Kehlani‘s dealt with it all on the road to her debut album – the good and the bad. The Oakland 21 year-old discovered the best and the worst parts of the internet while publicly battling with her quick rise to fame and her own mental health. The internet built Kehlani up. It lauded her first two mixtapes and celebrated with her when the second was nominated for a Grammy out of nowhere. It also fuelled cheating rumours and led her to one of the lowest points of her life last year.
Fame is a difficult thing to deal with when you’re as honest as Kehlani. She’s garnered a dedicated fanbase that she interacts with consistently but with that comes the naysayers that sometimes shout louder than the supporters. On SweetSexySavage, her debut album, she reclaims herself, blocking the negativity and embracing the positivity. It’s full of some of the brightest, most self-assured music she’s ever made, without ignoring the ups and downs of the past 12 months.
The record starts with the words of poet Reyna Biddy, “I’m afraid you’re under the impression/That I was made to please you/I was under the impression you understood me better.” The simple fact is, while this music is accessible, you’re not fully going to understand it unless you’ve grown with Kehlani and been through the highs and lows. It’s not just for her but for the fans.
Early cut Piece Of Mind blocks the drama and moves forward, cleaning the slate for the rest of the album. “I’m tryna break off a piece of mind,” she sings, referencing the drama of the last year without letting it darken the song’s sunny disposition. She references tough times at numerous points throughout the LP but she’s never lets it pull her down. “I wanna be better than I was, better than I am,” she sings on the album’s heartwarming closer Thank You with a never-get-me-down spirit.
SweetSexySavage is split roughly into three different modes, Sweet, sexy and savage, aptly covering some of the strongest traits of her personality. The anthems tend to fall into the savage area. CRZY is a focussed and ferocious R&B jam while Too Much features the album’s strongest hook, “I’m too much of woman, too much of a badass bitch.” The latter is the most likely on the album to become a hit because it showcases all her strengths – the sharp tongue, the slippery voice and the unmatched confidence.
Kehlani’s soulful, textured voice is suited perfectly for the sexy jams and she sizzles on Do U Dirty. The bedroom anthem is one of the darkest things she’s ever done but it’s built with a chorus that unexpectedly floats with sweeping strings. Previous single Distraction oozes sexiness as Kehlani shows off with those effortless runs.
As powerful as it is, at times her message is diluted from a little overstuffing. The album’s 18 tracks could’ve been edited tighter with tracks like the acoustic guitar-driven Escape and the sweet Hold Me By The Heart falling a little flat. There’s no doubt she can do sweet, slow-burning cuts but occasionally she drifts into movie soundtrack territory and it doesn’t feel as impassioned as the rest of the album. Thank You and Advice are examples of soaring anthems that don’t fall into the territory.
Still, when you look back on the record in hindsight it’s hard not to be affected by it if you’ve been around since the mixtapes. She sounds like she’s grown up and is genuinely looking towards the positive while still acknowledging that sometimes things get shit. “Take my own advice,” she sings on Advice, a timely reminder to block out the negative side of the internet and those negative forces closest to her. At only 21 years-old she’s done a lot of growing and experienced a lot. As such, you’re going to struggle to find a debut album that’s this passionate, multi-dimensional and honest.