TWENTY88, the collabo project from Jhene Aiko and Big Sean, is a concept album on love. That’s the overarching storyline boiled down to a clause. But Jhene and Sean are prone to delve much deeper in their music, using the Ja-Rule-Ashanti rap–and-R&B hybrid here as a blueprint. Showing off their emotional intelligence is where the light shines brightest for this project, but for all the angles they attack in the relationship narrative, the conflicts remain unsolved.
The song construct for the eight-track record is pretty much a tete-a-tete throughout the entire project. It follows the stages relationships tend to go through: yearning, frustration, desire, lust, distrust, hope (though not in that order) from both sides. As equals, no less.
“Déjà vu” sets the scene for how modern relationships tend to operate: playing games by playing with emotions as the hook recalls “all the nights we used to fall through / wondering you don’t fall through /on the late nights I used to call you / wondering why I don’t call you.”
As the project plays out, the story reveals a relationship that is equal parts emotional tension met with a physical compatibility that refuses to be squandered or ignored. There’s talk of good sex that’s explicit and raw which serves as a baseline for their emotional shortcomings. The duo reinforces their chemistry in “On the Way” but later questions that very chemistry’s worth in “Talk Show” where Sean asks the big question: “You take the sex away then what else are we left to lay in?”
Lines like that place Sean at the front of the record even when the two are presented as equals. His verses deliver the fervent punches to match Jhene’s sultry moods, with lines like, “I feel like I chose the wrong bitch like Steve Harvey.” Producers Key Wane, Cam O’bi and Da Internz do the main construction for TWENTY88, offering thumping beats chock full of low drums and hi-hats, and warped guitar riffs as a cool backdrop to air out the story at hand. The tracks fit a similar mold but the production isn’t meant to be complex. That’s not to be read as a bad feature because the real complexity stands in the overall picture TWENTY88 is trying to paint.
Modern relationships tend to be a slippery slope, especially when warbled with mind games, social media and this idea of “options.” Yes, Big Sean and Jhene’s project is an in-depth look at what it’s like to be in a relationship – that’s nothing new, especially in music – but presenting both sides equally is a fresh reform on the approach.
In present day times, it’s so easy to take one side and make judgments with access to very few facts and perspectives. Sean and Jhene express these experiences so articulately throughout the project, running through the emotional highs and lows. “On the way” speaks on the exhilaration in love and then is immediately countered with frustration in “Selfish.” The record bubbles and boils, culminating the eventual end and mutual sadness that comes with a breakup: “I got all these memories faded of you / with me being faded with you.”
Overall TWENTY88 is a successful experiment, worthy of any hopeless romantic. Both Sean and Jhene bring their A-game in form of lyric and tone, further solidifying their musical chemistry in an avenue that used to be only be one-sided: a rap song with a R&B hook, or a soul jam with a hip-hop guest verse. TWENTY88 presents the two as equals, offering each their fair share and explanation, to remind us that it takes two to make things go right.
Stream the album exclusively on TIDAL or purchase on iTunes.