It’s the album that almost wasn’t: Singer-songwriter Kehlani released her second studio album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t; channeling the emotions of love found, lost, and not quite left behind. Featuring fifteen tracks and appearances by Tory Lanez, Megan Thee Stallion, Jhené Aiko, Masego, Lucky Daye, and James Blake; the album reveals a different side to the singer after a life-changing year. The album marked a number of firsts for Kehlani and her team: former Vine star-turned-musician Destin Conrad earned his first major writing credit; photographer Brianna Alysse made it to billboard status with her pictures displaying in Times Square and other locations for album promotion; Honey Shot Productions was formed, and Kehlani earned her first #1 on iTunes.
On the day of the release, the singer hosted a livestream to celebrate and connect with fans eager to find out the process of bringing the project to fruition. Compared to 2017’s SweetSexySavage, she wanted to take on a more mature sound with stronger ties to R&B. While SweetSexySavage holds a collection of infectious and nostalgic pop-R&B tunes, such as “Distraction” and “Get Like,” It Was Good Until It Wasn’t taps into the darker, slower side of the genre.
Kehlani remarks that most of the criticism that crossed her path had to do with the shift in energy; however, it’s a critique that proves she accomplished what she set out to do with the production of the album. Her desire was to create a project that was all about the R&B and less pop-driven; with tales taking place in the same universe to tell a concise — albeit moody and melancholy — story. She credits the thoughts behind the album to her personal growth from SweetSexySavage to 2019’s While We Wait mixtape to now, even revealing that the emotional journey of her love life can be tracked through her music and major events that weighed heavy on her heart or were a turning point in her life; such as the birth of her daughter.
After tumultuous speculation of her life over the years and dealing with the fear that comes along with the entitled scrutiny otherwise known as public opinion; Kehlani has regained her confidence to step back into the spotlight and approach with determination whatever comes her way. The singer is candid about her right to control her own narrative, and exercises that right from going out in public to what she puts in her music. She notes that a lesson learned was to listen to herself and not what other people thought she should be creating next. For It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, she made the music she wanted to make and based any changes on what she felt was needed.
It Was Good Until It Wasn’t sets the stage with “Toxic,” a track illustrating the feeling of being caught up when you know better, with someone you know enough to know better — and doing it anyway. It’s a common theme throughout the record: being in situations, relationships, and situationships that are wrapped in a bittersweetness that needs to be escaped but not quite being ready to let go.
That energy is tapped into for “F&MU,” which boasts a magnetic hook that’s easy to imagine a crowd belting once concerts are able to be performed again. It’s also plainly stated on another of the album’s standouts, “Hate the Club,” featuring Masego on the saxophone. Though “tired of goin’ out, scared I’ll run into you” is repeated, the actions speak otherwise as the singer goes out anyway, hoping and not hoping for an opportunity for a run-in. Kehlani notes it as one of her favorite productions on the track, both as a whole and vocally, with sultry notes and a relatable experience.
“Can You Blame Me” and “Grieving,” featuring singers Lucky Daye and James Blake respectively; express two sides of the same coin: What happens if I can’t let go? And what happens when I finally do? Coming back-to-back on the album, both songs explore the residual feelings of a freshly-ended relationship. Or perhaps even not-so-fresh as we all heal in our own time. Where “Can You Blame Me?” expresses the moments in which we keep going back to something familiar to avoid sadness and loneliness; “Grieving” is accepting fate and powering through the darkness despite the pain that comes along with it.
It’s the choice between refusing to face the end or going through it to get over it. More than that, it’s the difficult transition of fighting fear attached to a chapter closing and emerging on the other side ready to face what’s next. In her livestream, Kehlani commented that when a relationship ends the love doesn’t just disappear; and it would be doing a disservice to true emotion to portray it that way. Simply put: It’s just not realistic.
Realism was of major importance in the construction of the album, which fits neatly into Kehlani’s natural sense of authenticity. “Bad News” almost didn’t make the cut. The pleading-for-a-safe-space track originally featured a sample from Menace II Society (1993) that ultimately couldn’t be used; and Kehlani puts herself into her mother’s shoes to mirror the story of her parents. “Everybody Business” is a bold tune in which she breaks down commentary on her love life and challenges her lover to consider the question: Will you listen to me, the one who’s with you; or will you listen to the noise that’s constantly coming our way? It’s a fearless and powerful message from someone tired of taking everybody’s shit.
Taking ownership is another common theme of the album, especially reflected in “Serial Lover;” as well as raw desire, which is deliciously expressed in the astrological “Water” and the energetic and rolling groove of “Can I” featuring Tory Lanez. It’s worth noting that It Was Good Until It Wasn’t has more features than SweetSexySavage, which has none. All collabs we’ve seen from Kehlani are on mixtapes.
The icing on the cake of the songstress’ musical pairings is that the world finally got to know what a Kehlani and Jhené Aiko mash-up sounds like. “Change Your Life” is one of the more upbeat tracks, along with “Open (Passionate)” and “Water,” showcasing the energy of the duo perfectly. Considering how quickly the feature came to be in the final hours before the album’s release, it’s a shining moment on an already-impeccable album.
Closing out the project is “Lexii’s Outro” in tribute to Lexii Alijai, rapper and close friend of Kehlani. She mentioned it was the hardest song on the album to do; but was grateful to carry on her legacy and honor her memory. Kehlani encourages fans to check out Lexii’s music and get to know her as she lived.
To date, four tracks from the album have videos to accompany them: “Toxic,” “Everybody Business,” “F&MU,” and “Open (Passionate)” — all created through Honey Shot Productions; a company started by Kehlani and photographer Brianna Alysse during the COVID-19 quarantine. They’ve had to teach themselves the ins and outs of video production, and their progress in skill can be tracked in each video they make as each gets better and better. A video for “Water” is expected to arrive next. It’s safe to say that however many videos they end up making, we’ll be sure to watch every single one.
“I’m happy people care and happy that people believe in me,” said Kehlani on her livestream. Citing Brandy and Drake as influences on this album, both musically and lyrically; Kehlani puts together an honest, heartbreaking, and hopeful look at love, life, and the complications that come with it. Rather than cower and hide, however, it’s about staring them in the face and taking things as they come. Life happens. Love happens. Time keeps going. One day at a time.
Autographed physical copies of It Was Good Until It Wasn’t can be purchased for a limited time from her website. The album is currently streaming on all major music platforms.
What’s your favorite track on Kehlani’s new album? Sound off below!