Kehlani first cast her charming spell on us with the 2015 release of her second mixtape, You Should Be Here. While it catapulted her into the mainstream, she maintained a uniqueness that set her apart from her R&B peers. She then delivered her debut album SweetSexySavage.
But rather than pushing beyond lyrical expectations, she settles into her comfort zone and reverts back to the dynamics of the mixtape that got her critical acclaim.
SweetSexySavage opens with spoken word about the intricacies of being a passionate woman who is trying to be understood in this modern world. It then leads into the first song of the album, Keep On, which fails to match the emotional impact of that poetic introduction. However, something brilliant like Distraction comes right after to take the spotlight. Kehlani huskily sings about enjoying a casual relationship and nothing more.
The topics of love and womanhood are strung throughout SweetSexySavage, with brief interludes featuring Kehlani’s friends discussing their mistakes and proud moments. While some of the messages are heartfelt, they can become samey.
The album does reach a peak, though, when its two standouts — CRZY and Personal— play back-to-back. Following some personal drama last spring, Kehlani returned with a commendable vengeance on CRZY. The singer proved there was sunshine after the rain, exuding confidence right from the start of the track: “Everything I do, I do with a passion”. But that doesn’t distract from some of the album’s flaws. Fans and casual listeners of Kehlani have both become familiar with her stories of feeling lost in love and searching for life’s meaning. Yet she relies on those themes too heavily on SweetSexySavage, which drowns out its impressive moments. For her to soar even higher, she’ll need to tell a newer, fresher tale.