Perhaps the best thing about SweetSexySavage is how unapologetically herself Kehlani is in this new album.
Kehlani Ashley Parrish, better known as just Kehlani, is an American R&B, hip hop, and soul artist who has gone through dozens of trials to get where she is now, and it’s paid off well in her favor. Originally part of a girl group called Poplyfe, Kehlani and the other girls made it to the fourth spot on “America’s Got Talent”. After leaving PopLyfe over disagreeing with the contracts, Kehlani was homeless and moving from couch to couch, not working on music or herself. It wasn’t until Nick Cannon, who had tried to get her to join a rap group, heard her first solo track “ANTISUMMERLUV” that Kehlani was given a second chance. Both her mixtapes, Coud 19 and You Should Be Here were given great reviews, and Kehlani was finally put on the radar.
SweetSexySavage is her first studio album, and it will surely not be her last. On her second mixtape, Kehlani was nominated for a Grammy for the Best Urban Contemporary Album on You Should Be Here, and with this new album I’m certain she’ll be nominated again. Not only is SweetSexySavage honest, but Kehlani does not hold back in pouring her thoughts and heart into these songs.
When I first listened to the album, the “Intro” was the first thing that grabbed me. Starting with a poem written by Reyna Biddy, an up and coming writer, Kehlani builds on the title of her album by using a quote that is feminist at its heart. She calls herself a “superwoman” and “an angry woman” and a “crazy woman”, meaning to encompass all the things women can be. The intro is only a minute long, but she still manages to put so much emotion into the words that by the time “Keep On” starts, you’re already pumped and empowered.
“Keep On” starts immediately after the intro. The beat is simple–clapping and snapping with music playing underneath–and Kehlani’s voice is quiet and simple. The lyrics are fun and it’s one of the better first songs on an album that I’ve heard. It gets you in the mood and gives you a sense of what will be coming.
One of the best things about this album is how Kehlani makes subtle, but powerful nods to those who have come before her. The title of her album is a play on TLC’s CrazySexyCool, while in “Undercover” she borrows the lyrics “You know they don’t wanna see us together/But it don’t matter, no, ’cause I got you.” from Akon’s popular 2007 song “Don’t Matter”.
Another song, “In My Feelings” plays on New Editions “If This Isn’t Love”, and many of the songs use melodies and pieces of songs to pay homage to artists of the 90s and early 2000s. Kehlani is aware of those who came before her, those who made the genre of music she is dominating great.
There are sprinklings of feminism throughout the entire album. “Too Much” is one song where I most noticed this. It speaks about being “too much of a woman/too much of a boss ass bitch”, things that many women deal with in their lives. They are always accused of being too much, and Kehlani confronts this in the song, finally concluding that it’s “[their] loss” and that they have to “deal with it”.
In “Advice” Kehlani sings about relationships and how toxic they can be, about people who don’t see you for your worth. It’s one of the softer songs on the album, and it deserves to be. Talking about abusive or toxic relationships isn’t always something that should be sung from rooftops, and obviously it is something very personal for her.
My personal favorite on the album is “Escape”, a quieter song on the album but no less powerful. She talks about being an escape for someone but not wanting them to sacrifice himself for her. Something I loved about the album was how she sings about different types of love; this song is no different. When I listened to the song I could feel the struggle between loving someone but not wanting to give your whole self to them or vice versa. Kehlani consistently manages to make me feel during this album and I love it.
“Gangsta” from the Suicide Squad soundtrack was Kehlani’s first time writing and singing something for a movie soundtrack. It’s an interesting song that fits the tone of the movie, but on the deluxe version of the album it’s listed as the last song; not something I would have chosen to do. It’s a good song but it fits more in the middle of the album, not the closing.
“Thank You” is the song that should have ended the album, in my opinion. It’s one of the most emotional and honest songs of the album, one that calls attention to the things she’s lost and the road she’s travelled on the way to where she is now. It can be interpreted in many ways: a thank you to the people who believed in her enough to give her a chance with Cloud 19, a thank you to the fans who have stuck around for so long and encouraged her to keep singing and writing. Kehlani “wants to be better than [she] was” in this song, and the album and this song reflects that sentiment.
The most incredible thing about Kehlani and SweetSexySavage is how she manages to take a genre that has a tendency to fall back on old tropes and make it something new. Each song has a different message, a unique sound; there is talk of past love and the past itself but it is not dominating. Kehlani proves that women can be all three of the things naming her album–sweet, sexy, and savage.