Review Summary: Dive inward and enjoy the haze
For the latter half of this decade, the prevailing term to describe popular music has been what I call “mood music.” Now, on a surface level, this phrase probably sounds too vague or generic to get my point across. But the term is actually referring to “vibing” music, which alludes to low-key R&B/hip-hop (often trap-inspired) jams that exude a darker, more sleepy feel. Even our biggest pop stars - from Ariana Grande to Zayn - have gradually been drawn to its orbit, and its influence has only grown with time. It’s not like I don’t understand why; a lot of popular music can be attributed to the national mood, and in the levels of division and social turmoil we’re at now, we’d might as well get some good binge-drinking music in the process.
Kehlani - for better or worse - is another artist working from this angle. She isn’t necessarily immersed in the trap environment that’s been spreading over pop music, but her smooth alternative R&B is at least in the same ballpark aesthetically. Unlike her previous album SweetSexySavage
, which clocked in at over 58 minutes of material, While We Wait
is a much more short and digestible offering. It’s a quick little mixtape that gives us a nice reel of erotic and romantic stories wrapped up in enveloping soulful hip-hop beats, almost like we’re voyeurs instead of mere listeners. The abundance of features only highlights this feeling, as if we’re hearing Kehlani and her male counterparts engage in back-and-forth banter like actual lovers.
For the most part, it adds up to an effective experience. On a musical - and especially vocal - level, the best way I can sum up While We Wait
is if you crossed the brooding R&B-soul stylings of H.E.R. with the bass-boosted hip-hop/pop influences of Ariana Grande’s recent work. Kehlani doesn’t exactly stand out as a solo vocalist, but her voice works much better when harmonized and layered on top of these beats. Luckily, she and her producers already seemed to realize this. Right from the opener “Footsteps,” she’s constantly alternating between single takes and small bursts of multitracking, so there’s always some variety in the performances. “Nunya” explores this on a deeper level, setting Kehlani’s soulful croons and harmonized moans against a slower, substantially sexier beat that really wraps you in its atmosphere. The production work ties this all together nicely, having just enough gloss but also complementing it with many intricate details that you won’t catch the first time. I didn’t hear the subtle bounce of the basslines in “Morning Glory” the first time around, and I certainly
didn’t hear feel the full impact of the dreamlike low-tempo crawl of “Feels” until I gave it repeated listens.
In fact, the best way While We Wait
can be approached is as a “night time” album. It’s a great album to put on when you’re taking an evening stroll in the big city, or at home when you’re studying for that test you have tomorrow. It has such a chill vibe, but also imbued with enough urban flavor and attention to detail to extend slightly outside of the confines of that “mood music” tag I mentioned earlier. It ain’t a perfect album of course; it’s very short and arguably a bit unfinished, coming off more as foreshadowing for a future project than being an actual album proper. Plus, the features get a bit gratuitous and unneeded after a while. Did we really need four features on a nine-track record that only runs for a half-hour? Probably not. Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of dark low-key R&B, you could do much worse. Dive into this sea of slow beats and hazy synths with an open mind; you may not want to get out of the water for a while.