Oakland’s Kehlani continues her ascent up through the R&B hierarchy with SweetSexySavage, an album whose confidence and bass-wobbling grooves give it a leg up on her previous release, the You Should Be Here mixtape. Kicking off with a bit off spirit talk, she dives into the back-to-back “Keep On” and “Distraction,” a pair of tracks that keep the deep bounce and breathy overtures of turn-of-the-century R&B hallmarks like Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends (Sunny)” or Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair.”
This kind of mixture between diva powerhouse and Earth Mother feels nice, if slightly nostalgic, but her layered harmonies and laser-focused hooks on “Piece of Mind” are miles ahead of where she was just a few years ago. Meanwhile, “CRZY” is decidedly of the moment with its locked-in trap beat and syllables broken up into near “Panda”-like digestibility. But even then, she’s still looking for a way to sneak in a few more vocal trills and sweetness.
At eighteen tracks (plus an intro), SweetSexySavage runs a little long, but in a time when R&B feels like it’s being stripped down to the bare minimum, Kehlani’s full-bodied, tightly written compositions feel like the right kind of throwback.