If early mixtapes Cloud 19 and You Should Be Here demonstrated Kehlani’s poetic artistry and soulful earnestness, SweetSexySavage served as an addendum: The R&B prodigy knows how to have fun, too. Kehlani’s first studio album relishes in excess, full of club-ready bass-heavy tracks that manage to carry a sweet air of levity. It’s almost a wonder that the album was born from an intense personal struggle; anxiety and depression shadowed Kehlani’s burgeoning fame, and constant public perception made it difficult to cope. Yet the Oakland, CA-born singer has always worn their heart on their sleeve, and the ordeal ultimately led Kehlani through a healing journey that they could work through musically. That newfound happiness, paired with an urge to write like the pop stars of their youth, brought Kehlani to SweetSexySavage’s overwhelming ethos of bright seduction. Pulling inspiration from the effortlessly cool vibe of ’90s girl group TLC (compare the title of TLC’s second album to this one and you might notice a pattern) as well as heartfelt singer-songwriters from the 2000s like Natasha Bedingfield and Colbie Caillat, SweetSexySavage bakes nostalgic R&B production into slick, modern melodies. On “Distraction,” a prowling synth line blooms into smooth sustained chords as Kehlani playfully asks a new lover to respect their work-life balance, while “Undercover” sneaks in a ticking drumbeat to simulate the rush of hiding a relationship, Kehlani singing with a coquettish bounce. Meanwhile, tracks such as “Too Much” and “Piece Of Mind” make use of their vocal agility to play directly with harmonies that one might expect to find in a girl group, perhaps a throwback to the short-lived cover band Kehlani had performed with as an early teen. For much of SweetSexySavage, Kehlani appears a dominating figure, but some livelier songs exaggerate their occasional shyness (“Get Like”), while the album’s few acoustic ballads present the singer with their heart wide open (“Hold Me By The Heart”). But it’s on heavier tracks like the dissonant, pulsing “Not Used To It” where they appear the most vulnerable, revisiting their past while fearful of how one might receive it. Kehlani won’t let that twisted story dominate their life, however—the penultimate track “Thank You” finds them remembering the fans that never left their side, who saw their pain and helped them through to the end of it.