I still remember unzipping my download of Kehlani’s 2014 mixtape, Cloud 19. I was cruising Datpiff—isn’t that a hell of a sentence—and saw Kehlani’s creative cover, and fell in love. Six years later, Kehlani has been through a wringer of pain and evolution—a suicide attempt in 2016, childbirth in 2019.
With a mass of physical and emotional pain behind her, Kehlani emerges as her best self, both musically and personally, on her newest album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. Packed with deep grooves and well-placed features, voices who never outpace Kehlani, but add to her sonic world, It Was Good feels like a homecoming moment for an artist proud of her Bay Area R&B roots.
“Her music is R&B in its purest form: songs about the way love undoes you, about floating on the pure adrenaline of a crush, about longing for someone whose heart can’t be trusted,” writes Vulture’s Hunter Harris. Yes, Kehlani’s work carries an unfiltered essence and brims with soul. While every song on It Was Good feels like a massive leap forward for the 25-year-old artist, it’s “Open (Passionate),” with its harp-led beat switch and the incredible lightness of being, that stands as a sleeper hit.
“Open (Passionate)” begins in what sounds like a warp tunnel, as if we’re meant to tumble into Kehlani’s creative effusion. Lyrically, the song is a treat, detailing the risk of vulnerability and the pain that potentially comes with baring yourself to someone undeserving.
The first half of the song hinges on a series of essential questions, such as: “Is the lens you see me through just way too focused?” Kehlani’s twinges of insecurity are batted back by her pristine vocal performance. The songwriting here takes everything good about 2017’s SweetSexySavage and makes it feel more complete, more mature, and more accurate to Kehlani’s current moment.
The beat switch, however, is what takes “Open” over the edge and into sleeper hit territory. As we enter the “Passionate” section of the song on a bed of plucking harp notes, Kehlani slows things down without losing us. Being that “Open (Passionate)” is the penultimate song on It Was Good, there’s always a chance of listening fatigue, but Kehlani holds our attention and keeps up momentum even at her most twisted and curling.
“Open” is a triumph for Kehlani, a marker of her evident growth and comfortability. The song is a sleeper hit and perfectly made, true, but more than that, it is a sign Kehlani has entered a new chapter in her career—one she is much happier with.