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It may appear that 2017 was a year of growth and good times for singer Jhené Aiko, but fans are familiar with the struggle that can be heard behind the singer’s hypnotizing hymns. Her latest album entitled Trip, is the “While We’re Young” artist’s latest effort to remind listeners that behind that beautiful voice and in her petite frame lives the soul of a poet.

The 29-year-old recently released her first book 2Fish, the final installment of her project “MAP” (an acronym for “movie, album, and poetry book”) that Aiko started in September as a way to process her grief after her older brother’s Miyagi’s death. Miyagi passed away at the age of 26 in 2012 due to complications caused by an inoperable brain tumor. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Aiko shares how the project helped her to process the pain:

“Expressing yourself is really important when you’re dealing with emotions that are not easy to deal with.”

“For me, writing has always been my way of expressing myself and not feeling judged, just getting through difficult times… I feel like when anyone holds anything in, that creates stress and the pain disables you.”

Aiko, who was once diagnosed as bi-polar by a doctor, reflects on different ways she dealt with her grief, both healthy and unhealthy. Trip is filled with drug-induced journeys experienced while under the influence of psychedelic drugs like mushrooms, but the artist maintains she repeatedly returns to writing as a way to move past the pain instead of being paralyzed by it:

“I definitely have been in really dark moments. I’m an emotional person and very, very sensitive.”

“Sometimes it feels like I can’t even go outside because I’ll literally feel every passing person’s emotions or [I’ll watch] the news [and] I’ll be like, ‘Ok, s—.’ I’ll really feel it to the point where I feel like I can’t move. And that’s why I write. That’s why I make music. I try to turn it into art.”

2Fish, the final piece in the “MAP” project, is a collection of poems, short stories, diary-like entries, and sketches that she’s been writing from the age of 16 until now. The project also includes Trip, an album of 22 songs as well as a short film. Aiko explains that her brother was huge inspiration in her life artistically and introduced her to “new ways of thinking” through artists and books he introduced her to. She shares that in his final days Miyagi turned to Buddhism and filled his life with positive energy for the two years he fought cancer. Still, Aiko says with his death she felt like she lost an “extension” of herself and started “taking trips, trying to escape any person, place or thing that is too familiar”:

“Physical trips by car, by plane; mental trips with controlled substances; trips in solitude in hopes that the quiet will bring me and my brother back together.”

“This MAP has been helping me navigate through my suffering, uncovering the righteous path that has been carved out before and for me.”

The artist hasn’t had to travel the whole journey alone. Aiko has two sisters, and recently began the process of building a relationship with her father, Dr. Karamo Chilombo aka “Dr. Chill”, an actual licensed physician in Los Angeles. Aiko shares her father separated from her father when she was an infant and admits that the most time they’ve ever spent together was during the making of the Trip album. The singer shared with Rolling Stone, they explored music and had a jam session while Aiko tripped off psychedelics:

“It was a crazy spiritual moment.”

“We recorded 70 minutes of just singing, talking and chanting to the point where we are probably going to do a project in the near future.”

She also shares boyfriend, rapper Big Sean, has been an instrumental part in being able to express herself creatively. The pair collaborated on the album Twenty88 in 2016. He also makes an appearance on Trip and can often be caught popping up on random stops of her tour dancing with his lady on stage or giving her hugs or just genuine support. Aiko, who recently finalized a divorce to producer “Dot Da Genius” whom she was only married to for a short time, says her relationship with Big Sean is based on a foundation of communication, understanding and most importantly, friendship:

“I think that it’s all about communication. I also have a daughter who just turned 9 and she knows that I have a lot going on.. [and] he does as well.”

“We’re just supportive of each other in that way. We trust each other, we communicate with each other, and we’re friends.”

“When you’re really friends there’s no petty arguments. It’s definitely something that we always remind each other [about]. We’re friends [first].”

Initially following her brother’s death, the singer admits she distanced herself from her family who in many ways were significant reminders of the loss of her brother:

“In the beginning of the grieving process, I was a lot more standoffish towards my family because it was a reminder that my brother wasn’t around.”

“As I get older, my family, to me, is the embodiment of love.”

She reveals unfortunately, her daughter was sometimes negatively affected by her struggles with depression and desperate need to escape her pain:

“I feel like there were times where I felt like I wasn’t giving her as much attention because I was just so out of it and trying to escape everything.”

With 2Fish, Aiko hopes that she can use her experiences to share with others that pain doesn’t have to equal isolation:

“If I’m feeling like I don’t think I can make it, if I write that down, that thought disappears because now it’s on paper. I’ve expressed it and let it out. Just thinking that all day? Who knows. But I have to express it.”

You can read the article in its entirety here. Also, check out some of Aiko at a recent book signing below with fans who recently received their copy of 2Fish.

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