Oakland-born Kehlani Parrish has an aura of self-confidence that is hard not to be drawn to. Her projections of being a Michelle Rodriguez-type ride-or-die-woman play up to her image as a colourfully, tattooed-rebel, sure. But, in a contest, her execution on the microphone will leave a timid vocalist concussed.
It is Kehlani’s killer delivery that makes SweetSexySavage – the 21-year-old singer’s major label debut, following two mixtapes – worthwhile. Telling stories about lovers, new (‘Undercover’) and old (‘Everything is Yours’), finding contentment (‘Peace of Mind’), and her own “crazy” personality, Kehlani channels Rihanna and TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes in her fast-flowing verses. ‘Crzy’, ‘Distraction’ and ‘Too Much’ are Kehlani at the height of her powers, casting catchy hooks over undulating trap beats.
Less successful, however, is the liquidated pop of ‘Escape’ and ‘Hold Me By the Heart’, the latter formed from Spanish guitar strums and earnest harmonising of the absolve-my-sins style. This song of redemption just feels woolly amid an (already long) album of impressive, attitude-heavy R&B. It is also disappointing not to see the fantastic ‘Table (feat. Little Simz)’, which Kehlani released last November, not make the final cut for any current version of the album. That firecracker of a track would elevate this album further, and make its middling moments more forgivable.
Kehlani’s debut is strong on the whole. Towards the end, it risks outstaying its welcome, a sense of overfamiliarity creeping in, even though the words and the tones are different. Still her energy, style, and pinpoint delivery rarely cease to entertain. Like the wild woman that girls dream of becoming, and guys dream of being with, you can’t get Kehlani out of your head.
SweetSexySavage is out now on TSMNI/Atlantic Records.
If you like this artist, check out: Banks; Tinashe
Image: Atlantic Records/PR