Kehlani on Going From Homelessness to Music Success
Oakland-raised singer/songwriter Kehlani Parrish is quickly establishing herself as one of the new artists from the Bay Area that you should know.
The 19-year-old R&B/hip-hop sensation first broke onto the music scene as part of the teen collective Poplyfe. The group enjoyed minor success on the sixth season of the television series America’s Got Talent before disbanding. Kehlani however, soared to new heights in her solo career with the release of her 2014 project, Cloud 19, a mixtape that earned her rave reviews from music critics, millions of hits on her Soundcloud and a larger fan base than she could ever imagine.
Continuing the success from her previous year, the “FWU” singer took over SXSW by storm. Performing as the only female R&B act on a majority of hip-hop-driven shows, Kehlani amazed SXSW-goers with her refreshing sound and her powerful vocals. Gearing up for her next release, You Should Be Here, due out at the end of April, the tatted-up singer looks to continue inspiring with her music and reach new heights in her young career.
XXL recently caught up with the talented Kehlani to speak about her upcoming project, her come up and the message behind her music. —Roger Krastz
XXL: How did you get involved in the music business?
Kehlani: I was in a cover band. We played hella shows for hella long and then went on a TV show [America’s Got Talent]. Then couldn’t do shit for a while and I started doing my own thing, dropping songs on the internet and people gravitated towards it, so it was very natural.
What's your creative process when writing a song?
I play it by ear. I listen to what I’m vibing to. I play a bunch of beats and freestyle until I catch something that I like. Whether that’s a melody or a couple of words that I’m feeling for content, but I usually listen to the beat first.
What do you think most people don't know about you?
I think most people don’t know that I really write everything myself. No help. There’s nobody in the studio expect for me and the engineer. A lot of people don’t think I’m a singer. They think I’m a rapper. I think the shit that they should know is the stuff that everyone is confused about, but it’s kind of tight to watch them find out.
How has life changed for you since dropping Cloud 19?
It’s a complete 180. You know, I went from broke and homeless sleeping on couches. Couldn’t even figure out what I was doing in Los Angeles. Now, I’m paying my own bills, I’m about to move my mama in with me at 19. I’m on tour now and this is all off of one mixtape. I’m on the bill with people that I’ve always listened to, so it’s very different.
In your opinion, what are your biggest songs to date?
I think my main two songs are “FWU” and “Get Away.” “FWU” made a cool point because it came out right after Chris Brown's “Loyal” came out. I combated it with "FWU," a song that basically says, "These women are loyal." I couldn’t walk around singing Brown's "Loyal" because I don’t consider myself a hoe and I'm also a loyal person. Then “Get Away" with the Ginuwine sample definitely turned some heads. That’s my favorite song I've ever made besides my new stuff. I think it was a good R&B song. We’re missing good R&B right now. It's either very futuristic or just West Coast-y, ass in the club music.
What are you hoping to accomplish with your music?
I really just want to inspire and I think it's already what I'm doing. I just want to do it to the most maximum level it can be. The fact that I went on tour and after every show there were no less than five people at every show that were crying to me and giving me letters about how they needed to come out to their parents, and if they hadn’t see the video and the campaign we did for the song, then they would’ve never been able to know that it was okay for a woman to like women. I'm fulfilling my potential and my purpose. I just want to maximize it and reach more people, more countries. There’s girls that grew up like me and even worse, and they need to know that there is someone out there that can give them hope with my music. It's about inspiring people and helping people.