Kehlani – SweetSexySavage review

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