I conducted this research by finding articles from publications such as The Guardian, Salute Magazine, and The Washington Post, which both outline Kelela’s story, as well as her innovate and unique artistic path. Kelela is truly a multi-faceted musician, drawing inspiration from various genric avenues. In this paper, I examine the discography and stardom of Kelela, establishing it as a direct result of her background.
Kelela Mizanekristo is an American singer and songwriter. Kelela synthesizes contemporary R&B and progressive electronic music with an aptitude for prompting club play as much as bedroom listening. “Her futuristic love songs feel like high-def screen grabs of latent passion, micro-tonal desire and other in-the-middle emotions that the English language can’t quite articulate” (Richards). She made her debut in the music industry with the release of her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen, an EP which deals with the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship in reverse chronological order. Her debut studio album, Take Me Apart, was released in 2017.
A second-generation Ethiopian American and an only child, Mizanekristos was born in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 1983. Growing up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, she learned to play the violin in fourth grade and sang in her school’s choir. In 2001, she graduated from Magruder High School. After transferring from Montgomery College to the American University, Mizanekristos began singing jazz standards at cafés In 2008, she joined an indie band called Dizzy Spells and sang progressive metal after meeting Tosin Abasi, whom she later dated. In 2010, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently lives, in addition to London. In November 2012, Mizanekristos began work on her debut mixtape with already two recorded songs. She later quit her job as a telemarketer to fully pursue her career as a musician.
She connected with Teengirl Fantasy and contributed to the duo’s Tracer album on the song “EFX.” This led to meeting the Fade to Mind label’s Prince William, who exposed her to his associates’ lean yet sharp and deep productions. Knocked out by what she heard, she soon debuted on Kingdom’s August 2013 single “Bank Head.”
Five months later, Kelela released her mixtape Cut 4 Me for free. Harriet Gisbone, from he Guardian, described the mixtape as “an experiment for the production team, the first time the production crew had used vocals on their club tracks.” Her track “Go All Night” was included on Saint Heron, a multi-artist compilation album released by Solange Knowles. The mixtape was heavily influenced by grime music, a popular electronic genre based in the UK, and helped revive the subgenre known as Rhythm & Grime.
A couple months later, guided by the intent to put together a mixtape that sounded like a remix collection, she released the free download Cut 4 Me with contributions from Kingdom and peers Bok Bok, Girl Unit, Jam City, and Nguzunguzu. One of the year’s more striking debuts, it wasn’t available on any physical formats until April 2015, when Night Slugs released a two-CD edition that added actual remixes.
OthernessBetween the digital and physical releases of Cut 4 Me, Kelela was featured on an array of tracks, including Bok Bok’s “Melba’s Call,” a pair of highlights off Kindness’ Otherness, and Future Brown’s “Danger Zone,” after which she joined the latter group on the Warp roster. Her first work for the revered U.K. label was the six-track Hallucinogen EP. Conceptually focused on the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship in reverse order, the October 2015 release involved input from some of Kelela’s previous partners, as well as the likes of Arca, Obey City, and Ariel Rechtshaid. Across the following year and into early 2017, Kelela extended her reach by appearing on Clams Casino’s 32 Levels, Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, and Gorillaz’s Human. Preceded by the Jam City collaborations “LMK” and “Frontline,” her first proper album, Take Me Apart, was released by Warp in October 2017, followed by a set of remixes in 2018 .
“I don’t write lyrics. I hear the track and sing in gibberish over it, then I try and fit words into the phrasing and melody that I already have set. Everything is left to chance.”
Kelela’s parents exposed her to world music, jazz, and show tunes, and she became enamored of r&b music by way of artists such as Janet Jackson and Kelly Rowland. Moreover, art-pop artist Bjork was instrumental in her artistic development as well, serving as one of her biggest influences. Some of her contemporaries may include ABRA, Anna Wise, Tei Shi, LION BABE, Nao, Kilo Kish, and Solange.
Gibsone, Harriet (12 December 2013). “The best albums of 2013: No 7 – Cut 4 Me by Kelela”. The Guardian.
Offner, Daniel (October 11, 2015). “Just Can’t Get Enough Of Kelela”. Salute Magazine. Archived from the original on May 29, 2018.
Vain, Madison (October 17, 2017). “Kelela wants her ’empowering’ music to help people find ‘solace'”. Entertainment Weekly.
Richards, Chris (14 April 2014). “Kelela: An R&B star-to-be”. Style. The Washington Post.
Greeley, Shakeil (March 29, 2018). “Kelela Is Thriving in an Unkind World”. GQ Magazine.
“Kelela – “The High””. Stereogum. February 5, 2014
Camp, Zoe (March 3, 2015). “Kelela Announces Hallucinogen EP, Shares Arca Collab “A Message””. Pitchfork.