“Success to me is only two things: happiness and stability.”
Kehlani Ashley Parrish was born in Oakland, California, on April 24, 1995. Unfortunately, both of her parents were struggling with addiction, and as a result, her father died when she was a toddler, and her mother was in and out of jail. Because of this, Kehlani was a part of the foster system before being adopted by her maternal aunt. Starting in the 6th grade, Kehlani began attending the Oakland School for the Arts, where she studied dancing with the hope of eventually studying ballet at Julliard. Unfortunately, a knee injury in middle school upset these hopes, and Kehlani instead began to focus on music. While living with her aunt, Kehlani was exposed to R&B and neo-soul artists like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott, artists she later credited as some of her earlier musical influences. Due to her recent success, Kehlani has become one of the notable R&B artists of the past few years.
“I think, as musicians, our music should be who we are. Sometimes it’s not – it’s someone else’s. All heartfelt music and all honest music, it’s who we are. Of course, our upbringing has everything to do with it.”
At 14 years old, Kehlani joined local band, Poplyfe as the lead vocalist. In 2011, the group successfully auditioned for the show America’s Got Talent and finished in fourth place. After America’s Got Talent, Kehlani left the group, and between 2012 and 2013, she was essentially homeless. At 17, she left Oakland for Los Angeles hoping to start her solo career but eventually returned to Oakland after being sent to a group home. Around this time, Nick Cannon, the host of America’s Got Talent, reconnected with Kehlani and offered her a spot in a rap group. Although this did not work, Cannon later helped Kehlani and her career in another way, buying her an apartment in LA and studio time at his studio complex, Studio City, and arranged for her to work with producers in New York.
The result of the studio time was Kehlani’s first mixtape, Cloud 19, which featured a blend of old school and new R&B. The mixtape gained a lot of attention on Soundcloud and ranked 28th among the “50 best albums of 2014” by Complex magazine. The mixtape and some of the songs were also picked for several other music watch lists. A year later, Kehlani released her second mixtape, You Should Be Here, which gained even more attention than her first. The mixtape, which the producer Jahaan Sweet arranged, was praised by Elias Leight of Billboard as the first great R&B album of 2015 and other popular music magazines. The mixtape also earned her a 2016 Grammy nomination. With the Grammy nomination and collaborations with artists like Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper, Kehlani’s popularity began to rise. She later signed with Atlantic Records and partnered with the label to create the brand Tsunami Mob, a name adopted by her ever-growing fanbase.
In 2015, Kehlani began her first headlining tour for You Should Be Here, which sold out for every North American data and some European dates. In 2017, Kehlani released her debut album, SweetSexySavage, and three weeks later launched her second headlining concert for the album. In 2017, the album was named one of the 20 best R&B albums of 2017 by Rolling Stone, and Kehlani was also praised in the publication. Along with the praise, several singles from the album made the Billboard charts, and Kehlani received another Grammy nomination for her song, “Distraction.” Later in 2017, Kehlani received the Rule Breaker Award at the Billboard Women in Music event.
“Stardom is a crazy thought. If that’s what my path is, then that’s where I’m excited to be headed towards.”
Kehlani’s Grammy-nominated song, “Distraction”
Following Kehlani’s participation in the tours of Demi Lovato and Halsey and collaborations with other notable artists like Cardi B, Kehlani released her third mixtape, While We Wait, in 2019. The entire album was written and recorded while Kehlani was pregnant with her first child, and it is this project would help Kehlani receive acclaim and attention for her songwriting talents. The mixtape also was highly successful commercially as it debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200. Following what she has described as a “chaotic” year as well as the loss of two close friends and a public break-up, Kehlani released her second album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, in 2020. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. Like While We Wait, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t helped display Kehlani’s skills in songwriting, and the visuals for the album also received much acclaim. While recording songs for a deluxe version of It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, Kehlani decided that the new songs do not match the album’s sound and has instead decided to release an all-new album based on these newly recorded songs. This album will be called Bluewater Road, after the street where the songs were recorded, and will involve the duo known as Pop and Oak to executive-produce the album.
“I think writing and singing go together, but I treat them as two separate careers because I write for others. If I’m writing for myself, I prefer to be with the producer. And then we can vibe out and throw ideas back and forth, and I’ll basically let the producer play me a bunch of beats until I vibe with one.”
“R&B keeps evolving, keeps getting cooler, more personal. I hope it evolves to where we call each other up and collaborate on more than just one song. You don’t have to cross genre like, “When I leave this third verse open, I’m automatically going to a rapper.” (Discussing the future of R&B and her relationship/the possibility of collaborations with her contemporaries.)
Grammy Awards – Best Urban Contemporary Album (2016) for You Should Be Here, Nominee
BET Awards – Best Female R&B/Pop Artist and Centric Award (2017) for “Distraction”, Nominee
American Music Awards – Best Female Soul/R&B Artist (2017), Nominee
Billboard’s Women in Music – Rule Breaker Award (2017), Winner
Grammy Awards – Best R&B Performance (2018) for “Distraction”, Nominee
GLAAD Media Awards – Outstanding Music Artist (2018) for SweetSexySavage, Nominee
BET Awards – Best Female R&B/Pop Artist (2018), Nominee
BET Awards – Best Female R&B/Pop Artist (2020), Nominee
“I honestly didn’t expect [a Grammy nomination] this early. I haven’t even made m first album…I’m at a loss for words. That’s really what [the Grammys] mean to me, it shows that they really pay attention to the quality of the music and not the hype of it. Not just who’s selling records and who’s on the radio — I’m not on the radio, I’m not a chart-topper. I don’t even have anything on the charts. So the fact that they pay attention to the quality and hard work and effort that’s gone into the mixtape is very honorable.” (on her first Grammy nomination for You Should Be Here)
Throughout her career, Kehlani has spoken openly about her sexuality and has brought attention to the experiences of queer women through her music and interviews. She has also discussed her experiences as a survivor of sexual assault and rape, which has also opened discussions on that topic. Kehlani continues to provide for the community, donating to LGBTQ+ charities/organizations, BLM organizations, and other social justice-related issues.
Kehlani’s career has been great to watch, starting with her participation in a local band and now reaching the point where she has received national acclaim. Her talented writing, impressive visuals, and dedication to the R&B genre have helped make her one of the most notable voices in R&B today. In the future, it will be no surprise if her talent pushes her to even higher heights of stardom and acclaim.
Want to find out more about Kehlani? Check these out!
Kehlani Official Website – https://www.kehlani.com/
“Showcasing Vulnerability As A Strength: A Brief Examination of Kehlani’s Discography” – https://wp.nyu.edu/steinhardt-appsych_opus/2020/07/27/showcasing-vulnerability-as-a-strength-a-brief-examination-of-kehlanis-discography/ (through Google Scholar)
Kehlani Biography – “Kehlani.” Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 150, Gale, 2018. Gale In Context: Biography, gale.com/apps/doc/K1606008479/BIC?u=auctr_woodruff&sid=BIC&xid=35d2b47e. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021. (through Gale In Context)
“Kehlani’s New Vision” – SPANOS, BRITTANY. “Kehlani’s New Vision.” Rolling Stone, no. 1349, Mar. 2021, pp. 13-14. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=148828584&site=ehost-live. (through EBSCOhost)
“30 Under 30: How We Do Us, A Q&A With Kehlani” – Michelle, Sidnee. “30 Under 30: How We Do Us, A Q&A With Kehlani.” Forbes.Com, Jan. 2016, p. 8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=112140782&site=ehost-live. (through EBSCOhost)
“Ladies Sing The Truth” – MITCHELL, GAIL, and CARL LAMARRE. “Ladies Sing the Truth.” Billboard, vol. 132, no. 16, Nov. 2020, pp. 42–51. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=147505895&site=ehost-live. (through EBSCOhost)
Kehlani Quotes Website – https://wealthygorilla.com/kehlani-quotes/
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