The Oakland R&B singer’s latest mixtape is a shining example of her emotional intelligence and her balmy, lucid songwriting.
Kehlani has spoken bluntly about her struggles with mental health and her difficult childhood in Oakland, comparing her parents to that of Bonnie and Clyde. She never shies away from addressing her personal relationships and struggles through her lyrics, whether it be about love or loss. Her mixtapes and albums and singles build upon each other, showcasing her tackling the same struggles but at different stages of her life. And in an era of morbid sadness in both the pop and hip hop scenes, Kehlani’s songs are always tinged with optimism and hope. Her music always knows hurt, but its theme is survival.
While We Wait is Kehlani’s fourth project: her third mixtape and first project since her major label debut SweetSexySavage. Recorded during the span of pregnancy (her daughter is due in March), it is one of the Oakland R&B star’s strongest and most distilled release (and aptly titled). The mixtape serves as a literal placeholder as fans await her second major label LP due out later this year.
The overcrowded mainstream music scene has not hindered this refreshingly concise record of pop, rap and ’90s R&B resilience. There is undoubtable growth in her songwriting and style. The sparkling self-respect jam “Morning Glory” evokes TLC, autonomy and collectedness. “Nunya” is the tape’s most thrilling single with a monster hook to match its monster kiss-off. Closing track “Love Language” illustrates the excitements of partnership and love and shows a singer/songwriter grasping with the joy of some of the pain she has fought through.
Although the tape only features nine songs, it feels like a complete work that tells a story about how complicated love and communication can be in our hyper-mediated present. Kehlani’s lyrics evoke those of her peers SZA and Drake in illustrating the messy realities, suppressed feelings and the constraints of masculinity in a social-media driven world obsessed with image and glorification of success and happiness versus understanding and growing through failures and pain and sorrow. Lead single “Nights Like This,” which features popular R&B artist Ty Dolla $ign, shows the singer reminiscing on an old relationship and contemplating whether reconnecting would bring her joy or would failure be imminent.
Across her mixtape, Kehlani’s lucidity is pure relief, but opener “Footsteps” is so eloquent and resolved with its magical melancholy that you just want to bow your head when it ends. It is an ode to honesty and patience in the wake of a dysfunctional relationship. Kehlani works her magic throughout and teaches us how to talk to one another, and in the process, her voice has emerged more clearly than ever.
Recommend Tracks: “Footsteps;” “Nunya” (featuring Dom Kennedy)
Released: February 22, 2019
Genre(s): Alternative R&B
Label: Atlantic, TSNMI
Featured Artists: Musiq Soulchild, Dom Kennedy, Ty Dolla $ign, 6lack)
Tour: N/A (as of publication date)
Vinyl Edition: N/A (as of publication date)