In her first EP, 21-year-old Kiana Ledé navigates the complexities of how to be selfless in a relationship without sacrificing self-preservation and self-respect. Punctuating her notes with a carefully composed ratio of sincere reflection to self-assured swagger, Kiana’s Selfless is reminiscent of early-2000’s Ashanti. In particular, Selfless expands upon Ashanti’s “Foolish,” creating a dissertation on power dynamics and the exploitation of selflessness in romantic relationships.
Self-reflection dominates “Get In The Way,” the intro track to the EP. Kiana begins by offering herself a harsh analysis of her past behavior, critical of the way she has allowed dudes to take advantage of her in relationships: “Kiki this is bullshit, damn / you ain’t new to this / make the same mistakes.” Instead of allowing herself to drown in the past, how she and her lover would “fuck then regret it / fuck and forget it,” Kiana tells herself that past patterns are done, that the toxicity of her former relationships will not prevent her from moving on in life. Done being selfless and forgiving, Kiana positions herself as first in her life. Maintaining this position, however, will be a more difficult task than expected, as detailed in “Wicked Games.” Wanting to guard herself from players, Kiana acknowledges her weaknesses: “And I let you come back cause stickin’ round is in my nature / and tolerating bad behavior.” These are the weaknesses she must overcome to prevent her lovers from using her selfless nature as a tool to manipulate and mistreat her.
Kiana expands upon her problematic past relationships in “Shame.” She reaffirms the sacrifice she has made for the undeserving man, such as schooling him on how to respect a woman, only for him to apply those lessons in a relationship that is not with her. Despite the loss, Kiana refuses to let it break her, evident in the way she frames the situation as a shameful inconvenience to her and her time: “It’s a shame she gon’ know everything I taught ya / it’s a shame she gon’ get to see all better you / it’s a shame that I went through all that shit.” Kiana is aware of her worth – “I’m way too good, baby don’t stress” – something that appears in “Show Love.” At no point during these songs does Kiana imply that she will cry over the men that wronged her. She does not plead for love, but demands it: “Fight for me baby / keep it on lock for me love.” Self-assurance in where she wants to stand with him, confidence in her expectations of the relationship, Kiana is unashamed in her straightforwardness with these demands.
In “EX,” Kiana pivots in her approach to her former lover. She longs for them to remain connected: “Just ‘cause it’s different and we’re not the same / doesn’t mean things have got to change.” Kiana’s selfless nature causes her to always care about those in her life, even those with whom the dynamic has changed because she’s “got no trouble” with her pride; she’s “got trouble cutting ties.” Urging her past lover to “still hangout / on the low, get wild,” she reminds him that there is still something aflame between them: “Don’t pour water on fire.” By pursuing him despite their fallout, she almost echoes – and encourages – the “fuck and forget about it” situation she laments earlier on the album during “Get In The Way.”
The EP’s ending diverges in two interesting and unexpected ways. In the second to last song, “Take It All,” there are three notable changes: a change in sound, a change in mood, and a change in roles. The change in sound is the most obvious, the acoustics a clear departure from the EP’s classic R&B sound. The change in mood refers to how she feels about the man: Unlike the previous songs, Kiana offers herself fully to the guy without suspicion of how he might abuse her selflessness. The change in roles concerns the role reversal between Kiana and the guy: In past songs, the guy plays the games; in this song, Kiana acknowledges the games she has played. Musing about why he stays by her side (“You be so good to me, even when I don’t say sorry”), she admits her flaws and is willing to change.
Rounding out the EP is a vengeful remix of “Fairplay” featuring A$AP Ferg. Concluding her internal struggle about how to weigh self-sacrifice with self-preservation, Kiana evens the playing field by engaging in the guy’s own game. In this situation, both of them are players indulging in their selfishness.
Selfless is mature – both in production and content – for the 21-year-old. Kiana Ledé departs from her contemporaries by refusing to spend the entire album longing for good times or good men. Instead, she reaffirms herself of her worth and reminds herself that she does not need to be a passive participant in the games of scheming men. She makes demands, clearly states her expectations, and recognizes when she needs to leave a situation. At no point during Selfless does Kiana drag another woman. This merely solidifies Kiana’s maturity as an artist as she avoids succumbing to the expectation that women must blame other women for the failings of a relationship. Kiana does not scapegoat the unsuspecting outside woman; instead, she owns up to her own weaknesses and refuses to absolve the scheming man of his transgressions. Selfless is a 21-minute crash course on how to be brutally honest with oneself about the nuances of individual personality traits (the EP leaves us wondering if selflessness is an unfortunate flaw or an admirable attribute) and the reasons for failed relationships.
Listen to Selfless on all major streaming services.