Confession: I’m not really a Kehlani fan.
That’s not to say I haven’t heard or enjoyed some of her music (“The Way” is amazing, obviously). I’m well aware of the famous flings, the suicide attempt and her overall place in pop culture. After If You Should Be Here, it’s hard not to recognize her obvious star power.
But Kehlani isn’t someone I willingly listen to. For me, she’s is in this weird middle ground between Rihanna and Ariana Grande: slightly edgy but ultimately very tame. The face-tats-and-Backwoods thing is cool, but there’s a disconnect between her image and her music that kinda kills it for me. See also: Zayn Malik.
With her major label debut, SweetSexySavage, maybe Kehlani will pleasantly surprise me. Or maybe it’ll just confirm my gripes. I just looked on Wikipedia and it says the album was released on Atlantic, so I already have a feeling which one it’ll be.
Anyway, let’s give it a fair shake. For those on the fence, I'll give you the project's three best songs, after which you can decide if you're swayed to dig deeper.
Spoiler alert: I haven't heard any of the album's singles until now.
Three Standout Songs
Between Lil Uzi’s “2 Banned From TV” and Kanye’s “Facts” remix, I’m used to Charlie Heat beats blowing out my eardrums. But on “Undercover,” the G.O.O.D. Music affiliate lays down a bouncy groove which sounds kinda similar to Young Thug and Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone.” Nevertheless, Kehlani harmonizes the hell out of this while plotting on her #MCM (@Kehlani, hey big head).
I’m not sure if this is Kehlani’s way of turning all those “crazy” comments (which, needless to say, were not very nice) on their head in the aftermath of her suicide attempt, but that would be a pretty great backstory to this song. Better yet, she does it all while whipping the work like Migos over another infectious trap beat. This girl can flow.
The underwater bass, the off-kilter kicks, those little shuffle sounds—everything about this beat screams Timbaland. In fact, it wouldn’t sound out of place on Aaliyah’s One In a Million, which is a bigger compliment than Kehlani’s hook deserves (“Two much, three much, four much, five much, too much for you”). Still, with a Nicki Minaj-esque lyrical breakdown midway through, “Too Much” gives the second half of this album a much-needed pickmeup.
When I wrote about Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury on its 10th anniversary last year, it reminded me how important not only the quality of an album is, but the length of an album. Unfortunately for Kehlani, 17 songs (19, if you cop the deluxe edition) sours the sweetness of SweetSexySavage.
Don’t get me wrong, the album has some great moments. From “Keep On” to “Everything Is Yours,” the first-half stretch would make for a seriously solid EP (throw “Too Much” in there, too). The production soothes, seduces and slaps in equal measure while Kehlani searches for love (“Distraction”) and deals with heartbreak and suicide (“Piece of Mind”).
However, it all seems to fizzle out at the midway point. Songs like “Advice,” “Do U Dirty” and “Get Like” bring generic pop flavors but little in the way of earnest songwriting. “Escape” and “Hold Me By the Heart,” meanwhile, are practically two sides of the same coin. “Thank You” is far from my favorite song, but you can’t help but appreciate the way it ends the album on an optimistic note, given everything that’s happened.
SweetSexySavage hasn’t quite converted me into a NewfoundKehlaniStan, but it has given me five or six Kehlani tracks that you might just catch me playing for the rest of the year.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Atlantic Records