Here’s the thing about trying to call someone Aaliyah 2.0: they don’t actually need to sound like Aaliyah. In fact, we’d implore them not to given the state of Timbaland these days, and the fact that it’d all sound a bit derivative. What they do need, however, is the sort of forward-thinking and incrementally progressive sound that she had, all while making ridiculously smooth and chart-friendly hits.
Given that definition, Kelela is one artist who 100% deserves that comparison, even if it disservices her own magnificent talent. Cut 4 Me has already gone down in legend, but the woman’s power extends beyond our comprehension. If you need proof, check out her Dangerzone feature on Future Brown‘s record.
Hallucinogen is supposed to be a bridge between a new, proper full-length, but it’s more than enough to satisfy us for years to come. That it was supposed to be released months ago says a great deal about the level of care and perfectionism Kelela applies to her output; even with just six-tracks, the quality here is immaculate enough to put all the big-hitters to shame.
A lot of that is to do with the polygamous production duties. Kelela has a knack for finding people she is completely attuned with, which is why Arca‘s slow-burn A Message ends up being seared into our minds. It also comes with acute self-awareness, and the empowerment that comes with objective analysis. “I won’t shed a tear, ‘cos waterworks are easy,” she sings in a refreshing take on the break-up.
As the EP progresses, it’s just one career-defining cut after another. Gomenasai – mercifully not a Tatu cover – is a slithering hit of atmospheric R&B around the theme of domination; Rewind dithers between a haunted past and an innocent present in an impressively commercial sound. The High closes proceedings on just that, “we do anything for the high” coming out of Kelela in a more believable way than it ever did from The Weeknd.
The degree of Kelela’s success doesn’t even feel like a question any more. Where others are tripping over trends or traversing a bridge far too close to pop or EDM, there’s someone here taking intelligent risks and carving out a place at the very summit of the genre. Hallucinogen is Kelela’s moment, and it’s worth taking this trip time and again to relive it.
Hallucinogen by Kelela can be ordered here.