It’s bad enough that we tolerate this endless slew of ‘mixtapes’ that don’t seem to be vanishing from R&B any time soon, but must they come with an intro? We can understand a mission statement and whatnot, but Kehlani‘s certainly does her a disservice. She’s better than the vocoded explanation of needing to do this ‘for the world’, and her material on You Should Be Here is definitely powerful enough to render any explanation redundant.
Luckily as the only betrayer of her young age (the former America’s Got Talent participant is only 19) we can let it slide, because what ensues is one of the most mature – and surprisingly spiky – collections we’ve heard for a while.
Kehlani is angry, that’s for sure. And she doesn’t care who knows it or how it’s expressed. “Tell me how that shit taste,” she sings on the staccato-beat sucker punch of How That Taste, before asking some wasteman to ‘stay taking those pictures/ show them to your bitches’ on Jealous, and then immediately giving a massive “fuck all these niggas” shoulder-brush to the XY chromosome on a track called, quite simply, Niggas. Rather than make her sloppy, Kehlani has channelled her anger in a pointed and perfect way.
The rest is one perfect tour of soulful R&B, with no punches pulled at all. While our one niggle would be some more adventurous production, there’s no doubt that Kehlani has got the game well and truly sewn up. She can tip the pop scale on Unconditional, she can deliver a devastating ballad on The Letter, and she can entertain a perfectly-pitched cameo from Chance The Rapper on The Way. Like it or not, this is R&B’s bright new star: if last year belonged to Tinashe, this year is nothing but Kehlani.