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Kehlani - It Was Good Until It Wasn't (Album Review)

Thursday, 14 May 2020 Written by Rhys Thomas

Since the release of her ‘Cloud 19’ mixtape in 2014, Kehlani has parlayed early hype and a start in TV talent shows into continued growth as a musician and songwriter, grappling with love and loneliness as the primary themes behind her work.

‘It Was Good Until It Wasn't’ is her second full length album, arriving three years on from ‘SweetSexySavage’, and here there’s a star-studded list of collaborators and producers along for the ride, helping to facilitate Kehlani’s most ambitious writing to date.

From the sterile ringing at the start of Toxic onwards, you can feel that the album’s title is going to reflect its contents: things are about to become introspective and sobering. Kehlani’s recent life experience as a mother allows her to paint complex pictures around razor sharp, cultured hooks.  

There’s a prominent, but not overbearing, use of 808s and New Orleans bounce here, along with the R&B/pop-doused neo-soul that is Kehlani’s mother tongue, perhaps hinting that a formerly party-centric lifestyle has been on her mind while making the album. Hate The Club and Change Your Life are perhaps the most obvious examples of this trope.

Kehlani’s growing confidence is clear when she combines with Megan Thee Stallion for Real Hot Girl Skit. Rather than leaning on star wattage to paper over some cracks, she’s unafraid to deploy the ‘Hot Girl’ ambassador for a powerful 16-second skit. Decision-making like this underlines Kehani’s vision and a clinical approach to realising it.

On the other side of the coin, F&MU stands out as the least inspired track. It does showcase the vocal layering Kehlani employs throughout the album nicely, and works as a segue from the beautiful Serial Lover into Can You Blame Me, but its strengths are clearly illustrated better on other songs such as Bad News. As a standalone piece it feels slightly less developed than the rest of the record.  

Taking  ‘It Was Good Until It Wasn't’ as a whole, we loosely have songs about empowerment and doing as we please in the opening stanza, songs about the consequences of going all-out with love and infatuation around the record’s middle, and songs about learning to be alone without being lonely at its close.

This an album packed with nicely considered touches, textures, and ideas, with very few skippable moments. The lyrics are often poignant, though some tracks (notably Toxic, Hate The Club, Open (Passionate), and Lexii’s Outro) fare better in a narrative sense than others (Everybody’s Business, Water, and Grieving). 

Despite its execution occasionally not reaching the levels of its ambition, this is Kehlani’s best work to date. Her growing maturity as a creative voice is clear, and ‘It Was Good Until It Wasn't’ provides a roster of good tracks that permit us to anticipate truly great ones in future.


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