What Jhene Aiko’s “Trip” Teaches Us About Love, Loss and Moving On

It is, I think, no coincidence that I became a Jhene Aiko fan during the most transitional period of my life. I began listening to her music during my last semester of undergrad. It was 2014, and I had absolutely no idea what my life would look like in the next three months, let alone three years. I had seen her image floating around the internet for some time by that point and I recognized her voice from a collaboration with Drake called “July”. One day, during my last round of final exams, I decided to give her mixtape “Sail Out” a listen. It was Jhene’s song, “Comfort Inn Ending” that solidified me as a fan. Here, finally, was a true story teller in R&B. She has managed to do in her music what I think a lot of music artists struggle with, if they have bothered to try at all, which is tell a complete story.

What amazed me about “Comfort Inn Ending” was that just when you thought you had figured the narrator out, she takes us down a much different road. The song explores the conclusion of a romantic relationship but in the end, it is revealed the most of her pain stems from the death of her brother. It is her brother’s death that causes her to look for love in others and what makes it so painful when she does not find it. This ability to de-center romantic love while still generating an emotional response is not common in R&B, or music in general. This theme has reappeared a few times in Jhene’s music, including in her most recent project.

Comfort Inn Ending

It is no surprise to me that three years after purchasing her first album, I find myself watching a short film called “Trip” written by Jhene herself as well as Tracy Oliver. I think any fan of Jhene understands how we got to this point. The story follows Penny, a highly medicated poet who is, like many of us, looking for a place to belong. She is approached by a lone traveler named Dante while writing on the beach. It is clear from the beginning that Dante is a boy like any other. He uses cliché lines like “you come here often?” to get Penny’s attention and pull her into a conversation. He moves closer after Penny says she enjoys the solitude of the beach. He reads her writing without permission. He calls her “cute” for being a “real live poet”. He is nice enough, but there is nothing remarkable about him. Still, he appeals to Penny, who is looking for her brother wherever she can find him. Plus, Dante is going on a trip and that seems to be just what Penny needs.

Dante has a smile like Penny’s brother. He is a Cancer like Penny’s brother. He’s handsome like her brother. But he is not Penny’s brother and despite the fun they have together in the beginning, she pulls away once the medication runs out. Dante tells her he is just trying to help and Penny responds with one of the truest lines in the film, “you can’t help me”.

After seeing Penny kiss another guy at a party, Dante leaves. No surprise there. After all, He is not her brother, or even her friend. And neither are the drugs or the other men at the club. When the trip is over, Penny is briefly reunited with her brother. This scene feels like the culmination of so many moments in Jhene’s music. Songs like “Comfort Inn Ending” and “Promises” from her debut album, “Souled Out”, have been pushing us here for years. She asks her brother how she is supposed to live without him and he replies, “by letting me go”. The film ends with one final poem and the camera cuts to a pair of green and yellow Nikes. We understand that these are not her brother’s exact sneakers, since she mentioned earlier that he was buried in them, but the fact that she has a pair just like his signifies that she will carry on his legacy and try to metaphorically fill his shoes.

“He’s not really dead, as long as we remember him.” This is a line from “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”, though I must admit I know it from “Seinfeld”. I was reminded of it in the final scene of Jhene Aiko’s “Trip”. Her brother tells her, “I’m stuck here because of you”. It is the inverse of that Star Trek quote. The living want the dead to remain and we often pursue that in ways that are harmful to ourselves: we try to numb the pain, often in hopes of joining them. However, what her brother’s final lines suggest is that more than anything, the dead would like to be allowed the chance to move on. Jhene’s interpretation of that seems to be that as long as the living loved ones are in pain over the death, the deceased is trapped. What Penny’s brother wants is for her to be at peace, so he can be too.

A huge part of life is trying to understand death. When a loved one passes, it is a reminded of our own mortality so we build memorials to them regularly. We go through old pictures and videos, we hold on to their favorite hats, we read and re-read notes that they wrote to us, we write songs for them and sometimes even movies. These are the best-case scenarios. In building memorials for the deceased, we are also, consciously or subconsciously, building memorials for ourselves. In an interview with Rap Genius, talking about her song “Promises”, Jhene says that she used the old recordings of her brother and daughter singing to create a song that her daughter could have when she, herself was “gone”. This is part of grieving, which is necessary for moving on.

One of the final scenes of “Trip” is Penny’s brother walking off on the beach. Jhene closes with a final poem, the last lines being: “you brought me to my inner peace/ you taught me it was meant for me/ it ends how it begins my friend/ until we meet again”.

Is this the last time we will see Penny’s brother, Jhene’s brother, in her music? I am sure it’s not. In a genre saturated with lyrics about romantic love, I have always appreciated that Jhene is an artist willing to explore the many other types of relationships humans have with each other. It is why I feel I know her better than most other artists. What “Trip” makes clear is that an integral part of letting a loved one go is remembering them in ways that allow you to live your best and most productive life. Only through art can someone who has died be reborn again and again. Mourning is what you get when you have loved and lost. The rebirth is what you get when you have moved on. That is what Jhene has given us with “Trip”.

creative writer, creative speller.