Published Jan 25, 2017The title for Kehlani's debut offering is a clear nod to her '90s influences — that TLC/Aaliyah/Monica/Brandy mode of soul that transformed the genre at the time and still influences today's R&B mindset. SweetSexySavage builds on the buzz generated from 2014's Cloud 19 and You Should Be Here mixtapes.
Full name Kehlani Ashley Parrish, the Oakland, California native has had an eventful year or so — social media and tabloid-fuelled chatter surrounded her personal life, and she grappled with depression and anxiety. SweetSexySavage is filtered through this lens, touching on issues of love, relationships, self-awareness and perseverance through the eyes of a 21-year-old woman who views herself as a survivor. As such, there's a lot to relate to across the album's 17 (plus two bonus) tracks, as she dips into'90s reverence without being beholden to it.
"Keep On" tackles her past few months head-on, a smooth love number that speaks to and from the heart; we later hear her expand on her personal life over Pop & Oak production on "Everything Is Yours." The bulk of the album riffs on nostalgia: "Distraction" feels like an old SWV B-side, "Undercover" offers up a Latin-grooved take on Brandy and "Advice" aims for a pop ballad feel, while "Personal" targets a Monica-type vibe. Standout single "Do You Dirty" fearlessly rides the album's bold bravado ethos: "If you think you love me now / I think you should be worried."
There's a lot to unpack here, and as a result, SweetSexySavage feels a bit overstuffed at times; numbers like "Thank You" and "Hold Me By the Heart" are expressive in nature but aren't lasting. But by getting intensely personal, Kehlani adds a human side to the recordings that's multilayered and unapologetically self-determined. These songs, which speak to a universality inherent in all humans, regardless of gender or orientation, set the stage for future projects that promise to be even more ambitious in scope and feel. (Warner)