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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Kehlani is ‘SweetSexySavage’

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Cristina Interiano
Cristina Interiano

“My condolences to anyone who has ever lost me / And, to anyone who got lost in me / Or, to anyone who ever felt they took a loss with me / … I’m sorry you missed the God in me.”

The solo voice of poet Reyna Biddy commands the opening track on Kehlani’s debut solo album, “SweetSexySavage.” The powerful minute of spoken word introduces listeners to an album that epitomizes the eclecticism of not only Kehlani’s musicality, but of her womanhood. Just like some days she’s a “superwoman … an angry woman … [or] a crazy woman,” the artist’s tracks blend R&B, pop, dance and ’90s hip-hop to create a self-aware album that can be put in a box just as easily as its creator can — which is not at all.

A girl-band alum and former contestant on “America’s Got Talent,” the 21-year-old songstress garnered a definitive name for herself in 2016 when her second mixtape “You Should Be Here” was nominated for a Grammy, and the singer announced her deal with Atlantic records. However, early 2016 proved to be an extremely difficult time for the artist following very public social media drama surrounding her alleged infidelity with PartyNextDoor while dating then-boyfriend, Kyrie Irving. Kehlani’s subsequent suicide attempt rallied many fans and supporters around her, but also led to a large amount of unwarranted public backlash, including many critical comments made by Chris Brown. It’s safe to say that once the songwriter had fully recovered, anticipation for her first complete album was at a peak amongst fans who wished to further encourage and connect with her.

While Kehlani’s external and internal battles do not define who she is as an artist, it would be a disservice not to attempt to comprehend the effects such struggles and her consequent healing had on her latest artistic endeavor. Pop ballads like “Advice” and “Piece of Mind” delve authentically into “almost [losing her] mind” and “[leaving herself] behind,” but ultimately end on saving and bettering her current self.

Kehlani’s lyrics don’t stay in one headspace for too long, though, as she follows her self-rescue songs with tracks like “In My Feelings,” a new rendering of New Edition’s 1988 single “If It Isn’t Love.” The song not only marks one of the many ’80s or ’90s inspirations found on the album, but an instance where the young artist finds it difficult to break away from a relationship that isn’t right for her because it feels so good. We find Kehlani bouncing from introspective self-reflection to flirtatious lovesickness in “Get Like” and “Undercover,” the latter of which harkens back to Akon and successfully fulfills its role as another catchy pop tune on the record.

Kehlani pays tribute to the likes of other R&B legends like Aaliyah in “Personal.” The complex track highlights a theme echoed in the majority of her work, self-awareness and acceptance. Demonstrating her newfound staunch confidence, the singer includes feeling-yourself bops such as “CRZY,” “Do U Dirty” and “Too Much,” tracks that ultimately let listeners know she’s “all grown up” and has come into her own as an artist.

With her first 18-song record, Kehlani has created a diverse set of tracks that embody her whole self as a woman. The young artist comes into her own as R&B’s newest and diverse songstress on “SweetSexySavage,” letting everyone know you should get you a girl that can do all three.


Artist: Kehlani

Album: “SweetSexySavage”

Label: Atlantic

Tracks: “Get Like,” “Not Used To It,” “Advice,” “Distraction”

If you like: Tinashe, Jhene Aiko, SZA

4/5 Shamrocks