The weed-smoking Bay Area singer puts your fave to shame with ‘You Should Be Here’ – here's why she deserves to be a star
“I’ve seen things, and I’ve felt more pain than some will in their entire lives, all before the age of being able to buy a fucking drink at a bar”, says Bay Area R&B singer Kehlani on the intro to her latest mixtape, You Should Be Here. At 20, Lani Tsunami speaks and sings with a voice beyond her years: roughened by weed smoke and bitterly truthful lyrics, and yet still soaring sweetly right for the radio waves.
Growing up in Oakland, Kehlani lost her father as a small child, and was raised by her aunt as her mum struggled with drug addiction. At 16, she entered America’s Got Talent with a covers band called PopLyfe, and was told by Piers Morgan she’d be better off going it alone. Still, the band made it to the final, and Kehlani was later taken under the mentoring wing of the show’s host Nick Cannon – she told Complex that after the band broke up, Cannon “saved her life”.
Emerging from her turbulent and spotlight-filled upbringing, Kehlani made waves last year with her first mixtape, Cloud 19, gaining famous fans in Chance the Rapper and PartyNextDoor; but it’s You Should Be Here that marks her breakthrough moment. She’s our current obsession, and here’s why.
im kehlani. im 20 yrs old. I make songs. I skate. I like dirty shoes. I smoke alotta weed and drink alotta water. thanks 4 accepting me. 💫— Lani Tsunami (@kehlanimusic) April 29, 2015
SHE WILL CUT YOU WITH HER WORDS
Don’t piss Kehlani off: she’ll shred you to pieces on her next mixtape. “I’d hate to be you watching him love me” is the most searing hook we’ve heard, taken from the “fuck you” to her ex that is “Wanted”. On “Jealous”, she’s all, “I regret bringing your ass to all those after parties.” On “How That Taste”, she wants to know how her newfound fame feels to anyone who ever doubted her: “I don’t trip, my life’s great, now swallow that pride and tell me how that shit taste.” Ouch.
BUT SHE’S ALL ABOUT SPREADING LOVE
On Cloud 19, Kehlani urged her listeners to go tell their mamas they love them, and before she dropped her second mixtape she reiterated that her music is all about that love. “We’re the first...to come out the Bay, in the hip-hop and urban world, that’s 100% different from everything else that’s coming out of the Bay,” she explained on an episode of her YouTube series Tsunamisode. (below) “You can go through all HBK (Heartbreak Gang, the hip-hop crew she's part of) songs; there’s no violence, no talking about guns, no talking about killing, any type of flexing like that. It’s (men of) all different races, and a female from Oakland, all coming together to make completely positive music... from Richmond and Oakland, which I believe are the two worst parts of the Bay area – that’s crazy.”
RICK RUBIN SAYS SHE’S GONNA CHANGE THE WORLD
Earlier in April, Kehlani dropped by her pal Rick’s house to play him her new mixtape, and apparently he told her it was "gonna change the world". And if Rick Rubin says you’re going to change the world, you’ve probably got a better shot than most.
SHE WANTS TO EMPOWER YOU
‘Empowering’ is a word so overused that every day something brings to mind The Onion’s decade-old article “Woman Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does”. But Kehlani expilictly and proudly owns her gender, ethnicity and sexuality in her music, and while that in itself is empowering, she also stares right out and tells you to do the same. On “Runnin’”, she declares, “I know every man has a fear of a strong-minded woman, but I say she’s a keeper if she got it on her own.” She’s openly bisexual, and switches between gendered pronouns on her songs; on “First Position”, she insists, “Stop messing with those boys, get you a lady.” Meanwhile, “Niggas” acts like a glorious antidote to Chris Brown’s misogyny anthem “Loyal”, with its hook “Can’t afford to give my heart to these niggas, ain’t got time to lose my mind for these niggas.” And all this without even mentioning “Bright”, a self-love anthem where she urges girls to put down the magazines and boys not to base their self-worth on their muscles.
SHE MADE A LOW-KEY PERFECT SEX SONG WITH CHANCE THE RAPPER
Chance has been a Kehlani fan ever since Cloud 19, and the pair make the perfect double act on the off-kilter bedroom jam “The Way”. Both goof off and manipulate their voices, acting playful over a slinky beat, while Chance promises, “We gon’ wake your neighbours, turn the block into your fan club.”
SHE’S THE MOST CHILL POP STAR TO EVER POP
Kehlani is primed for the big time any second now, and she’s walking right into that world on her own terms: covered in tats and blunt in hand. “I’d rather lace my sneakers up ’cos high heels ain’t my thing,” she sings on “Unconditional”. “I don’t see a flaw in that, I never want to change.”