After a turbulent last 12 months, Kehlani‘s career, and indeed her life, were looking immensely troubled. After dark rumours of her relationships with Kyrie Irving and fellow R&B star PARTYNEXTDOOR turning sour, she reportedly felt suicidal and was nursed back to health shortly after. Whilst being a delicate issue, it’s a fair comment to suggest that this personal trauma could’ve served as major inspiration for her to create some great music.
And it has. It really has. In the form of her debut album, right here:
She goes out of her way to prove that SweetSexySavage is an accurate triplet of words to describe her personality, talents and strength of character. It’s HER which makes this project so compelling, as it’s a collection of songs about her mental state, her health and her thoughts surrounding her love life.
Her self-confidence is back in ‘CRZY‘ – a banger about the insanity of her situation -‘If I gotta be a bitch, imma be a bad one’ she says. ‘Undercover‘ is a track about keeping her love a secret, and is sung with eloquence and class. ‘How is the man of my dreams not a man of this world?’ she asks herself in ‘Advice‘, a realisation that her emotions might not be met with logic in this crazy industry.
However, for me, the track ‘Distraction‘ is the standout of the entire album. Kehlani has suggested before that she is bisexual, and this track explains how she was attracted to a girl, but didn’t feel the need for a serious relationship with her. Not only is this song an anthem for the modernisation of relationships and the logistics of how they now work, it’s also simply catchy as shit. Her cultured vocal delivery and excellent production help to create a smooth, sensual R&B ballad with a banging beat…you know…for the club.
It’s difficult to talk about her dark times this past year, but it would be foolish to think those moments in her life aren’t relevant to the context of this body of work, especially when you listen to ‘Piece Of Mind‘. The lyrical content, whilst sung in a light-hearted manner, really do hit you deep. Pretty much the entire first verse and chorus are her direct thoughts on what went down between her and the two men famously in her life. ‘Trying to forget all of the secondary feelings I had, man it was f*cking scary’, she tells us. At least she’s honest and secure enough to talk about it and use music as a medium to heal.
‘At least I learned a thing or two, about me and you, what we went through’. A powerful line and a powerful message. But the way she confronts these issues in this album are testament to her extreme musical and artistic talents. ‘Too Much‘ and ‘In My Feelings‘ are great R&B tracks with interesting production, an aspect of the album which offers fantastic results. Pop & Oak, The Featherstones and Kaolo contribute throughout with wavy, succinct yet also hard beats which give Kehlani a platform to broadcast her voice and freedom. Good, layered production is easier to find than a gifted voice like Kehlani‘s.
Another particularly good track is ‘Personal‘. It sounds like some classic bombastic female vocalist music, and that’s what it is. Talking about her progression, how she viewed her exes and how she’s adopted a savage (hence the album title) approach to how she deals with complications from men. The hook is brilliant, the beat is hypnotic and the outro is sophisticated with a haunting aura around it. ‘Don’t take it personal, I know it hurts and all.’ Oh, Kehlani, you’re killing me.
I have to mention the stunningly seductive ‘Everything Is Yours‘, too. The blend of atmospheric, watery production, provocative lyricism and silky delivery ends up in a pretty addictive song. Sexual freedom and liberation are things she advocates, but when she sings ‘Up at a time that I shouldn’t be, thinking about things I shouldn’t be’, perhaps there are a few more sinister forces at play…
The cover art to Kehlani‘s fantastic debut album SweetSexySavage
It’s true that this project has some songs which are fairly interchangeable, but you shouldn’t mistake cohesiveness for a lack of ideas. For a singer whose career began on America’s Got Talent, Kehlani has transformed herself from the shy introvert she arguably once was into a suitably self-confident R&B album maker, with a catalogue of individual tracks which she can reel off at any given moment and be proud of all she’s achieved so far. Still only 21 years old, and with 2 recognised solo projects under her belt already, I’m excited for her.
SweetSexySavage is titled that way as a tribute to TLC’s CrazySexyCool, and I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t hear Kehlani channel some of her inner T-Boz. This album is a light 8/10 for me and I have to say, considering her hardships in 2016, Kehlani has started off 2017 with a rather more positive bombshell.
Personal favourites : Distraction, Piece Of Mind, Undercover, Personal, Everything Is Yours
Least favourites : Hold Me By The Heart (if I had to pick one)