TWENTY88 is the name of the duo that features Big Sean and Jhene Aiko, and the self-titled album dropped on the first of this month. It was no April Fools joke, so one must applaud their secrecy with this project; not many of us would have predicted an album from the two or a group forming so soon. TWENTY88 acts as a continuation of Big Sean and Jhene Aiko’s most recent collaboration on ‘I Know’ off last year’s Dark Sky Paradise album. The artists have worked well together on other tracks such as ‘Beware’, and it seems that relationship ballads are what the artists relate to.

With the album being released by Def Jam Recordings, it was exclusively available on Tidal for 96 hours of its release, before it was approved on other platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. The pair are a classic example of those devoted to the streaming site Tidal that have been able to keep their venture a secret, like the founder Jay Z’s wife Beyoncé did earlier this year with her single ‘Formation’. A few days before the album’s release, Big Sean and Jhene Aiko announced to fans that they were forming a duo, named TWENTY88.

Jhene Aiko in particular looks slightly different on the album cover, wearing an orange wig, which may indicate to fans that she wants to distance herself from the singer we are used to on her own records. Jhene’s music is usually quite deep and the lyrics are usually melancholic, however TWENTY88 is based on romance. Similarly, Big Sean does not usually write such passionate tracks on his albums, he tends to focus more on his “blessings” or lifestyle when it comes to pursuing women, whereas as this EP addresses relationship struggles and he sings his heart out on ‘Memories Faded’ (although during his rap verse on the track he does transition into the rapper that fans will be familiar with). The album adopts the chronicles of the highs and lows of relationships, concentrating on disappointment, conflict, sex, love and memories which is self-evident from the track titles. The EP production is conducted by Sean’s common collaborator Key Wane.

‘Déjà Vu’ is the first track on the EP, and it makes clear the musical direction the duo has decided to take. ‘Déjà Vu’ is a love song about remembering the nights that each of them have been let down by each other. Interestingly, despite Big Sean being a well established rapper he does sing alongside Jhene Aiko on the chorus which may come as a shock to fans. The lyrical content is literally split between the two like the album cover. ‘Selfish’ is a more upbeat song than the introductory track, but shares the same focus on heartbreak and disappointment faced with love. The battle-of-the-sexes is evident on this track where the pair are only able to place the blame on each other, rather than looking within themselves. 

‘Two Minute Warning’ is produced by Detail: the guy behind Jay Z and Beyonce’s massive hit ‘Drunk In Love’. ‘Two Minute Warning’ may reveal itself as the record’s chart-topper, considering it features timeless 90s R&B duo K-Ci & JoJo, though Big Sean’s rapping does dominate a lot of the track. Jhene’s vocals work well with K-Ci and Jojo which we do not hear enough of unfortunately. ‘Talk Show’ is a personal favourite off the album – the soundtrack feels like a 70s throwback. The American talk show style that the duo adopt mimics the explosive nature of couples on talk shows with some explicit lyrics particularly from Big Sean.

The final song on the album named ‘London Bridge’ begins with the beautiful vocals from Jhene Aiko. Its namesake seems to come from “the kids singing about the London Bridge falling down”, which in this context relates to the nature of relationships too as Jhene sings about “everything coming to an end”. However, she is not pessimistic because she says “hopefully the end ain’t near” and discusses nature which fans will know she is very much in touch with from her previous mixtape Sailing Souls and album Souled Out. In Jhene’s vocals she makes a direct comparison to London Bridge falling down and life without love. She goes to the extent of saying that if her love was to leave her it would be a “historical disaster”.

It is symbolic that this track was left till last on the EP because it ties up with the theme of relationships and the trials and tribulations one faces. There are only eight tracks on the album which is disappointing as the EP feels like it ends abruptly. However, I hope there is more music to come from the artists or a tour later in the year. As a fan of both artists’ work separately, I am not sure whether they work amazingly together, as it appears on some tracks they both seem to be out of their comfort zone. That said, there are definitely some stand out tracks that may end up doing very well for them.

Amani Dauda

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