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Kehlani is Looking For Love In a World on Fire

Crash begins with Kehlani Parrish tumbling through watery depths. “I’m kind of crazy,” they sing as a backing chorus trills lightly in a reflection of asphyxia. When they hit the ocean’s floor, the beat switches on “GrooveTheory” into a slow, sinuous cut, the kind that will be familiar to fans of the non-binary singer’s vibrant, iconoclastic past work, which has exerted a major influence on the queering of contemporary Black pop. “Come talk with me/Wanna get you open,” they sing.  

What unfolds on Crash proves to be anything but formulaic. “After Hours,” which has made some noise on the pop charts, revolves around Rohan “Snowcone” Fuller’s “Applause” riddim from Sean Paul’s “Temperature.” (The track is produced by Kristopher Riddick-Tynes and Alex Goldblatt.) “Tears” luxuriates in house-y beats and a cameo from Afrobeats singer Omah Lay. Then there’s “Crash” and “Better Not,” two country-ish numbers with slide guitar that reflect the Zeitgeist’s current obsession with the yeehaw agenda.

Most of these songs revolve around sexual pleasure, sometimes in baldly raunchy ways. “I want a bitch that look better than me/Pussy get better than me,” Kehlani sings on “What I Want,” which also samples the hook from Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.” The songcraft also feels looser, and not always in compelling ways. “8” finds them chanting “8, 8, 8” monotonously, with the number symbolizing…well, I probably don’t need to explain it to you. Doja Cat did it better on “Juicy.” Meanwhile, “Sucia” opens with spoken-word erotica by Jill Scott and offers a slow, grinding funk pulse reminiscent of Prince’s “Scandalous” or D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” as well as a cameo from Young Miko. “Girl, you should taste the water from your well,” lilts Kehlani.

In an interview with Apple Music, Kehlani explained that Crash is intended to be a “joyful” work. “For once, I’m not attached to some story or some public thing or some trauma or some deep explanations,” they said. That must feel freeing to someone who has long been an object of scrutiny, whether it’s their sexual identity, star-crossed love affairs or, more recently, criticism for supporting Palestine during Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The video for “Next 2 You” features them and a phalanx of dancers stepping hard in keffiyeh-patterned outfits. In an Instagram post, Kehlani claimed that unnamed artists “ghosted” them as a result of their advocacy. “Because of my political stance, I couldn’t get any features,” they said. Yet while the visual impact of “Next 2 You” is unmistakable, the song’s lyrics – “They gon’ have to call the law/I don’t care what they offer, I’m protecting you” – seems like too-vague promises.


Despite their current aversion to “deep explanations,” Kehlani’s albums are memorable for their ability to render travails both public or private, into heart-rending musical poetry. It’s the way they turned social media attacks and a highly publicized mental breakdown into “Peace of Mind” on 2017’s excellent SweetSexySavage; and how each subsequent full-length charted their maturity, from the hard-won self-acceptance they expressed on 2020’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, to the inner peace and maternal resolve that personified 2022’s blue water road. Yes, Kehlani has always been junglelistically horny. Their strength lies in intuiting life lessons in their all-too-human passions.

Without a clear sense of purpose, Crash feels a bit scattershot as Kehlani turns up the heat and racks up the jams. Yet there’s a few moments that cut through the body talk. On “Lose My Wife,” they admit “I’ve been wilding out tonight” while crooning over a mesmeric folk-soul rhythm. And on “Vegas,” they sing, “While the world’s on fire, we’re getting high, making love.” It’s a deliberate attempt to lose themselves in an ecstatic embrace that seems destined to fall apart. But one can’t blame them for trying.

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