Since her successful 2017 debut with SweetSexySavage, Kehlani’s life has shifted into the media spotlight. From a (disproven) cheating scandal involving ex Kyrie Irving and PartyNextDoor to scrutiny over her sexual orientation, Kehlani’s love life has garnered particularly invasive attention. She’s faced a lot of love and a lot of heartbreak over these last few years, and none of it was private. For these reasons her announcement of her pregnancy in October came as a shock. “i don’t want to hide,” she wrote in her twitter announcement. “i want to walk around belly out everywhere.”
A lot of these ideas manifest themselves into her most recent release While We Wait. If SweetSexySavage introduced her as a strong-willed, sexy and intelligent woman to the world, her sophomore attempt destabilizes this immaculately cool image. A nine track mixtape, half of it collaborations, shows a less self-assured Kehlani, more vulnerable. But she’s okay with that. And whereas the ambition with SweetSexySavage was to churn out confident, radio-friendly bangers, While We Wait is less lavish, making greater use of negative space and sparse, wispy instrumentals. It feels more genuine this time around.
Sonically, the album is dynamic, with its tone, pace and energy scaling the board. It finds cohesion in its ability to strip away layers from songs just as fast as it builds them. It starts with the sound of trickling water in the intro track “Footsteps” and builds from there, a soothing, whimsical backbone to every song. This adds more character to Kehlani’s artistry, providing a greater sense of character to her musical identity; despite some trivial, superficial ’90s R&B worship, tropey genre conventions aren’t too prominent.
There’s an elegant deliberation to the sound of this album. The instrumentation perfectly parallels the lyrical content at some points. The trickling water from the beginning actually ties to a metaphor of a relationship slipping away like cupped water. There are also points where the sounds change the meaning of the songs. This is most prominent in “Love Language,” a song that details a desire to better understand a new partner. However, the song carries the cadence of a nursery rhyme, suggesting it references her situation as a new mother.
More than anything, While We Wait serves as a snapshot to the emotions that tag along the turmoil of new changes. Songs like “Nunya” are scathing, challenging a former lover. “Why you worried ’bout who was fuckin’ me?” Yet more endearing and personal cuts like “RPG” coexist, admitting “you told me I’m beautiful/ ‘cause I told you you don’t tell me enough.” But the album far from veers into extremities; it captures the elegance of lingering between security and doubt despite its meager tracklist. “Morning Glory” is a quirkier track, with lyrics like “this ain’t BK, you can’t have it your way,” dedicated to a male partner who may judge her appearance beneath the morning makeup glam.
That being said, the album, from a thematic viewpoint, is a bit derivative. “Morning Glory,” despite its charm, isn’t at all profound in the sentiments it conveys. The same goes for much of the rest of the album; it’s ideas surrounding romantic love are shallow and redundant, with constant iterations of “take it or leave it” and “I’m sorry” attached to nearly every song. Despite the length, the concepts explored by the album stale not too far into it, the second song “Too Deep” a subpar echo of “Footsteps.” This isn’t to say Kehlani’s ideas and the way she expresses them aren’t original — they are — she simply misses the mark in expressing anything we haven’t heard before.
Characteristic for mixtapes — and not Kehlani — are the number of features on this album. Surprisingly, they dodge the trap of cheapening the content or serving as any sort of promotional boost for any of the artists involved (not to say the potential isn’t there). The inclusion of Ty Dolla $ign on “Nights Like This” adds a duality to the album, emphasizing the role of bisexual love in Kehlani’s life, as both artists croon to the story of a mutual female lover. Jazz icon Musiq Soulchild on the other hand, is deterministically in his element throughout “Footsteps,” adding a slick, buttery quality to the smooth track. Nonetheless, this isn’t to say all collaborations on the album proved necessary. Dom Kennedy on “Nunya” is forgettable, his verse void of the artistic and emotional energy of the song.
Overall, While We Wait serves as a strong follow up to the brilliance that is SweetSexySavage. Despite veering away from her traditional sound, her sophomore attempt conveys more personality and shows potential for even more growth as her life and understanding of it changes.