Kehlani’s debut album SweetSexySavage contains exactly what the title might hint at, but it’s more than that. With 17-tracks and no features, it’s a sprawling record, one that can easily hypnotize with luscious R&B rhythms and the singer’s effortless cool, leaving a listener lost among the pink clouds floating behind Kehlani. But be warned, it’s an inferior experience to move through SSS delicately. You won’t fully appreciate her perspective — she’s a young woman who knows what she wants, what she doesn’t and that both of those things are constantly changing.
Sonically, SweetSexySavage stands on its own with Kehlani’s singular style; moments across the record, however, recall a long list of artists who came before her: Beyonce, Rihanna, Shontelle (remember “T-shirt” or “Impossible”?), Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill, who’s prominently seen tattooed to Kehlani’s left arm on the album cover. And those are just a few.
SSS would as a whole benefit from some cutting, but there are more than enough moments of pop, R&B and hip-hop glory to forgive the occasional skip. The spoken introduction — one of the album’s highlights — opens with “My condolences to those who have lost me” (Savage? Check.) and ends with “For still searching for someone to understand me better.” And just as the final echo of the intro hits the eardrum, the irresistible bass line of “Keep On” grooves in.
SweetSexySavage is undeniably front-loaded; out of the gate Kehlani hits it out of the park track after track. The first verse on “Distraction” boasts Yonce-levels of swag — the nation should be begging to be Kehlani’s distraction. “Undercover” interpolates lyrics from Akon’s “Don’t Matter” with an ease that should crown Kehlani the new age queen of R&B, and if that doesn’t, the line “I’ma tweet our inside jokes to the outside world” might. And lead single “CRZY” embodies all of SSS’s strongest qualities: exquisite cross-genre production, cutting, confident lyrics and soaring choruses that are easy to catch on to without bordering on dull.
The album’s latter half would benefit from a few cuts, but nonetheless still holds some of the album’s most striking material. The cool distance of “Do U Dirty” ’s verses sets up the emotive delivery of, “Swear you see the good in me” to abruptly shift gears only to shift back again. The instrumentation of “Get Like” and flow of “In My Feelings” rank among the album’s most velvety moments and the breakdown on “Too Much” is too much.
The sexiness and savagery are finished by the time the final track, “Thank You” rolls in. With a backing chorus, Kehlani thanks everyone who has helped her along the way, but let me just say, “No, Kehlani. Thank you.” SweetSexySavage is a powerhouse of a debut. Sonically cohesive and lyrically on-brand from start to finish, Kehlani has staked her claim.