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“While We Wait” was worth the wait

Kehlani at the minor stage during Stavernfestivalen in Stavern on 09. July 2016. Lineup: Kehlani Parrish (vocal)
Kehlani at the minor stage during Stavernfestivalen in Stavern, Norway on July 9, 2016

Oakland’s Kehlani just dropped a new mixtape, and it’s everything we could have hoped for. “While We Wait” features nine tracks, all touching on subjects like failed relationships, healing and self-love set to Kehlani’s unique blend of pop, hip-hop and R&B beats that she has perfectly executed on her past album and mixtapes.

Kehlani Ashley Parrish, stage name Kehlani, grew up in Oakland, and gained fame and attention from her time on America’s Got Talent. She released her first mixtape, “Cloud 19,” in 2014. Kehlani released her second mixtape, “You Should Be Here,” in 2015 and released her first studio album with Atlantic Records, “SweetSexySavage,” in 2017.

“While We Wait” was written and recorded during Kehlani’s pregnancy, and the title could be a reference to her child on the way. There are also rumors of a new studio album on the way, and “While We Wait” could also be what holds us over while we wait for the follow-up to “SweetSexySavage.”

The mixtape opens with the poignant track “Footsteps,” featuring the hip-hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild. Kehlani sings, “and when I walked away/I left footsteps in the mud so you could follow me,” conveying the bittersweet hope of ending a relationship, hoping that it might not really be the end.

Kehlani has a knack for touching on the different dynamics in relationships, and Musiq Soulchild’s line “I treated you like medicine/But I guess I wasn’t listening” speaks to the common experience of men using women as therapy.

In her track “Butterfly,” Kehlani soulfully sings about the fears and hesitations when entering a relationship and falling in love. The song is soft and slow, and Kehlani urges the man she is singing about to be more vulnerable with his emotions when she sings “I hope you take from this that it’ll make you no less of a man/To break your walls and simply grab my hand.”

“Morning Glory” brings a very different feeling, as Kehlani sings a ballad of self-love, a theme she has incorporated into “SweetSexySavage” in songs like “Too Much.” In “Morning Glory,” Kehlani expresses her love for herself in her natural state, telling her lover that if they can’t accept her as she is, then they don’t deserve her at all.

Many of the songs off “While We Wait” show her emotional vulnerability in relationships. “Too Deep” expresses her feelings on the opposite end of the spectrum, when a relationship feels like it’s getting too emotionally deep. Kehlani has many pop culture references sprinkled throughout the album, my favorite being her line “we was candy crushin’,” referring to the game Candy Crush with a play on words. While the subject matter of “Too Deep” is a downhearted, the upbeat tempo makes “Too Deep” the perfect song to dance and sing along to.

The final song on this most recent mixtape of hers, “Love Language,” allows the mixtape to end on a positive and hopeful note. While many of the songs discuss the pain and disappointment that can come out of a romantic relationship, “Love Language” is all about the excitement of a new relationship. Kehlani tells her lover that she wants to learn their love language, emphasizing the importance of communication in relationships.

“Nights Like This,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, is nostalgic like “Footsteps,” as Kehlani contemplates a past relationship and whether or not it could work out again. Kehlani intentionally sings to a past lover with she/her pronouns on this track. While she used to be vague about the gender of the subject of her songs, she received immense positive feedback after releasing her single “Honey,” in which she specifies that she’s singing a love song about a woman, saying “I like my girls just like I like my honey” at the start of the song.

“I’ve been making music about women my whole career, but I never felt the need to write she, necessarily,” Kehlani told Fader. “But now I’ve seen how people reacted to my song ‘Honey,’ or when I’ve used the correct pronouns and put women in my music videos…I’m more aware that this isn’t just my truth.”

While the genres of rap and hip-hop have historically been dominated by men with heavy themes of masculinity and heteronormativity, it is exciting to have another queer woman of color in the music industry to look up to, especially one from Oakland.