Anyone that knows me know that I am a man that likes good music. I listen to a wide array of music ranging from the post-disco vibes of 1970s R&B to the synth-heavy beats of 1980s rock to the house music pandemic of the 1990s to today’s good and bad hits. My love for music knows no bounds and it has grown hard for me to dislike any genre of music. However, I have been tested for the past year.
While last year was an amazing year for music, there was one genre upon retrospection that was lacking and beginning to die away: R&B. This is one genre that has stood the test of time, growing from the Harlem Renaissance into 1950s Motown into 1990s new jack swing. Looking at what is considered R&B nowadays hurts me not only as a music lover, but as a person that truly loves the genre. It burns my soul to see that popular rappers like Drake, Kanye and Nelly are now just lumped into this once fantastic genre whenever they want to be. Many singers calling themselves R&B artists are poisoning the genre, adding things that aren’t needed to revitalize and remarket the genre. By adding disastrous trap drums and unneeded vocal effects, we get a collection of thrown-together songs that are sold as R&B, forcing true R&B singers and titans in the industry to reformat and adjust outside of their respected arenas.
Even though this seems to be a dark period for the genre, there is a light spot in this situation: new artists. There seems to be a freshmen class of young R&B singers that are ready to revive the genre and save it from fading into the background. One of the many new musicians emerging, is Kehlani.
Kehlani Parrish, better known just as Kehlani, is one of R&B brightest new stars. At the age of 21, she has managed to turn her dark times and hardships into works of art. She got her start just like many other new artist nowadays: on Soundcloud. Her first two mixtapes are both critically acclaimed and her last one entitled You Should Be Here earned her a GRAMMY nomination last year for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Now, older, wiser and free to do what she pleases with her record label TSNMI, she decided it was time to make a full-length studio album.
In January, the R&B newcomer dropped her first of many studio albums entitled SweetSexySavage. This 19-track album includes an array of songs that showcase the songstress’ range and lyrical talents. This album is a great introduction to the singer if you have never seen or heard of her. This album is a journey itself, taking the listener on a trip of sorts through love lost and gained. From the album’s intro, a deep spoken word piece by Reyna Biddy, you realize that you are in for a genuine treat.
The first song, “Keep On”, is a post-house track with a strong 90s vibe that is a solid start to this album. Next, we run into “Distraction”, the artist’s take on trap-infused R&B, perfecting the faults that have appeared recently in the genre. It is catchy and relatable, showing us what she can bring to music. After that, she reverts to her older self in “Piece of Mind”, a song that is reminiscent of her mixtape days with outstanding vocals and production. Then, we take a trip to “Undercover”, an infectious song that manages to fuse acoustic guitar and piano with simple electronic effects, interpolating the Akon song “Don’t Matter”, ultimately creating a classic R&B song with her Kehlani twist.
After that, we get to “CRZY”, the album’s hit lead single. She takes a break from R&B here to give a taste of what makes her a Sweet, Sexy Savage. The song itself is a flawlessly produced hip-hop jam that is not out of place on the smooth and sultry R&B album. In fact, it acts as the title tract of sorts. Right after, we get “Personal”, a jam that link “CRZY” back into the R&B realm with its early 90s vibe and smooth, slinky instrumental. “Not Used to It” is another trap-R&B song that is crafted with precision and finesse, unlike other songs nowadays. Both tracks are full of honest, introspective lyrics and exception vocals.
We take breath of fresh air with “Everything is Yours”, “Advice” and “Do U Dirty”, clean R&B songs that take us on a journey within this album. We go from authentic yet amatory, to meditative, to sweet savagery successively. After this, we reach a turning point on the album. We get a chance to see the sweet side of Kehlani through a string of pop ballads. Songs like “Escape”, “Hold Me By The Heart” and “Thank You” are musical confections with narrative lyrics, immaculate vocals and acoustic instrumentals. We also get a song like “Too Much” within this ballad heavy break, an amazing and assertive record complete with energized lyrics and a sample from the classic Aaliyah song “More Than a Woman”.
By the end of the album, or at least the deluxe version available on streaming sites, we get the perfect cherry on top called “I Wanna Be”, arguably one of the best songs on the album. It is an electro-pop record that pulls double duty as a radio-friendly R&B-pop song. It has the full package with great lyrics and vocals, an infectious instrumental and the potential to be her next hit. She ends the album with her hit from the Suicide Squad movie soundtrack entitled “Gangsta”. It works perfectly with the overall vibe of the album and acts as a great closer.
On SweetSexySavage, Kehlani has obviously found her comfort zone outside of the box, creating her own lane. This album is a masterpiece and one of the most discussed albums of the year so far. She has managed to make an album that is personal and relevant to everyone. Kehlani has found her place in the industry and she’s just getting started. This spring, Kehlani is embarking on her first headlining tour. Kehlani and others like her are restoring my faith in R&B again. Her future is bright and I believe it’s safe to say that she is on her way to become a superstar and a household name.
Kehlani’s first studio is commanding, yet calm, announcing the return of thoughtful lyrics in R&B. With this collection of songs, she could very well be America’s next R&B superstar.