By Edwin Boadu
CN: suicide, depression, recreational drugs,
self-medication, death, cancer, bad trip, anxiety, paranoia
Chances are that if you see me strolling on the streets with my earphones plugged securely in my ears, I am most likely listening to Jhené Aiko’s stratospherically/atmospherically beautiful album, Trip. Trip, released in September 2017, explores the alteration of- and escape from- reality through the use of recreational drugs, such as stimulants (drugs that increase alertness and energy), depressants (drugs that induce relaxation and calmness) and hallucinogens.
Alongside her album Trip, Aiko also released a 23-minute, semi-autobiographical short film, also entitled Trip, that features Tracy Oliver and is important for understanding the album. The short film follows the journey of Penny, who uses self-medication to be more introspective and feel closer to her deceased brother. Aiko’s own brother, Miyagi, died at the age of 26 as a result of a brain tumour.
So why am I so obsessed with Aiko’s latest album? When I’m trying to fathom Trip’s mastery, Jukai, the second song in the album, is what I always turn to – a record that combines chords so ethereally with Aiko’s heavenly voice that it does not fail to instil a sense of serenity and increase one’s self-awareness. What I find most commendable about the track is its raw treatment of suicide and depression, and its aim to destigmatise such issues and break through the silence that pervades our society.
“What I find most commendable about the track is its raw treatment of suicide and depression”
The track’s very title Jukai is a reference to the Sea of Trees, which is synonymous with the Suicide Forest found in Japan (Aokigahara) – a popular destination for suicide. Aiko alludes to Jukai in order to metaphorically present to a “journey” to/of suicide to her listeners. The singer eschews conventional, repetitive choruses, and instead uses an intro, a single verse and an outro to suggest that suicide is a linear journey which features an accumulation of thoughts that result in the conclusive action.
Instead of building up to the obvious climax, the song takes an alternative route and ends the with Aiko’s statement that she ‘Made it out alive, made it out alive/Oh I, Oh I, Oh I’. With the seemingly joyous ending and through the creation of a cyclical structure that ties the outro with the intro, Aiko powerfully and subtly introduces another issue of suicide: suicide is not a thought that occurs once in someone’s life, but rather thoughts which can constantly return if the person suffers from mental instability.
“Suicide is not a thought that occurs once in someone’s life, but rather thoughts which can constantly return if the person suffers from mental instability”
Trip also explores the more negative side of recreational drugs. Overstimulated, my personal favourite, examines, alongside LSD, Bad Trip and Oblivion, the frightening experience of a bad trip (a psychedelic crisis whereby manifestations range from anxiety, paranoia to profoundly disturbing states of terror or entrapment). The ending of Overstimulated is particularly suggestive of a bad trip, as the singer states ‘What the fuck did you give me? / Did you see that?’. Whilst the singer shouts this, we can hear another voice that states ‘Oh no, no chill / I don’t know what you’re talking about / Relax, relax’. However, the other person fails to calm the person down, and instead makes the situation worse. Through this short exchange, Aiko unveils the uselessness and the dangers of trying to calm someone who experiences a bad trip by simply stating ‘chill’ or ‘relax’, as, rather than instilling calmness, it instead often increases the level of paranoia and anxiety.
To really understand the full essence of Trip, you need to take your time, slow down and adjust your mind to the various rhythms and powerful allusions. After listening to the album almost every day since its release, I came to the conclusion that Aiko does not condone the use recreational drugs, but instead, through her album, she neutrally presents it as an option that aids a person’s introspection. However, she does not fail to depict the effects that it has in the long run on mental health, as she explores in her last song Trip, which features Mali Music.
“The album is ‘inspired by every type of trip you could imagine: mental, physical, psychedelic’”
In an interview with The Breakfast Club, Aiko states that the album is ‘inspired by every type of trip you could imagine: mental, physical, psychedelic’. It is with this quotation in mind that you should listen to the album. I believe that, this way, notions of introspection and identity that are effectively dealt with in the songs becomes clearer.