A HEALING TRIP WITH JHENE AIKO'S M.A.P. PROJECT
It’s been one year since singer/songwriter Jhené Aiko released a three part project, or M.A.P. (movie, album, and poetry book), that was created to guide her back to her purest, most authentic form. In a mission statement for the project, Jhené discussed how when she lost her brother, Miyagi Chilombo, to an inoperable brain tumor in 2012, she also lost herself… And that over the years, she has used writing and creating music as therapy while taking, both physical and drug-induced, trips to escape anything too familiar that could remind her of her brother’s absence.
“Throughout these travels, I’ve been keeping a record of my dreams, feelings, and experiences in notebooks. I turned these notebooks into a M.A.P. — a movie, an album, and a poetry book. This map has been helping me navigate through my suffering. Uncovering the righteous path that has been carved out before and for me, helping me identify my pain and my mistakes so that I can move forward and reach my full potential, and find the light at the end of the tunnel. My personal hero’s journey. And although I am not there yet, I know I’m getting closer.”
In this mission statement, Jhené also shares her hopes to encourage honesty, empathy, and passion + for her M.A.P. to inspire others to share their own mistakes, imperfections, and fears. “I believe suffering can be alleviated when we understand that we are not going through any of it alone.”
Trip (The Movie) was the first part of the project to be released on September 20, 2017. It’s a 23-minute film written by Jhené Aiko and Tracy Oliver. Jhené plays the lead role in the film as “Penny” (a childhood nickname given to her by her grandfather that she describes as her truest self) who is introduced as a quiet, solitary girl writing poetry by the beach. There, she meets a boy named Dante who persuades her to join him on a road trip. During Trip, Penny and Dante develop a new romance in which Penny continuously tries to find her brother’s love. Unable to escape her suffering from loss, she turns to drugs and pushes Dante away, navigating through dark places until she finds her way home to an awakening conversation with her brother’s spirit.
The setting of this movie is a cinematic complement to Trip (The Album) which was released two days later. The 22-track album is an angelically composed, musical narrative of Jhené’s feelings and experiences during this time in her life. It also features responses from her love interest, Dante, throughout, which Jhené revealed to NPR Music is a voice that doubles as her own conscience.
Trip (The Album) begins with two songs that paint the picture of Jhené starting out on her journey — “LSD” and “Jukai.” In these tracks, she calls out to her brother, wondering how he’s feeling. She also reveals that she’s having trouble moving on from his death to the point where she’s considering giving up on her own life.
The album then transitions to a point where she dives into a hopeful love that inspires the writings of songs including “While We’re Young,” plus a collaboration with Big Sean in “Moments,” and a new Twenty88 anthem for lovers called, “OLLA,” — Only Lovers Left Alive.
This romantic part of the journey continues on with “When We Love,” and an uplifting tribute to cannabis featuring Swae Lee called, “Sativa"… Then it ends off with “New Balance” and the “Newer Balance” freestyle as she realizes she’s finally found the one, but is still guarded and hesitant to believe that her new is the love real thing. Through her skepticism, she expresses: I’ve got a strange feeling, that maybe I am dealing, with a smooth player, oh I’m praying, that you are who you are saying, hope you are who you are saying… As the freestyle naturally flows into the “You Are Here,” track.
The next song, “Never Call Me,” gives insight to a former break-up situation in which a dude was pressing every one of Jhené’s buttons except the one he should have pressed to call her. You really must be smoking that crazy shit, in my city talking crazy shit, but you ain’t know I’m a crazy bitch, and tell your lawyer that I ain’t paying shit! This warning track ends with a voice message from Kurupt, advising Jhené to stop tripping over that busta ass nigga… And is followed by “Nobody” where she harmonously declares: Since I was under the age, I’ve been under the influence of pain, and I never needed nobody.
Moving into a darker aspect of the album, Jhené experiments with more drugs in “Overstimulated” and taps into her confidence to deliver bars in rap verses before it turns into a “Bad Trip” interlude. In “Oblivion,” she begins to recognize her mistakes and wishes that she could go back to a more innocent, oblivious state of being.
This moment leads into a metaphysical love song, “Psilocybin.” Psilocybin is also the name of a type of psychedelic mushroom known to be used as a spiritual healing tool for people who have experienced trauma. In this song she recites: Get it poppin on this psilocybin, getting rid of inhibitions in a sane asylum, I can feel it hit the ceiling when it’s in my body, an outer body experience, a spirit party… And her part fades into a powerful serenade by her father, Dr. Chill. This song really stands out to me as a turning point in the Trip journey because while she’s still very trippy off of mushrooms, she’s starting work with the light and journey more into her “inner space” to feel love again.
From there, she freestyles into “Mystic Journey” and a heart-felt reflection with “Picture Perfect.” A feature with her daughter, Namiko Love called, “Sing to Me” is beautiful enough to make anyone tear up after being taken through so many emotions with the previous 18 tracks.
She raises her vibrations with the song, “Frequency” which, in my opinion, should be the new national anthem. This song is a true energetic prayer, used to bless Jhené’s own situations, as well as the entire generation — granting us freedom, mercy, love, and peace. It flawlessly transitions into an iconic duet with Brandy in “Ascension” where Jhené declares that she’s finally picked herself up and found her way again.
Victoriously, the album ends with a Mali Music collab on “Trip,” a song that feels like a hero’s theme music as she heads back home stronger and more aware than ever.
Trip (The Album) is a masterpiece of healing music. I’ve experienced it live in concert… I’ve listened to it every week (in the shower, in the car, in my backyard, etc.) since its release… And each time I’ve found comfort in it; inspired to share it with everyone I know — pausing it for lyrical breakdowns for people to digest who I feel like would feel it too.
The poetry book, 2Fish, was the final piece of Jhené’s M.A.P. to be released, in December 2017. Like the movie and the album, the poetry book is yet another reflection of her raw emotions channeled through pure artistry. It features poems and short stories that Jhené has been collecting since the age of 12 along with written notes and the developing lyrics to the songs on the album.
Jhené Aiko is an artist that has always inspired me as a writer. I thought it was really cool that, in her mission statement, she hoped that sharing her project would encourage others to do the same… Because that’s exactly what her work has always done for me. I started publishing content on this website in September 2014 while I listened to “W.A.Y.S.” every day during the most challenging, chaotic time of my life. Jhené’s music has helped me find clarity on a journey of my own — through heartbreaks, through pain, through loss, through struggle, and all… And I’m grateful for her courage, willingness and strong purpose to share what she creates.
So thanks to Jhené — A true artist. A revolutionary like Tupac. A poetic queen! + A real healing prophet.