Blue Water Road

Kehlani opens “shooter interlude,” the third track from their latest album blue water road, by loudly clearing their throat. “And I’m keeping all this part, too,” they quickly add. On the surface, it’s an innocuous moment, a bump in the recording process. But the rawness of it—choosing to leave in a blemish, an outtake—sets the stage for honest reflection. Over a bed of swelling guitars, flutes, vocal harmonies, they parrot questions they’ve received from others over the years, voicing requests for money and unasked proposals of marriage. Their interlocutors check their ego (“Don’t forget the favors that I did for you”) while pleading for connection (“Can I come over later and can I overstay my welcome?”). This meta moment is exceptionally vulnerable: Kehlani grappling with other people’s perceptions of them in public. It’s a beating heart on the floor, even by the standards of an artist who’s no stranger to a messy breakup song.

Kehlani has always portrayed love as a kaleidoscope of feeling—the lust, the trauma, stabs at commitment that evaporate like JUUL vapors. In 2020, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t explored bad relationships and one-night stands with the efficiency of spring cleaning, assessing the damage on all sides. blue water road has its share of debauchery—the deep notes when they sing “Call me daddy in front of all your bitches in the lobby” on “any given sunday” are seduction incarnate—but the overall vibes are steamy and committed, more eager than ever to bet it all on love. Kehlani has never sounded more comfortable in their own skin, selling the transition from SweetSexySavage to grown, sexy, and tender. 

As opposed to the moodier atmosphere favored by artists like Summer Walker or 6LACK, blue water road has a bubbly tinge. The production, largely handled by executive producer Pop Wansel, is split between aqueous rap’n’b beats and guitar-centered pop arrangements. Even the tracks with a darker musical edge—like the strip-club love story “any given sunday”—are backed by synths and soft ad-libs that pop with champagne fizz. Kehlani’s vocal runs and rapping skill contribute to the lifted mood, expanding and contracting to the scope of each narrative. Their voice flits between the shuffling drums of the Slick Rick sample powering the angsty backseat lust of “wish i never” with the same conviction that drives the platonic remembrance of lead single “altar.” On “get me started,” Kehlani’s voice winds up and down a spiral of hi-hats and synths with hushed grace. Later, during the cheating anthem “more than i should,” their voice is sweet, forceful, moving in lockstep with the bassline.