Recently I heard someone describe social media as a powerful tool. That is true. Some of us discover that power first hand. How many times have we heard of a tweet or post that went viral in minutes and changed public opinion instantly. Our featured artist this week certainly has experienced the power of social media both good and bad. Fortunately, regardless the effects she is poised to enjoy success musically. This week Weekly Music Commentary features singer/songwriter dancer Kehlani.
I was first introduced to Kehlani by way of social media. I read her posts before even hearing a note of her music. This is not the only time I was introduced to an artist this way, and it certainly will not be the last. However, it shows the importance of social media to those in the entertainment industry. Once I learned Kehlani’s background story, and then heard her music, I thought she might move up in the music world. It appears I was correct. Like many other artists, she experienced a rough ride to the top.
Kehlani Ashley Parrish was born April 24, 1995 and grew up in Oakland, California. Months after her birth, Kehlani lost her father. Mired in drug addiction, her mom shuffled her to an aunt. Kehlani attended the Oakland School for the Arts initially with a focus on dance. She aspired to train as a dancer at the Juilliard School, but she suffered a knee injury in junior high. “That’s when I started singing,” she recalls. “When I was living with my aunt, she played me all of these powerful women and love songs. It was that Neo Soul-R&B, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It felt right to sing from the moment I began.”
Kehlani’s singing career effectively began at fourteen when she started out as a member and as the lead vocalist for the group called PopLyfe. The band’s music was produced by former Tony! Toni! Toné! member, D’Wayne Wiggins. Within two years, the group did shows through the Bay Area and other cities. In 2011, they auditioned for the sixth season of America’s Got Talent, and eventually finished in fourth place. After America’s Got Talent, Kehlani experienced some bumps in life that would kill not only a career, but stifle a young life before it’s start. Kehlani left PopLyfe, because of several managerial and contractual disputes. Over six months, she avoided doing anything music related for fear of being sued by the group’s management. For two years Kehlani was effectively homeless, moving from house to house and often sleeping on couches. During her senior year of high school, she moved to Los Angeles, California with no legal guardian.
One important contact Kehlani made while a contestant in America’s Got Talent was Nick Cannon. He called Kehlani to ask her about being in a rap group. She agreed at first, but ultimately didn’t like the direction of the group and moved back to Oakland. Once again, the young singer/songwriter experienced major problems. She explained much of what she went through in an interview with Fader Magazine. “There were times where I really had to do stuff like wait outside of a train station and snatch iPhones out of peoples’ hands and run and sell them,” she says. “I’ve been banned from Walgreens. I’ve been banned from Wal-Mart for stealing f***ing clothes and food. Lucky’s caught me with a box of Wheat Thins and some bread. I was like, ‘Can’t you tell I’m stealing because I’m hungry?’”
Our outspoken featured artist eventually got back to music, this time to record a solo track called “ANTISUMMERLUV”. Kehlani posted the song on Soundcloud and Nick Cannon heard it, and once again contacted her and set her up with an apartment in LA, along with studio time. The studio time culminated in the release of her first mixtape, called Cloud 19.
Cloud 19 turned out to be more than just an ordinary mixtape, it also served as an introduction to the music industry for the talented young artist. It ranked at twenty-eighth on Complex’s list of the “50 Best Albums of 2014,” and was also listed among Pitchfork’s “Overlooked Mixtapes 2014.” A song she released in late 2014, “Till the Morning” was placed by Billboard as one of the “Emerging Picks of the Week” on November 7, 2014.
On April 28, 2015, she released her second mixtape You Should Be Here. Billboard called it the “year’s first great R&B album”, when it debuted at number 5 on the US Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The project features guest appearances from fellow American rapper Chance the Rapper, and American singer-songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid. A week after the release, she announced that she had signed a deal to Atlantic Records. In support of the Mixtape, she went on the You Should Be Here tour, which sold out every North American date and select European dates. Throughout 2015, she also received individual plaudits: Complex called her one of the “15 Artists to Watch Out for in 2015” and Rolling Stone named her one of the “10 New Artists You Need to Know.” She was also nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
On January 27, 2017, Kehlani gave fans another gift of music. SweetSexySavage, Kehlani’s début studio album was released. As soon as I heard the album entirely, I made it part of my personal collection. That is the highest honor I can personally bestow upon any work of music. Without a doubt it is one of the best albums I heard this year. I am not alone in expressing my admiration for SweetSexySavage. Ryan B. Patrick of Exclaim! said, “by getting intensely personal, Kehlani adds a human side to the recordings that’s multilayered and unapologetically self-determined.” Andy Kellman of AllMusic commented that “The lows and highs, grief and pleasure, and insecurity and pride are all put on vivid display, and Kehlani pours herself into all of it without overselling a thought.”
If you have not heard SweetSexySavage or any of Kehlani’s music, this album should serve as a great introduction. Make sure you download or stream the album and enjoy. Hopefully, Kehlani can continue to bring us good music without suffering more hardships.