I love Kehlani’s debut studio album, SweetSexySavage, for its youthfulness and honest simplicity. And that’s what I love about Kehlani, too. She doesn’t seem so much a distant and inscrutable pop star but more like friend from my childhood. Part of that is the overall sound of this album and how it mixes the musical elements of my youth. I can hear late 80s R&B inspiration in “Keep On,” mid-90s female hip-hop and R&B on tracks like “Distraction” and “Too Much,” and perhaps even early 2000s pop rock vibes on songs like “Advice” and “Escape.” As if someone took Janet Jackson, TLC, Kelly Clarkson, and Tinashe and combined them all together to give us Kehlani.
I especially appreciate that I can hear where the music is coming from in terms of inspiration, noting Kehlani’s reverence for a number of females artists from multiple genres of the last 30 years. This also highlights Kehlani’s skills as a singer-songwriter (she wrote all but the intro on this album) and her ability to take such a diversity of sources and combine them into something consistently satisfying. I quite liked the combination of pop singer-songwriter with R&B and Kehlani’s voice fits perfectly with this vibe as well, a sort of gravelly tone hitting runs we’re used to hearing from much smoother voices. Like a killer Pink and Aaliyah combination.
Another aspect of the album which gives it youthfulness is the topics that Kehlani chooses to sing about. I hate to say it (for fear of sounding like a boring adult) but the whole thing seems wholly age appropriate for a 21 year old and by embracing the topics she does, the album seems an authentic representation of what it means to be a young woman in the USA today. As I listen to this album, I feel as if we’re just two girls sitting around talking about what is going on in our lives: love, self confidence, identity, self representation, politics.
As for what I didn’t like so much…Although I do believe that Kehlani is pulling from a variety of genres, I felt the production of the album as a whole plays a little flat. There was always a combination of low bass, claps, and synths playing at about the same BPM throughout, too consistent to be musically interesting. It sometimes seemed as if songs got all meshed together as a result and at times I had to click through songs to try and remember which one was which. This monotony of sound really took away from the diversity of Kehlani’s inspiration.
I actually don’t have that many favorites that stuck out to me as I thought the whole album was solidly good but not great. But if I had to choose, my favorites that I always go back to are “Distraction,” “Piece of Mind,” “Undercover,” and “I Wanna Be.” I think these tracks represent best who Kehlani is as an artist.