Kelela's Take Me Apart Fuses Genres

November 13, 2017 | Rae Nieves, Contributing Writer

An unclothed black woman sits cross-legged, adorned by a waterfall of carefully-placed black braids, masterfully placed to hide her secrets yet exhibiting her feminine power; her clad nudity exudes her power and authority. This is the visual of Kelela’s first studio album, Take Me Apart. Kelela’s cover perfectly symbolizes her newest project in which she artfully blends intimacy and distance, and reckless abandon with purposeful stature.

Although Take Me Apart is Kelela’s first official album, the singer has had a visible presence on the R&B scene since 2012 when Solange Knowles tapped Kelela to join her on tour after hearing a promising demo tape from the new artist. The following year, Kelela released Cut 4 Me, a daring mixtape that layered the singer’s seductive voice over aggressive soundscapes supplied mainly by electronic and grime producers, including Bok Bok, Jam City, and Kingdom. Complex, Spin, Time, Fact, and The Guardian were among many publications that named the mixtape one of the best albums of that year. She followed up with her EP, Hallucinogen, which maintained her usual electronic sound but flirted with more traditional genres like Pop and R&B. Recent collaborations including Solange on “Scales,” Danny Brown on “From the Ground” and Gorillaz on “Submission,” has secured Kelela’s place on ‘Must Watch’ lists.

On Take Me Apart, Kelela hones the electro-R&B sound that she has experimented with on her earlier releases into a cohesive, unique and enjoyable sonic style. Arca, Kingdom, and Jam City once again bring their electronic influence to Kelela’s sound, while prolific pop producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked with Madonna, Usher, Adele and Solange and produced Kelela’s catchy yet sexy track “Gomenasai” on Hallucinogen, takes on a larger role by contributing to nearly half of the songs on Take Me Apart. Any attempt to categorize the songs on this album into the typical genres would be a futile exercise; what sets this album apart is the ease with which it blurs classic genre boundaries and the fluidity with which it slides from nostalgic to futuristic and back again. “Blue Light,” one of the best tracks on the album, perfectly straddles electronic dance-pop and Afrofuturist R&B.

Even when Kelela’s voice is heavily altered by her producers, her emotional vocal style and confessional lyrics contribute a human element without which the instrumentals would be barren. Take Me Apart is a treatise on modern romance, often zooming in on the beginnings and endings of complicated relationships and reminiscing on fractured love stories. On “LMK,” she fearlessly declares her interest in a casual hook-up but makes clear that she doesn’t have time to waste on an indecisive potential lover. On “Better,” one of the album’s most organic tracks and perhaps its loveliest, she reflects on a break-up and states, “I know it made me better.” On “Jupiter she sings, “I think I know me now.”

Throughout the album, the 34-year-old singer displays a level of emotional and sexual maturity that rarely appears in pop lyrics. Without resorting to cheesy anthems or girl-power sloganeering, Kelela has crafted an undeniably feminist album: a testament to female confidence, intelligence, and self-knowledge. Her relentless experimentation has finally led her to a sound that is uncategorizable, subtle, emotive and complex.