Summer in London is a sweat-dripping affair. Sure, the rain will drain your will to survive but this schizoid climate is compounded by an oppressive humidity (and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, cyclothymic humidity and hail). Consider this: ’tis the summer of 2015 and your boy is power-walking up and down the pavement in a bid to trim down his heftiness. A few weeks earlier I had downloaded an album-masquerading-as-a-mixtape by an artist called Kehlani, and I decided to give it a listen. I wasn’t expecting much, just some breezy bops to bop my head to as I worked out my hynie.
At first I was surprised by the self-assurance and laid-back sexiness of Kehlani’s sound. Sure, we had Brandy and Monica in the nineties bouting over some wotless boy, and Destiny’s Child booting out band members on the daily and replacing them with the quickness, but Kehlani offered a different proposition. She was a child of the digital era, where Instagram and TikTok exist to accommodate influencers; cyber shills bleating ad nauseum to distract us into a nonsense-sodden delirium. In that sense Kehlani, with her songs about vulnerability, heartache, depression and lost parents served up with sass, wit and sauce, was a revelation. How could this then nineteen-year-old hit us up-style like so? So much wisdom and talent and graça.
By the end of the summer, every car and cookout on my street was bumping a Kehlani jam and it was delightful. Here was a young queer woman of colour making music on her own terms and owning the right to define herself for herself. What a thrill. And the choons knocked harder than indica, as Lil’ Kim would quip. Who else can make a song called ‘N****s’, wherein waste bwoys with minimum game and maximum gall were given the side-eye and the two-finger salute? Who else could craft a slinky Velvet Rope-era Janet-style ear worm like ‘The Way’? Or follow up all these intense flows with a game-changing set like SweetSexySavage that served as a nod to TLC’s seminal second album whilst keeping the focus firmly on the future?
I have no interest in the online blabber about Kehlani’s personal bizness. What I am interested in, however, is that she continues to make music that consistently stimulates all the senses. The R&B rulebook in the digital age is being redefined by sista-warrior-goddesses, and Kehlani, with her innate sense of crissness and élan, is at the forefront of this revolution. Praise Goddess!
Image courtesy of SAVAGE x FENTY