Twenty-one and misunderstood, I remember it so vividly. Rebellious, unruly and ambitious. I was difficult to handle and difficult to love, despite my honest best efforts, so many people in my life stopped trying, giving up on the bad apple instead. That bruised, pierced, rotten apple - a symbol designed to place bad girls in a category for everyone else’s sake, but ours, as it’s much simpler to make sense of us and easier to forgive yourself when you’ve thrown us away. But that was always your loss.

At sixteen, I escaped an abusive home-life that had raised me in fear-based toxicity. At 20, I squatted on couches and in homeless shelters, attempting to put myself through university. And by 24, I had made a writing career my life, all-the-while still holding onto the many resistant virtues that had been branded on me like a scarlet letter from those perplexed by them. The kind of virtues men are praised for. But I learned early on that just because people don’t understand what I had to do and had to be to get myself here doesn’t mean I need to explain anything anymore. Because I’m here now. Oakland R&B star, Kehlani Parrish has a similar story.

"My condolences to anyone who has ever lost me and to anyone who got lost in me. Or, to anyone who ever felt they took a loss with me. My apologies for the misunderstanding or the lack thereof. I'm sorry you missed the God in me. And I'm sorry you missed the light. I'm sorry you forgot the way I arose like the moon night after night with the burden to forgive." They’re the first words spoken on the 21-year-old Cali-based artist’s debut album, SweetSexySavage. And although they’re presented as an apology of sorts – they’re most certainly not. Astounding poet, Reyna Biddy opens the project with a profound and poignant spoken word piece directed at those still lost by the complexities of a resilient woman. And throughout her lengthy project, Kehlani enlists friends and peers like Little Simz, Dyme Taylor and Alexandra Elle to offer reflection and support in normalizing the under-represented story of a young woman’s impenitent rise despite her gritty past.

Kehlani has truly arrived, now. Her husky vocals and no-bullshit songwriting earned her a Grammy nomination for her 2015 mixtape, You Should Be Here. And while her debut album had every opportunity to serve as a smouldering “rags to riches” fairytale over lush R&B production from the likes of Pop & Oak and Novawav, she’s delivered her 19-track full-length as an extension of what comes next; after you’ve clawed yourself out of the worst of things and try to maintain the success you’ve worked so hard for. (Welcome: imposter syndrome, anxiety, distrust.) Because accomplishment doesn’t eradicate trauma, even for pop stars.

In an engaging and accessible way, Kehlani uses her sharp pen game to detail her experiences navigating relationships and her career as best she can, despite her past impacting many facets of her future. Lead single ‘CRZY’ was released in reference to a high-profile hospital stay following a suicide attempt and the labels then attributed to her. And while trust issues may be a trendy topic for R&B slow-burners, Kehlani gives her abandonment fears and instability a genuine voice on tracks like ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Not Used To It.’

It’s expected that Kehlani’s casual coverage of her self-aware revelations may be read as surface level to some, and in moments, they are, but to those navigating similar circumstances, the album is a shimmering validation of a layered and complex struggle often omitted from the female pop narrative. Male icons like The Weeknd and Justin Bieber are often hailed for their human depiction of imperfection. Kehlani is demanding the same respect by flipping the illustration of the bad apple on its head. The only title she's interested in is SweetSexySavage.