Revisiting: Kehlani’s Debut Studio Album ‘SweetSexySavage’ (2017)
This is how Kehlani used her second chance at life to turn her darkest day into Grammy nominated success.
Four years ago, Kehlani dropped her debut album ‘SweetSexySavage’ her first full length release on a major label. The Oakland born R&B singer turned heads with her mixtape “CLOUD 19” but it was 2015’s “You Should Be Here” that really got people listening. Kehlani made such a splash that she was nominated for ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album” at the 2015 Grammys. This was an almost unheard-of accomplishment for an independent mixtape. It would also become the project that landed her a partnership with Atlantic Records and as they say … the rest was history.
‘SweetSexySavage’ was released during Kehlani’s artistic metamorphosis, it was the life experiences and triumph that led up to this project that shaped her into the artist and songwriter that she would become in future releases.
She was the embodiment of “new levels, new devils” during the SweetSexySavage era. During the recording process of this album Kehlani had a very tumultuous and public breakup that became front page news on blogs like The Shade Room. The then relatively unknown R&B singer was being introduced to a wider audience, but instead of it being for her excellent music, she was being publicly scrutinized for her personal life.
In early 2016 she was hospitalized after she attempted suicide, a true turning point in her life. At the time Kehlani was only 20- years old, a testament to how strong she is to have endured and survived through such a dark place, at such a young age.
On March 26th, 2016 she wrote an emotional message on her Instagram account with a photo of her arm hooked up to an IV, grateful for a second shot at life.
“God saved me for a reason, and for that...I must be grateful. Cuz I’m not in heaven right now for a reason."
On the press run for the album Kehlani explained the ultimatum that went into the creative process. “Coming out of a situation like that, I knew that Kehlani You’re gonna make the saddest album of your entire life and have to relive that sadness every single night that you play these songs. For the next year and a half of touring this. Or can make a really happy album that simultaneously makes you feel better as well as every single night you don't have to relive a scary experience. “(WPGC-95.5 FM interview) Creating this album was a therapeutic escape for the recovering Kehlani.
Opening the album is Kehlani's long-time friend and fellow artist Reyna Biddy, with some profound words about being a multi-layered woman, setting the tone for the "girl power" themed album.
This album feels like it was released in the late 90’s- early 2000’s, adapting a nostalgic feel. Its title is a nod to one of R&B’s defining albums, TLC’s CrazySexyCool. Kehlani picked the title because it described not only the various sounds of the album, but the multi-fascinated nature of women. Kehlani believes that every woman embodies Sweet, Sexy and Savage in their own unique way.
Kehlani went all-out to make this a chill vibe, knocking out most of the tracks while in Hawaii and keeping the production simple, using her main producers like Jahaan Sweet and Pop/Oak throughout much of the project. She utilized recognizable samples, which explains why some legends can be found in the album credits. Timbaland (on Too Much, which samples Aaliyah’s More Than A Woman) and Johnta Austin (on Personal, which contains a vocal sample from "Come Over", by Aaliyah and Tank, a sample that she would revisit on the next album) are both credited on the album. These two were responsible for some of the hottest R&B tracks of the 90’s and 00’s and Kehlani was clearly inspired by their work with Aaliyah.
The nostalgia did not stop there, "Undercover" contains an interpolation of "Don't Matter", a staple in Akon’s catalogue, and "In My Feelings" contains a sample of "If It Isn't Love", as by New Edition.
Kehlani says “Thank You” is one of her favorite tracks on the album, as she worked with the choir from her high school Oakland School for the Arts. It serves as the closing number to the 18-track debut.
She is credited as a writer on almost every song on the album, but it is Songs like “Escape “, “Not Used to It” and “Hold Me by The Heart “are the earliest examples of why she is one of the most brilliant songwriters in today’s music. Poetic masterpieces that sound like they were ripped straight from the pages of a young Oakland girl's diary.
The album had three visuals, and perhaps the stand-out was the Yashxana directed 'Distraction' video. This was the introduction to the more provocative side of Kehlani that would eventually become one of her signature traits.
The album was met with positive reviews and would debut at #3 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, selling 58,000 album-equivalent units with traditional album sales of 32,000 copies in its first week. It is certified Gold in the U.S and spawned two platinum certified singles ‘CRZY’ and ‘Gangsta’ from the Suicide Squad soundtrack. The album itself has since surpassed 800 Million streams on Spotify and acknowledged on many “Best Of” lists in 2017.
Kehlani received her second Grammy nomination with this album, as Distraction was nominated for Best R&B performance at the 2017 ceremony.
Although Kehlani and the Tsunami Mob (her diehard fanbase) would agree that this is not her technical best, it is truly an important footnote in the story of Kehlani Parrish. It was the turning point that saw the young girl from Oakland get “jet-packed” into womanhood. Kehlani was going through some tough sh*t, and she had to reevaluate life. Through it all, It was her art that kept her stable and pushing through and she hasn't looked back since. Kehlani pours her soul into the music and lets the lyrics do all the talking, her music is an audible representation of healing.
Kehlani speaks with a level of experience, honesty, and vulnerability in her more recent projects like “While We Wait” and “It Was Good Until It Wasn't” that was fostered during the making of her debut project. Kehlani had to get through ‘SweetSexySavage’ to become the artist she is today.
Revisit Kehlani’s Debut Studio Album ‘SweetSexySavage’