Artist Spotlight: Kehlani has always known how to speak their truth


If you haven’t heard Kehlani, you should. In addition to being an incredible singer, you are also a dancer, parent, activist and spiritualist who has notable collaborations with artists such as Justin Bieber and Cardi B.

Kehlani Ashley Perrish is from Oakland and was born in 1995. The singer grew up in a challenging atmosphere as both parents suffered from drug addiction. As a result, Kehlani’s father died when they were still a toddler, who was later taken under her aunt’s wing after she was adopted by her.

After a rather rough childhood, Kehlani attended the Oakland School of Arts as a teenager and aspired to be a dancer. But a knee injury thwarted that quest, prompting the singer to pursue her next great passion: music.

To pave the way, the singer joined the music group Poplyfe in 2009 as the lead singer. Two years later, the group made it into season six of America’s Got Talent, finishing fourth overall in the national competition.

During her national telecast, talent show judges urged Kehlani to go solo after the season ended, which they actually did, but stayed under the radar for fears Poplyfe’s manager might sue her for breach of contract.

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When her musical career came to a surprising end, Kehlani was homeless in 2012 and 2013 but ended up releasing solo content on SoundCloud, a single called “ANTISUMMERLUV”. The single was noticed by former America’s Got Talent judge Nick Cannon and allowed the singer to gain stability.

The single was followed by the slow releases of Cloud 19 and Till the Morning in 2014, but Kehlani’s breakthrough came with the release of her second mixtape You Should Be Here a year later.

The mixtape received acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone, complex and most notably The Grammys, as the project was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2016.

Pushing the boundaries of what R&B could be like in the late 2010s, Kehlani stunned listeners everywhere with her debut album, SweetSexySavage, which was released a few months after her performance at the Grammys.

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What made this album notable was Kehlani’s approach to writing music that aims to tell the stories of queer individuals, particularly on songs like “Distraction” and “Advice.” As they progressed beyond this project, Kehlani became more honest in her songwriting, openly admitting to her past queer relationships and desires.

While Kehlani toured with the likes of Demi Lovato and G-Eazy shortly after her debut album, the singer ventured into uncharted territory: becoming a parent. Two years after SweetSexySavage, Kehlani gave birth to their daughter Adeya.

Now balancing parenthood and career, Kehlani continued to develop her sound. They even released another album titled While We Wait while pregnant. The singer garnered even more praise with the song “Nights Like This (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)” which proved they never tired of creating.

Yet the singer still found cracks in her foundation and still struggled to fully come to terms with her identity for the good of her and her daughter, thus dropping 2020’s “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t.” A darker, blurrier representation of what Kehlani’s life was at the time, this album admitted to not feeling secure and understood in her relationships.

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Shortly after posting, Kehlani took to TikTok to post her coming-out story, unafraid to tell fans they’re now lesbian after years of identifying as queer and bisexual. With this newfound revelation, the singer was finally able to release the tension that was evident with her previous project and create a project that is now more reflective of who they were.

This is how “Blue Water Road” came about, which was released last April. Weekly entertainment called it Kehlani’s “most accomplished album yet,” and now the singer is performing nightly on her sold-out US tour.

Kehlani clearly proved to the world that a queer artist can thrive even after struggling, and that when you speak your truth through music, you find your strength and confidence to be who you are.

@grace_koe

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