R&B is in a perfectly fine position, and don’t let anybody — so-called gatekeepers of the genre, armchair critics, your parents — tell you otherwise. While they’ve been so busy attempting to protect the gates to R&B they failed to realize a second and more accepting entrance had been created many moons ago, opening its doors to singers and creators of all skills alike with just a single requirement: make good music. As diverse as ever, R&B now leaves a number of artists — both new and old — worthy of your taste palette, including Kiana Ledé.
Emerging from the Arizona desert, Kiana Ledé stepped into the mainstream R&B world with her breakout hit “Ex” (from her 2018 EP Selfless), a sultry anthem focused on not erasing a past lover from existence Following up Selfless up with her 2019 EP, Myself, Ledé gave us glimpses of the potential she had in store.
With both past and present relationships serving as the muse, Kiana Ledé released her formal debut album KIKI. Packaged with seventeen songs that each deliver their own accounts of one of the many complexities in a relationship, KIKI explores the peaking and drowning moments of an emotional lover.
While emotions drive the boat throughout, Kiana flaunts her confidence in various instances on the album. Flipping her hair to a soon-to-be-forgotten lover, she delivers waves of self-assurance on “Movin’” as a reminder of her worth and not to let any man ruin the vibe. Anchored by a sample of Outkast’s “So Fresh & So Clean” that sounds like it was rinsed in a car wash co-owned by Summer Walker and London On The Track, that same message appears on “Mad At Me:” “I’ve been on my hot sh*t lately, can’t be mad at me/You been on some f**k sh*t lately, keep that distance, please.” Laying a stiff-arm to the face of her past, Kiana asks for distance far more than the distance our government has asked us to practice lately. However, for much of the album, Kiana is left with the heart-wrenching task of creating that distance herself.
Stuck at a crossroads, Kiana is repeatedly left with the decision to stay another night or head out the door. A passionate duet with Lucky Daye, the two beautifully depict the budding war between an angry lover and their at-fault partner on “Forfeit.” Flinging words at each other across the room, Kiana requests that her partner quits before things bubble over, since the relationship can’t be salvaged. The breaking point is pushed even further two songs later on “Crazy.” Fed up with their “shady” actions, Kiana promises to show her side of crazy, one that far exceeds the highest peak of crazy her partner has in mind. The devastation of another broken promise on “Second Chances” with 6LACK, and the steadfast revenge she promises her ex-lover after an overwhelming amount of pain on “Plenty More” and the final farewell “Skiterlude” each have one thing in common: Kiana’s realization of her true self-worth, one that far above the voluntary cycle of trial and error with a certified ain’t sh*t lover. As she did with her beloved friend on “Cancelled.,” Kiana injects herself with a well-needed dose of confidence by the album’s halfway mark.
Throughout the back half of the album, a fear of Kiana’s begins to show as rays of confidence shine off her face: not being wanted. Desperate for her passion to be matched and return in full form to their relationship, Kiana begs for a fire to be lit under her lover on “Honest.” in hopes of feeling desired once again.
Further down the album, she admits to going to unnecessary lengths on “Attention.” to feel wanted once again. “Always up for war, always makin’ sh*t up/’Cause even if we’re fightin’, at least you payin’ attention.” Proverbially lighting the match herself, she watches the fire rage uncontrollably in hopes that her partner cares just enough to save her and their home from irreversible damage. One of the album’s (many) standouts, Kiana’s fear of not being wanted is highlighted brighter than ever on “Separation.” With Arin Ray playing her lover, she begs to know if he misses her when she leaves, when he’s alone, and everyday altogether. Delivering the perfect dose of assurance, Arin calms her fears with repeated confirmations of his love for her, one that is present at all times.
A moment of praise must be given to each of the features on KIKI. Ari Lennox’s taunting appearance on “Chocolate” aligns effortlessly with Kiana’s lustful message to her current lover, while Lucky Daye soulfully slides onto “Forfeit.” with his own anecdotes of a tired love. 6LACK accepts his faults on “Second Chances” with both the hope of a second chance and the understanding that his time may be up, while Arin Ray plays the better half in flawlessly making Kiana momentarily forget her fears on “Separation.” While it sounds a bit out of place on the album, Moneybagg Yo and BIA provide boastful backup to Kiana’s newfound confidence on “Labels.” Meanwhile, Col3trane grabs the attention of all in attendance with a mellow promise of love on “Good Girls.”
KIKI examines the confidence and fears of a vulnerable paramour left with the grueling task of self-examining in the mirror and asking, “Is all this really worth it?” Seemingly walking aimlessly throughout the album, Kiana finally finds a form of focus on the album’s final four songs. On “Protection” Kiana finally receives a sheltered love, but past fears inadvertently cause her to push it away. Once those fears have receded, she gracefully showers the new love of her life with gratitude and praise on “No Takebacks,” thanking them for being the light that brought her out of her tunnel of failed attempts at love.
The Grand Canyon State produced a beyond-promising songstress with the ability to carry her voice with a fiery passion hotter than the desert she calls home. If this 50-minute, 17-track album is not enough proof that R&B is in a far better place than the masses tell you, then the issue is with the listener and not the genre.