Kelela is responsible for some of R&B’s best songs of the past decade, including the perfect (Bjork favoured) ‘All The Way Down’. She’s surpassed only by Solange; despite having gained her approval, Kelela’s debut album isn’t quite the event that A Seat At The Table was. Although that’s what it is, an event. It is a workshop of fine musical ideas and collabs, penned down by a musician who threatens – and should, if justice prevails – take over the world.
While the past few years have seen a surge of vaguely experimental attempts at R&B – some of them being extraordinarily good – the efforts have yet to commercialise. As stewed over by NPR’s Mosi Reeves, R&B’s women of colour fail to be seen in the pop market. This year’s best attempt so far came from SZA and her album Control. To most clued-in minds, it’s easily within the top 10 albums of the year so far, yet it’s failed to even make the UK Top 40 chart.
R&B once perpetuated the gospel tradition of singing hard. It was melodiously braiding, filled with apexes and nadirs that led to a final, devastating soar. It was a palatable form for the white audience and marketplace. Take Me Apart makes reference to, and even recovers the incredible slickness of black, female R&B artists of the 1990s. It was a time when the white-favoured method was tipped on its head.
As any well-developed piece, it has to go forwards before it can go backwards. But a masterpiece knows to move in both directions at the same time. That’s exactly what Take Me Apart does. Kelela makes reference to, and even recovers the money-making motifs of the 90s, while creating a futuristic genre of her own. Take Me Apart can most aptly be described as ‘urbo’ (a blend of urban and emo music). It is absolutely in reaction to the world today, and one of those reactions is to our streaming era. Her gossamer scales and booty shaking sub-bass threaten Spotify’s mid frequency preference, as Kelela takes from the rich and gives R&B back its gusto.