songwriting.
The album begins with a number of tracks that seemingly soundtrack the dissolution of a relationship. The sublime “Triggered (freestyle),” one of 2019’s most underrated songs, is the first full-length track on the album. Its visceral lyrics and Jhené’s intense vocal performance set a dark tone for the album that is continued by the nonchalant bluntness of the Big Sean-featuring “None of Your Concern” and the glorious story of singlehood by way of “Speak.” An early standout comes just five tracks in with the stunning H.E.R. collaboration, “B.S.” With a saccharine melody and surprisingly strong chemistry, H.E.R. and Jhené craft a post-breakup anthem about bouncing back and reclaiming your time and crown. “B.S.” leads a stellar 1-2-3 punch that includes the sexy “P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)” and the Miguel and Future teamup “Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E.).” Jhené has always been a sensual artist that fearlessly and explicitly covers sex in her music. The latter two tracks counterbalance her explicit lyricism with smooth and soft trap-influenced beats and melodies that rival the catchiest of the Swedish pop machine. Current mainstream R&B has a plethora of pro-sex anthems, but Jhené’s has a feminist edge that focuses on consent and women’s happiness.
The inconsistencies in Chilombo lie in its sleepy and, quite frankly, incredibly boring and repetitive production. At 20 tracks and little over an hour in length, little variation of the dreamy alternative-R&B sound makes the album very tiring to sit through. To emphasize the healing aspect of the music, Jhené used crystal alchemy sound bowls in the production; these bowls are most commonly used to evoke feelings of tranquility. This is all great and innovative, but there is little to no variety in the way in which these vibrational hums are implemented on the album. Too much of Chilombo exists in a dreary midtempo lane that causes large chunks of the album to meld together. If you’re going to offer an audience 20 tracks, there should at least be significant variation in terms of tempo and the general structure of the sound. Generally, the strongest tracks on Chilombo are the songs with guest artists; they bring a new element to the songs that forces Jhené to try something out of her comfort zone whether it be musically or vocally. For example, “Lightning & Thunder,” a collaboration with John Legend, is a stunning duet in which Jhené delivers one of her most earnest and impressive vocal performances ever. Similarly, “Party for Me,” a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, ends Chilombo on a high-note and provides space for Jhené to rap, as well as croon, over a more interesting and uptempo musical number.
The frustrating thing about Chilombo is that despite its inconsistencies, when the album sharpens its focus and delivers great songs, they’re career-defining moments. Moreover, in terms of narrative, Chilombo never quite reaches the closure that it seems to seek based on the first third of the album, but that may be a sequencing issue. It is truly unfortunate that so many great tracks had to be hidden in this absolute drag of an album. Jhené would have benefitted from branching out and working with producers outside of Fisticuffs and Lejkeys. This is the second consecutive album where Jhené has made her audience dig for the gems instead of cutting the fat and putting out a concise and consistent album. Hopefully, she’ll learn in time for her next album.
Key Tracks: “B.S. (feat. H.E.R.)”; “Lightning & Thunder (feat. John Legend)”; “Speak”; “Tryna Smoke”; “One Way St. (feat. Ab-Soul)”