Kehlani Parrish doesn’t mince words. The Oakland, Calif.-based singer spends most of her debut LP, SweetSexySavage, laying down romantic ground rules in frank, flirty terms. Take the funky single “Distraction,” on which she eschews love and commitment in favor of a lower-stakes proposition: “I need you to not want to be mine/Are you down to be a distraction?” This candor makes SweetSexySavage a welcome addition to R&B, a genre defined this decade by libidinous, manipulative bad boys like the Weeknd.
Kehlani is a scholar, the kind of songwriter who worships at the altar of Swedish hitmaker Max Martin and chases genre-bending hooks, and SweetSexySavage owes plenty to the recent past–even its title is a tribute to TLC’s 1994 smash CrazySexyCool. But the album strikes a balance between the nostalgic and the new on the strength of her nimble voice. She’s comfortable singing and rapping and being refreshingly honest. She doesn’t always know what she wants, but she knows exactly what she deserves.
This appears in the February 20, 2017 issue of TIME.
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