Kehlani brings the heat on ‘SweetSexySavage’

“Typical story of an Oakland girl, typical story heard around the world,” an exasperated Kehlani Parrish sings on “Not Used to It.” The R&B singer, known for her performances on America’s Got Talent and mixtapes in recent years has anything but a typical story and her album proves it.

SSS Kehlani
SweetSexySavage, Atlantic Records

In the years following her America’s Got Talent opportunity, Nick Canon contact Parrish after hearing her music on SoundCloud. From the conversation came two mixtapes, one of which, You Should Be Here, earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album. 

Immediately building off this momentum, Kehlani trekked back to the studio to record her official debut album, SweetSexySavage.

Getting SweetSexySavage released was a long, difficult process for Parrish. The singer/songwriter had a rough few months leading into the album’s release, coming close suicide after several tumultuous personal expierences – some in the eye of the public. 

Her past experiences all appear on the record in some form. The album holds 17 tracks on its standard version, and although some fail to make a lasting impression, the album is rich with vulnerable lyrics and a layered production.

The album has many themes, primarily the three in the title. 

Kehlani shows multiple sides of herself on the record. On songs like “Advice,” “Hold Me By the Heart” and the closing “Thank You,” Kehlani is at her most vulnerable. With “Advice,” Kehlani ponders why she allows herself to endure the pain of a broken relationship. In “Hold Me By the Heart,” she pleads with her lover to sweep her up and help her through life. In “Thank You,” Kehlani shows her genuine appreciation for the fans that helped her through a rough time and allowed her to make the record. Her authenticity is felt not only through the lyrics, but through the emotion of her voice as well.

On the more sexy side are songs like the juggernauts “Distraction” and “Undercover.” “Distraction” was one of the lead singles, and deservedly so. It is a surefire pop hit that has that sexy R&B flare many look for in mainstream radio. “Undercover” is not as powerful, but it is a smooth jam that takes Kehlani to the bedroom.

Finally, Kehlani expresses her power throughout the “Savage” tracks. These include “CRZY,” “Do U Dirty” and “Too Much.” While all are strong songs, “CRZY” and “Too Much” are two of the records’ best songs. 

“CRZY,” the album’s lead single, shows Kehlani proving her worth as a badass. It is the perfect showcase for how powerful her vocals can get. This will surely be a highlight during her Coachella set in April. “Too Much” skillfully samples Aaliyah’s “More Than a Woman.” It shows Kehlani’s growth in relationships, with her moving on and establishing herself as too good for her lover and his games.

The dense SweetSexySavage excels with its sleek production. 

Kehlani’s ability to tell stories in the format of these songs is refreshing, as confessionals are usually more raw in instrumentation. Her advanced lyrics catapult the singer past several more traditional pop artists of today, and this album ensures her trajectory to amass a larger following. Though a few tracks could have been left out in the final cut, the overall product is diverse and always entertaining. 

Kehlani will only improve from here.


Author: Kieran Sweeney

Writing about entertainment for the better part of a decade and consuming it twice as much, Kieran Sweeney is "the" pop culture aficionado. A connoisseur of the intersection of art and commercialism, the USC Annenberg graduate has earned his reputation as an empathetic and thoughtful writer. His resume includes USC's The Daily Trojan, USC Viterbi News, and personal assistance for publicity and marketing companies from Drill Down Media to This Fiction. His intersectional experience in the industry points to his wit and unfiltered thoughts on the latest project in entertainment

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