at the moment I'm
In some ways, it seems crazy (CRZY?) to me that SweetSexySavage, Kehlani's irresistible new album, is being hailed as her debut, if only because her self-released 2015 mixtape You Should be Here was my own exhilarating introduction to her music. I'm definitely not alone in considering YSBH an exceptional effort—Rolling Stone and Complex named it as one of the best albums of the year, and it was even nominated for a Grammy for best Urban Contemporary Album. Confident, charismatic, and seductive, and accompanied by jaw-droppingly hot music videos, Kehlani's mixtape established her, at only 19, as a force to be reckoned with.
SweetSexySavage, her first full-length release, takes everything I loved on You Should Be Here—dreamy synths, syrupy beats, and sharp lyrics that are both unapologetically sexual and irrepressibly joyful—and infuses each track with the sultry confidence of an old pro. A benefit of having already produced two mixtapes, and perhaps a silver lining of a tough year, is that Kehlani sounds supremely comfortable in her own skin throughout the record. Discussing her suicide scare on The Cruz Show, she admitted, "I was really recovering from so many things at once...on the flip side, there's not to much that can hurt me now."
On SSS, Kehlani gives it her all because there's nothing left to lose. Blissfully liberated from any personal constraints or self-consciousness, she's hypnotic: from the grooving "Keep On" that starts the album, to the sexy, mischievous "Distraction" (casually revealed to be about a girl), to the acoustic lilt of "Undercover," which samples Akon's middle school party-starter "Don't Matter." SSS warms you from the inside out, and more than lives up to each of the adjectives in its name—the perfect antidote for increasingly incredulous newsfeeds and stress-inducing CNN push notifications.
Two summers ago, while living and working abroad, I devoured the entire works of both Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith over the course of several months. I was enchanted by Adichie's lush, vibrant prose and stunned by Smith's brilliant, dizzyingly intricate plots. Reading the two authors side by side as I did, it was impossible not to draw comparisons, although they are both superb. I slightly preferred Adichie's novels, primarily set in Nigeria and America— portraits of women rendered in warm, gorgeous, biting, and often deeply funny anecdotes.
Smith was more cerebral, her writing devastatingly swift and sharp. She seemed particularly skilled at writing outside of herself: in White Teeth, her debut novel, she crafted a modern epic with characters who spanned myriad generations, ethnicities, and genders; in The Autograph Man, her main character is a half-Asian, half-Jewish millennial named Alex Li. When she visited my college the following fall, I asked her how she was able to write characters whose life experiences were so far removed from her own. She looked at me as if I was extremely simple. "I just imagine it. It's not that hard for me."