SweetSexySavage by Kehlani (Atlantic/TSNMI, 2017)
The bad-bitch persona Kehlani proudly flaunts gets the attention, though I’m more intrigued with what she decides not to share on SweetSexySavage. “I know that you hear this, and you gon’ just know I’m speaking to you,” she subtweets on “Personal.” She offers no more than a “they” as a clue, and no song from the album yields much more specifics, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering who exactly inspired her many songs.
The debut shows tender moments, too, fulfilling the first two of the three parts of the title. “They don’t want us together, but it don’t matter, no,” Kehlani sings in “Undercover,” swiping a chorus of a throwback Akon single, out of all sources. And again, that “they.” While it certainly can stand in for just about any person you desire, other addresses such as “Personal” frame it through more of a, uh, personal lens than a mere blanket pronoun. She’s thinking about someone, or at least a faint suggestion of it, as she sings these songs. Throughout, her debut doubles as a dedication to those who matter in her life, good or bad. “The real ones, they know” — that’s the most you’re gonna get out of her about this “they,” and it’s for the better.