Who Is Jhene Aiko? The American Music Awards Nominee Is Up Against Huge Names in R&B

Though you may not have realized it, R&B singer Jhené Aiko has been responsible for some of your favorite music of the last decade. Aiko is nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Female Artist - Soul/R&B this year, and on Nov. 23 we will find out if she was able to beat out Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige for the trophy. Against those two powerhouses, the chances of Aiko's name being called are long shot (especially because the AMAs are voted on directly by fans, and Aiko doesn't have the same level of name recognition yet as the other women in her category). But just being nominated alongside these two music industry legends should be making the artist feel pretty good right now. And her time in the spotlight is only just beginning.

Aiko, now 26, has been involved in the music industry since she was a preteen. Though she didn't release her first EP, .sailing soul(s)., until 2011, she's been a featured artist on plenty of songs from the early 2000s, including at least a few that should be very familiar to you. Here's one of her collaborations from that time. Is it bringing back middle school memories? I know it is for me.

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That's right, that's Aiko's voice on "Tease," by B2K, the R&B boy band. What else do we need to know about this up-and-coming soul singer?

She and B2K Go Way Back

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That video was filmed back in 2002, when Aiko was just 14 years old. Though it's probably a little embarrassing to look back on, B2K was one of the biggest R&B acts of the time, so the teenager was well-situated to break into the music industry. Though she says in the video above that she and B2K member Lil' Fizz are cousins, she later revealed that they're not actually related. As she told Vibe, "The whole me being Lil’ Fizz’s cousin was a marketing tool. At the time, I was 12 so I didn’t really care. I wasn’t really involved in that decision, but [he] is really close with my family. I’ve known him since I was eight and he was like a cousin." Her record companies — Sony and Epic — devised the white lie to help connect her to the group. She ended up recording on the majority of the songs for B2K: The Remixes - Volume 1, as well as on a song from their Christmas album, and appeared in several of their music videos.

Then She Grew Up

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Between 2003 and 2007, Aiko took a break from music, during which time she graduated from high school and had a daughter with singer O'Ryan, B2K member Omarion's brother. When she began working with major studios again, she was hit with the stark realities of the music business, according to Soul Culture:

Shortly before I conceived my daughter, I stepped back into the field and took a meeting with a label head. In this meeting, I was innocently told, to ‘sell’ myself when walking into these meetings. That’s when I decided I would ‘sail’ myself rather than sell myself.

Aiko decided to release her EP, .sailing soul(s). — get it? — independently. She was able to recruit multiple major hip-hop and rap acts to feature on several tracks, including Miguel, Drake, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar. The process of creating the album and simultaneously starting a family took a while, and .sailing soul(s). wasn't finally released until 2011. But her plan worked: she was back making music, and people started to take notice.

Now She's a Big Deal

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Aiko released two more albums in the next three years: Sail Out in 2013 and Souled Out this September. Both were from the major studio Def Jam, giving the singer even more exposure. Her most recent LP in particular was well received by critics and fans, earning a 75 (out of 100) score on Metacritic, based on reviews. Aiko's music has evolved from an earlier, girlish R&B into a more experimental, psychedelic sound that still pays tribute to her roots. No matter how things turn out for her at the American Music Awards on Sunday, this performer definitely has more interesting things to offer, and a strong future ahead of her.