Kehlani’s “Blue Water Road” Revels in Softness, Love, Confidence, and Freedom
When moving with intention, there is no desire to fit in or conform to what is considered… “normal.” Instead, there is… a passionate hunger for completion, stability, and serenity. The very moment Kehlani released their 2021 single, “Altar,” - a beautiful record that pays sincere tribute to lost loved ones who passed away during this Covid-19 pandemic, healing, purpose, and intentionality were displayed as key elements in the dawn of their new era. Arriving as the follow-up to Kehlani's 2020 album, It Was Good Until It Wasn't, Kehlani's third studio album, blue water road marks a shift within their artistry, musicality, and legacy.
Released Friday (Apr. 29), blue water road was initially teased with a cinematic short visual to be released in the winter of 2021. However, due to personal reasons of wanting to deliver an utterly beautiful project, Kehlani decided to delay the project's arrival which led to its spring 2022 release. Within the visual, viewers witness a somewhat battered Kehlani limping along a road. Its imagery plays on the continuity of IWGUIW and symbolizes Kehlani trekking through the very chaos from their last era as they enter into the light and love of the blue water road.
With their new album, Blue Water Road, Kehlani enters into their utmost evolved, transparent state ever. Presented as a journey to oneness, healing, and authentic love, blue water road is spiritual. Released Friday (Apr. 29), the album is comprised of 13 songs and runs for nearly 40 minutes. Along this journey, Kehlani recruits the talents of artists such as Justin Bieber, Thundercat, Ambré, Jessie Reyez, Syd, & Blxst to further fuel the ideologies that lie within the blue water road.
While many listeners are used to the past melancholic, gut-punching toxic anthems Kehlani has blessed us with in the past, blue water road displays a lighter, softer, more serene Kehlani as they evolve on this journey of identity, sexuality, spirituality, and healing. The album's opener and second single, "little story" is very fitting as it sets the very tone for the album's entirety. Here, Kehlani is emotionally vulnerable. Asking for a second chance at love, Kehlani passionately shares their truth in regards to their emotional intelligence and asks their lover to be a part of their story of life and love. The lyricism is pure and healing as Kehlani allows themself to be seen in a more light, softer point of view.
As the album quickly progresses, Kehlani reminds us of their flirty charm that caused us to fall for them in the first place. Recruiting fellow Californian native, Blxst the two deliver this breezy, radio-ready stripper love story on "any given sunday." Flirty and confident, "any given sunday" ingests pure California energy from production to the flow of both Kehlani & Blxst. The two's voices and flows connect flawlessly together. The idea of rawness and transparency is fueled by the open "shooter interlude." Here, Kehlani clears her throat and proclaims that they will keep that on the song. The interlude is "a compilation of all the bullshit that has come out of people’s mouths towards me," Kehlani shared with NME.
It further fuels the idea of healing as Kehlani is able to share all of these various things that have been said to them and caused some form of confusion, pain, or anger. Romance intensifies on Kehlani's dreamy third single, "up at night." Here, Kehlani teams up with Justin Bieber, and the tag team pours out their hearts about the very ways their lovers run through each of their minds while keeping them up through the late hours of the night. They simply cannot be/ do not want to be without their partners. With heavy '90s R&B appeal, the boom/clap production channels nostalgia while still generating a refreshing sound captivated with the thoughts of love.
While blue water road does not maintain the same darker energy seen in IWGUIW there are moments where Kehlani channels some of that similar energy. Cuts such as the regretful "wish i never" and the toxic yet utterly contagious cheating anthem, "more than i should" showcase moments of when love has been a bit... soiled. Sampling Slick Rick's 1989 track, "Children's Story,' the regretful "wish i never" takes the old and reinvents it into this innovative, upbeat anthem that tells Kehlani's story of having remorse of being with someone they knew they should have never engaged with from the beginning. Kehlani's pen game is sickening as they string together these charming, unforgettable verses that further display their emotions, confidence, and passion. "more than i should" sees Kehlani teaming with the lovely Jessie Reyez as the two deliver this back-and-forth melody. The duo flirts with the idea of lust as they both ask themselves if it is considered cheating if they each find themselves being treated properly by someone other than their significant others... the very people who should be treating them correctly.
What's beautiful even about these brief moments of "darkness" in the album, they give way to healing. They showcase that healing is not always linear and that even when mistakes are made along the way, lessons are learned that can still propel healing in any direction. A prime example of this is the glistening "get me started," that teams both Kehlani and Syd up. The song shows Kehlani's growth as they sing about taking the time to effectively communicate their issues with their partner rather than detonate and ruin something that is ultimately meaningful and purposeful. Both Syd and Kehlani's voices leave listeners in a puddle as their low tones and breathy, airy vocals intensify the passion within the song and elevate it to even higher dimensions.
Blue water road's remaining tracks honestly mark some of Kehlani's BEST writing yet. On "melt" Kehlani generates pure poetry. A personal favorite from the album, "melt" takes all that is beautiful about love & finding your person, and creates one of the most heartfelt, ravishing songs Kehlani has ever created. Poetic, artistically, and sonically flawless, Kehlani truly makes being in love sound outstanding. In a sheer state of bliss, lust, and harmony, Kehlani overwhelmingly opens their heart up to their love. Feeling safe, warm, and completely valued, they are ready to give their lover any and everything under the sun.
The energy flows seamlessly as listeners follow up with the next track, "tangerine." Here, Kehlani uses their wit and outstanding songwriting skills to sing about sex with their lover. In other words, Kehlani is so smitten that they praise the very taste of their lover. On the outside, it sounds so very pure and innocent but the song is actually heavily sexually charged with many messages that could be missed on the first listen. It's a testament to the very happiness and joy Kehlani feels in real-time. Kehlani's pen game is the sharpest it's been and it shows. The vocal display is unparalleled and the delivery is trademark Kehlani at their absolute best.
From here "tangerine" flows immediately into the repetitive yet utterly spiritually felt "everything." Previewed by an earlier interlude, "everything" praises Kehlani's lover in every shape and form. Kehlani calls their lover's energy unconventional while praising their partner's physical elements as well as the ways she listens to them, nurtures them, and attends to them. It is easily one of the most heartwarming records on the entire album. Vocally, Kehlani is just untouchable here. Bellowing out the word "everything" over and over, listeners truly understand that Kehlani is in real love and at true peace.
Blue water road's final song, "wondering/wandering" pairs Kehlani up with their friend and frequent collaborator, Ambré as well as utilizes another friend, the incredible singer/songwriter, Thundercat, and his flawless instrumentation. This moving song utilizes both the terms "wondering" and "wandering" as Kehlani paints this image of searching for freedom, love, and light. In a world filled with uncertainty, fear, and judgment, Kehlani confidently navigates these uncertainties finding their way along the shore of the blue water road. Instead of holding on to life's pressures, Kehlani surrenders to the Divine to guide and protect them along the way. The track holds much symbolism and ends with Kehlani's greatest inspiration for growth, maturation, and healing, her baby girl Adeya, who adorably mutters the words "Blue Water" throughout the song's outro.
With every release, Kehlani redefines the genre that is R&B. Much like its composer, blue water road strips itself of any labels and delivers a compelling, transparent, emotive body of art that listeners can physically feel within their bodies each time they play it. The project also marks Kehlani's first album since coming out as a lesbian and it allows them to be completely who they desire to be.
Where IWGUIW exhibited a darker aura, blue water road truly triumphs in sheer softness. Nothing is forced and everything flows like milk and honey. There’s a level of confidence that was introduced in Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. However, blue water road allows this internal confidence to fully erupt within Kehlani, unleashing one of her absolute best projects yet (and of of the best albums of the year). While telling Kehlani's current life story, blue water road serves the double purpose of being a destination of healing and spirituality for all who lend their ears to it. Although the journey of healing is never truly over, blue water road romanticizes both the journey and stopping place of happiness, love, and freedom.
Stream Kehlani's "blue water road" below.