After two successful mixtapes, twenty-one year old, Kehlani Ashley Parrish, released her first studio album, SweetSexySavage, on Friday, (January 27). The same evening saw her first late-night television performance on the Jimmy Kimmel show where she performed the lead single from the album, entitled “CRZY”, which was originally released in July of last year.
SweetSexySavage as a musical project is an eclectically styled R&B album, however SweetSexySavage as a concept album is a personified woman in her trinity of existence, expressed via Kehlani’s trinity of rhythm, melody, and harmony.
Crucial to note is the fact that the album title is not named after a single off the album due to each track encompassing elements of sweet, sexy and savage. Listening to individual tracks, we may fall victims to assigning each track an SSS category, however after listening to the album in its entirety, the importance of not doing so is emphasised.
By permitting all the tracks to be simultaneously multi-expressive, we in turn allow our perception of women to be the same as opposed to pigeonholing them into societal gender roles. Kehlani is producing more than a concept album; she is providing “a voice for young girls”, as claimed by the woman herself.
Track one serves as poetic induction via spoken word, and ironically gentle slam poetry, to set the tone in explaining that there are many sides of a woman so the listener can therefore expect an album with many sides.
Prominent lyrics include “I’ve practised how to hold my tongue long enough; I’m afraid I forgot to say goodbye” and “I’m afraid you’re under the impression that I was made to please you”. This unapologetic outspokenness is further highlighted and the concept of the SSS album accentuated when the listener is reminded that Kehlani is “a superwoman…and some days…an angry woman…and some days…a crazy woman”.
With five singles being released from the EP in addition to two bonus tracks, it is essential to review one of the individual releases; in this case “Distraction”, which was dropped July 2016. The song is fun and accessible, with Kehlani asking a potential lover if he is willing to be a momentary distraction from work without being a commitment.
The track starts with multi-layered vocal harmonies from Kehlani followed by a subtle pentatonic-based melodic motif on synth piano. The pentatonic polyphony continues in G minor with electronic woodwind spanning two octaves and the vocal line following an inviting I-IV-V journey from Kehlani.
Stripped backed bridges allow the listener to appreciate Kehlani’s soulful pipes during her vocal harmony and provides a suitable aural contrast when in comparison to the punchy bassline and slow R&B clap beat that the track alternates between.
With syncopated clap-fills and hi-hat ornamentation galore, “Personal” provides that much needed throwback to 90s and 00s sultry R&B. Chord progression is determined by a synthesised bass playing quavers at each change – the repetitive dual rhythm being reminiscent of a heartbeat throughout.
Playing a call and response game with the percussive snaps, the alternation of sounds comes across like an audio personification of heartbreak between chord resolutions.
The structure of the track allows for a repetitive chorus of Kehlani singing, “don’t take it personal” however with the accumulation of harmonies, it provides enough diversity for maintained listening interest. Most of the album is produced by Pop & Oak, however the nostalgic vibes of grind-worthy R&B, such as is heard on “Personal”, and “Keep On” is characteristically the doing of producer, Jahaan Sweet.
Atmospheric bass surrounds Kehlani’s three-part vocal harmony. Syncopation in the form of snare hit ornamentation give the record preppy dance feels, and with the punchy bassline being so funk influenced, it is indeed hard to resist a shoulder pop.
There is a breakdown where muffled autotune prevails over drones. The former escalating until the final bridge where it suddenly transforms into the aforementioned groove-driven bassline, and the latter building up enough volume to attack the final bridge followed by the final chorus. Kehlani soulfully riffs here – riffing with elegance that only she can achieve on what is a highly digitalised record.
Words by Olga Maher