Meet Mila J.
She’s the beautiful older sister of singer/songwriter Jhene Aiko, but don’t get distracted by their DNA and uncanny resemblance, Mila is her own woman – and a very talented one at that.
Just days before the release of her music video “Smoke, Drink, Break Up” (which features a cameo by Ty Dolla $ign), Mila J took time out of her busy schedule to phone us about her forthcoming album, her love for dance, growing up in a musical family, and of course, her “baby” sister Jhene Aiko.
Interestingly enough, Mila isn’t worried about being compared to her “Bed Peace” singing sister, and from the way she described the family ties amongst the Chilombo gang, they’re thick as thieves.
Mila J’s Motown debut album is due out later on this year. Check out our exclusive interview with Mila J below.
GlobalGrind: I love “Smoke, Drink, Break Up.” Tell me about the concept behind your new single, and your new deal with Motown.
Mila J: We were just throwing out ideas and we were talking about being in that relationship that can be dysfunctional at times and people were around agreeing like, ‘I know what you mean.’ We’re either alone when we’re high. We just went from there. It was just one of those relationship-type songs that I released for myself. I’ve been in that type of relationship and everyone has too. [Motown] came because I took a break for a minute in the middle of 2000 and something and decided to release a little mixtape with five songs. I didn’t really push it too hard. I put it on the Internet and it ended up getting 600,000 downloads. I wasn’t looking for anything to come from it, but it did and labels started calling. When I took my break the first time I went away after I did one single in 2006, I erased everything. I erased my Twitter. I just disappeared. Once I released these five songs people were looking around like, ‘Where is she? Is she coming back out? Is she interested in being an artist again?’ People were really asking questions and asking around about me and a couple labels wanted to meet with me and we ended up going with Motown because everything just felt right there.
What prompted you to disappear in the early 2000s?
Before then I was in so many girl groups, which the experience was great. I’m not going to complain about that at all. But they disbanded for whatever reason so I was always used to being in groups so I didn’t know who I was as an artist solo. In a group, you compromise. It’s about what’s best for the group. Even subject matter of what you’re singing about. It’s like there’s four girls in the group, you can’t necessarily go off about what you want personally. I definitely think I was able to take that time off and really figure out who I was as a solo artist and what I wanted to talk about, what I wanted to address, be myself, basically. It was a break because I was in the industry for a minute. I came in dancing. I did different videos for different artists, but not like a video ho. I needed a break. I needed refreshment. I had to refresh my page and step back and reevaluate and came back with a clear mind. I knew what I wanted this time as a solo artist.
You’re Jhene Aiko’s older sister and your music is completely different. Are you worried about being compared to your little sister?
Worried? Not at all. Not only is that my sister, that’s my baby sister, so of course I’m always going to be protective of her. She’s been at it for a minute too. We were raised in a musical family regardless, so we knew what we were going to do at the end of the day. It’s kind of like all we know. So nothing is really happening overnight. She’s been at it for a minute since she was 10. Her hard work is paying off. I don’t compare, but I think people are going to do that just because we look alike and we have the same last name. It’s weird because some people don’t even know we’re related. I feel like our music is totally different. People are always going to create a sibling rivalry and there is none. Not at all.
You dad is a musician, right?
Yes, he’s a self-taught musician.
How was it growing up? How many siblings do you have?
There’s five. My dad has some more previous to my mom, and one after us. But in the same household and same parents, it was five of us growing up. Our garage was a full studio. He would go in. If he goes to the music store, he would get the best of the best. He had a booth built so we were just always surrounded by that element.
I started off in dance. I was one of those kids who were in dance class like 5-6 days a week and then we’d come home and would be able to go to the back of my father’s studio. My parents were always supportive of us being in entertainment in any aspect, whether it was acting, commercials, singing, or dancing. We were those kids who were at Prince’s concert. My father loves Prince, so it made us love Prince. We wanted to be Apollonia. I think we’ve been to every Janet tour. We were always surrounded by music.
Have you guys ever thought about doing music as a family like the Jacksons?
Before reality shows became popular, like in the ’90s, people would always say, ‘You guys need to be the new Jacksons, the new DeBarges,’ because we do all sing and dance. Have we talked about it recently or seriously? No. But I definitely think that something like that would happen in the future.
Have you started working on your debut album?
Yes, I have. It’s pretty much done, so we’re looking for a release date later this year I believe. I would say it’s 90 percent done.
What’s the concept?
I would say it’s definitely a lot of relationship-based songs. It has an R&B feel. A lot of the songs are like ’90s songs that you could just put on and let play – no skips. I’m kind of like that down chick. I’m like that around the way chick. I’m everybody’s homegirl, so I’m speaking a lot to guys. There’s a lot of women who are down for men when times are rough, not just the girl who’s like, ‘buy me this, Louis this, Gucci that.’ No. And I feel like there’s so many songs out there like that and my approach is more like, ‘I’m here for you. I’m going to ride for you no matter what. If you get laid off, I’m still here. I’m not leaving.’ I would say my approach on the records is really aggressive. It’s just a different approach of being that down girl. Ride or die.
Your forthcoming music video for “Smoke, Drink, Break Up” has Ty Dolla $ign in it.
Yes, he was my video boo. He actually remixed it too, so hopefully that will be released soon. We did the video last minute, super cool. It was dope too, because he’s from L.A.
You’re a phenomenal dancer. What was it about dance for you as a kid that made you want to channel your energy to dance?
Naturally, I think I have too much energy. That’s why my mom put me in dance. My attention span is real short. I started dancing around 5. Tap, African, jazz, modern, hip-hop…I really gravitated towards tap and hip-hop more because I could be more aggressive and loose. In ballet you had to be uptight and proper and I couldn’t that. Even though I still love ballet, I just loved hip-hop. That element of entertainment is missing, with the exception of Beyonce and Ciara, who are killing it. There aren’t a lot of artists who are doing it, especially for the ladies.
If I sent you to a deserted island and you could only bring three albums with you, what three albums would you bring?
I would bring John Mayer’s Continuum, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and Bob Marley’s Exodus.
In regards to style, if you’re going to the store, what do you have to have on?
I have to have on some tennis shoes, most likely some Jordans. I’m a hat girl, so I’ll probably throw on a hat. I feel like if you have a hat and tennis shoes, you’re good. I’m really minimal. I feel like simple can be better. I have to be comfortable. I can’t wear something just because it’s cute. I don’t follow trends because I feel like when you do, you’re always behind. I also love sweat suits. I’m a tomboy, so I pretty much like all boy stuff.
What artists are you working with on your new album?
Ty did the remix and Problem is on a song called “Pain In My Heart.” It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album. I don’t have too many features because this is my debut album and I feel like people need to get a sense of who I am. Features can always come, but when you have an album with a feature on every song, it’s like a crutch. I want people to get to know me and maybe we can have some features on the next album.
Besides Prince and Janet Jackson, who were your musical inspirations?
My favorite vocalist is Tank. He’s a voice god to me. In my mind I think, ‘What would Tank do?’ I love his voice. I love Beyonce. Her work ethic is crazy. Her entertaining is crazy and she does all of it in heels (laughs). I think she’s dope. Nicki Minaj. I just like people that stand out and entertain. All of the artists I named…they don’t cut any corners. You buy a ticket to their concert and shows and their albums, you’re getting their all. I love John Mayer too. He’s so dope. I love Kanye. I love my Snoop.
If you and Jhene were in a dance-off, who would win?
She would tell you that she does not like dancing. So just because she doesn’t like to, I probably would. She was enrolled in dance too, but she knew at an early age she didn’t want to do that. Jhene was always off writing somewhere in her journal.
As her big sister, did you ever bully her?
No. What’s funny is that me and her were actually the closest. There’s five of us and we’re no more than a year and a half apart. We felt more like a team than, ‘Oh, you’re my older sister.’ We were pretty much all friends. Usually when your older sister is much older than you, you take on that mom role. But we weren’t like that. We never bullied. We never really fought. I think the boys fought the most. The only thing we got mad about was me and my older sister always had to share a room. But I remember Jhene got her own room and we were like, ‘Why does she get her own room? We’re older. Why am I still sharing a bedroom and I’m 16-years-old?’ So it would be dumb stuff like that. We never did the whole, ‘You’re stealing my clothes’ thing. Me and Jhene shared more with each other.