Kehlani, SweetSexySavage | Album Review
Up-and-coming Oakland R&B singer Kehlani delivers sensational vocals throughout her highly anticipated debut album, SweetSexySavage.
R&B isn’t dead. Don’t let persuade you in believing the genre has no hope. Sure, the numbers suck, badly, but there are plenty of talented musicians in the fold. Among the up and coming bright spots in urban contemporary music is Kehlani, who possesses a truly stunning musical instrument. After scoring a Grammy nomination for mixtape You Should Be Here, Kehlani drops her highly anticipated major label debut, SweetSexySavage. It doesn’t disappoint.
Following a poetic “Intro,” “Keep On” kicks off SweetSexySavage sensibly, not flashy. “Keep On” has an old-school vibe, but not in the vintage soul vein itself. Cool, calm, and collected, Kehlani delivers a solid vocal and respectable performance. The record doesn’t jump out at the listener but sets the tone for the overall quality of the album.
“Distraction” is the first highlight from SweetSexySavage. From the beginning, an excellent slow, urban contemporary vibe is constructed. The vocals are confident and sultry, as Kehlani excels in her lower register. On the chorus, she resembles Brandy, in regards to the tone. In addition to her own vocal expertise, vocal production amplifies the performance. Beyond production and vocals, the songwriting is noteworthy as well. An excellent narrative is crafted.
“Piece of Mind” initializes with an tone-setting interlude:
“To be honest, I think we spend so much time / Trying to find answers for things / And maybe it’s just not meant to be answer…”
The song is silky smooth, a common characterization of Kehlani and the album as a whole. The production is modern, in the hip-hop idiom, while the vocals embody the seductiveness of R&B.
Standout “Undercover” features slick production work, quick tempo, and a sexy vibe. The record makes clever use of the no. 1 Akon hit, “Don’t Matter.” As always, Kehlani delivers clear and captivating vocals. The verses open feistily, explicitly lifting “Don’t Matter” (“You know they don’t wanna see us together / but it don’t matter, no, ‘cause I got you”). Among the best moments is the most cutting-edge as she sings:
“I need you to hit me up, on my fake line / hit that 6-9, yeah, that FaceTime.”
“CRZY” finds Kehlani channeling her inner Rihanna. The gem features distinct, assertive vocals. The reason why Rihanna comparisons arise are thanks to the repetition, gimmickry, and feisty attitude. Lyrically, this isn’t a deep or profound record, but enthusiasm and superb vocals atone for any shortcomings.
“Personal” blends a Drake flow with glorious 90s adult contemporary R&B vibes. There’s nothing ‘brand new,’ but its pleasant. Kehlani never holds her tongue, continuing to be profane. “Not Used to It” is telling as the singer shares the hardships of life in Oakland. There’s a toughness, amplified by hard-hitting trap beat that anchors the production. The second verse is truly notable:
“All single mothers in my family / Don’t know if you’re really understanding / Never seen a n*gga be a real man / I never seen a n*gga with a real plan.”
Ultimately, many can relate to the aforementioned real talk.
“Everything Is Yours” goes in the opposite direction of “Not Used to It.” Kehlani pulls back the tempo and tones things down. Her lack of relationship to men transforms into seemingly her first relationship, which was with a girl (she’s bisexual, by the way). Emotionally driven, “Everything is Yours” is among the underrated jewels of SSS. The post-chorus showcases her love for her first:
“My ring is yours (save it, for me) / Everything is yours (save it all for me) / My ring is yours (save it, for me) / Everything is yours.”
While the tone is more emotional than physical, there is a smidge of innuendo as well, part of the genius.
“Advice” is mid-tempo, featuring lush production cues (driving synth, piano, and rhythmic drum programming). Throughout the course of the song, she delivers another smooth vocal. Smoothness carries over into the chorus, which is handled by backing vocals, while Kehlani riffs and ad libs. Her falsetto during the second iteration is particularly stunning. By the second verse, she’s more assertive, ascending higher and packing a mightier punch. The bridge provides superb separation between the other sections of the song.
“Do U Dirty” embraces the modern R&B sound through and through. This sound encompasses the drums, synths, minor key scheme, and ample swagger. Kehlani delivers rhythmic vocals throughout its course. While she’s singing, the influence of hip-hop – namely pop-rap – is clear as mud. Throughout “Do U Dirty,” she is brutally honest lyrically.
“Escape” provides a radiant, traditional contemporary R&B record with pop sensibilities. It isn’t the crème de la crème, but it’s the model of consistency. Follow-up “Too Much” is about girl power…to an extent. She isn’t tackling feminism, but essentially, she asserts that he can’t handle her – she’s “too much.” Point blank, she’s a strong woman (“Too much of a bad ass b*tch”). The backing harmonized vocals, singing the titular line, are a treat on the chorus.
“I confess, after we get down we always leave a mess / Don’t wanna get dressed / We get loud, don’t think anyone can make me make a sound / Know that you make me proud.” Apparently, things in the relationship (and bedroom) are working out well on the fun “Get Like.” She admits on the chorus, “You’re the only one that I get like / Get like this for.”
“In My Feelings”
After allowing herself to be vulnerable on “Get Like,” Kehlani questions her vulnerability on “In My Feelings.”
“Why do I pick up my phone every time that you call?”
This use of connected, contrasting ideas is a thoughtful aspect of SweetSexySavage. “Hold Me by the Heart” continues to highlight the “matters of the heart.” The acoustic guitar driven record showcases the potential for crossover success in the pop realm.
Expectedly, “Thank You” is filled with gratitude and humility. On Penultimate number “I Wanna Be,” Kehlani seeks “forever” love.
“I Wanna be the only girl that you ever need / I wanna be the only place that you wanna be / I want this to be for forever / I know that you’re with it but you can do better / I want a lifetime love, I want a guarantee baby.”
“Gangsta” concludes SSS, reprised from Suicide Squad: The Album. The concept is simple – she wants a “G” on the edgy, slick joint. It isn’t her grandest crowning achievement, but as always, Kehlani flaunts her awesome set of pipes.
All in all, SweetSexySavage is an excellent debut album from Kehlani. Throughout the course of 19 tracks, she never explicitly misses the mark. Vocally, she’s a beast. The main quibble with SSS is its length. At over an hour, she pushes it. Still, SSS is an hour of quality music, even when it isn’t game changing or transcendent.
Gems: “Distraction,” “Undercover,” “CRZY,” “Everything Is Yours” & “Advice”