It is no secret that the music industry is contaminated with cringy cliches and predictable performances. The connection between artists and their music nowadays seems to be lost in the mainstream’s pressure to produce catchy songs with even catchier lyrics. However, Kehlani–a 21-year-old r&b singer-songwriter rising to the mainstream–has remained true to herself as an artist and an individual.
Just this January, she released her debut album SweetSexySavage and is currently on tour along with friends Jahkoy and Ella Mai playing shows in both Europe and North America (catch me at the San Francisco show this summer).
Along with the opening spoken word piece, written and performed by Reyna Biddy, the entire album embodies a sense of female empowerment and authenticity. Creeping up the charts, Kehlani–a queer woman of color–has everyone singing about self-growth, female independence, and staying unapologetically true to yourself and your soul. However, a lot of–what I consider to be–her most inspiring tracks can also be found on her two earlier mixtapes. So as someone who’s been blasting her songs since the beginning stages of her music career, I’ve created a playlist–featuring songs from all three of her released projects–that I believe encapsulates Kehlani’s essence of a truly genuine artist.
“Always said I’d be the one to do it, I changed the way they lookin’ at us women makin’ music.”
This track is off of her second mixtape released in 2015, You Should Be Here. She starts by shouting out her hometown of Oakland–Kehlani has always proudly repped her city and The Bay, emphasizing the importance of staying close to your roots. The lyric above shows her goal of shifting the stigma around female artists. Rather than writing about love from a perspective of sadness, Kehlani writes from a perspective of self-growth and self-worth.
“Stop looking down at your wallet, I’m trying to see your eyes. Not one gift in this world can make me feel more than I already do, all I need is for your love to be raw and true.”
I believe that this was one of Kehlani’s earliest songs, released in 2014. It isn’t featured on any of her projects (I simply found the song while scrolling through YouTube). On this track she assures her partner that she doesn’t need the pricey-dates-and-gifts type of relationship that is usually glorified through this age of social media. As seen in the title, she simply strives for a truly genuine-and-passionate type of love.
“At least I learned a thing or two, about me and you, what we went through. It made me who I am, I am, I am. I can feel again, won’t be numb again.”
My personal favorite off of SSS, this track makes a callback to her song As I Am (also such an amazing track) off of her first mixtape, Cloud 19. In this earlier song, Kehlani sings about a partner who isn’t reciprocating the same amount of love as herself in the relationship. Then in Piece of Mind, Kehlani looks back on presumably that same toxic relationship, acknowledging that it added to her growth as an individual and ultimately made her stronger.
“Can’t nobody love somebody that do not love themselves. You are what you choose to be, it’s not up to no one else.”
Okay, this is the song that really got me into Kehlani. In the first verse, she reminds young girls that they don’t have to conform to society’s standards in order to embrace their beauty. In the second verse, she then speaks the same truth to her male audience, acknowledging that boys are also affected by the norms that come along with living in a patriarchal society. This is such an inspiring song (I swear I teared up as I watched her perform it live at her last SF show) that embodies the sense of empowerment that underlies in most of Kehlani’s music.
“When the tide gets high, you just get low. Hold your breath, and take it slow. Yes I might get wet, I might get thrown, but I’ll resurface all on my own.”
On this track from You Should Be Here, Kehlani reveals a depth of vulnerability, reminding us that we all–including herself–get a little lost in life sometimes. She breaks the perceived barrier between artist and audience emphasizing, “I’m just human, just like you are. We see the same ol’ sky, at night we see the same stars.”
Through her music, Kehlani gives her listeners valuable advice and life lessons about experiences that she has overcame herself. In addition, she uses her platform to advocate for and empower the LGBTQIA community, women, and all people of color. Rather than some huge celebrity, Kehlani is simply an Oakland girl with an amazing voice sharing her journey of life through her passion of music. There are so many other impactful songs that I wanted to put on this playlist, but I limited myself to save you from anymore reading when you could be listening to the actual tracks, along with the rest of Kehlani’s music.