Forthright R&B singer and songwriter Kehlani became known during the mid-2010s for her modern twist on the pop-R&B and neo-soul figures -- from TLC and Brandy to Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott -- whose work she absorbed as a youngster. The Bay Area artist's self-released mixtape Cloud 19 (2014) paved the way for the Grammy-nominated You Should Be Here (2015), a deal with Atlantic Records, and her Top Ten debut album, SweetSexySavage (2017), the source of her second Grammy-nominated recording, "Distraction." Besides the recognition from the Recording Academy, Kehlani became an in-demand featured artist, supporting hits such as Charlie Puth's "Done for Me" and Cardi B's "Ring." Since hitting the Top Ten a second time with her third mixtape, While We Wait (2019), she has offered her second LP, It Was Good Until It Wasn't (2020).
Kehlani Parrish was born and raised in Oakland, California. She attended the Oakland School for the Arts, where she studied ballet and modern dance, and blossomed as a vocalist following an injury that led to a move to the music department. During eighth grade, she joined Poplyfe, a band that competed on America's Got Talent during the program's sixth season. Following their affable performance of Travie McCoy's "Billionaire," one of the judges noted that he thought Kehlani, the frontperson, could be successful without the group. While Kehlani brushed the notion aside, she eventually went solo and presented herself as a slightly younger, more down-to-earth alternative to contemporary R&B artists like Jhené Aiko.
Kehlani's first release, the brief mixtape Cloud 19, was independently released in 2014. A pair of its songs registered on Billboard's Twitter Emerging Artists chart, and it was singled out by multiple publications at the end of the year. A lengthier set, You Should Be Here, followed in 2015 and was highlighted by the Chance the Rapper collaboration "The Way." Received with more commercial success and critical acclaim, You Should Be Here reached number 36 on the Billboard 200 (number five R&B/hip-hop) and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album. "The Way" eventually went platinum.
Signed to Atlantic, Kehlani issued her first major-label tracks later in 2015 and during 2016. Among these songs were the platinum or gold singles "CRZY," "Distraction," and "Gangsta," the last of which was recorded for Suicide Squad: The Album. The first two hits appeared on Kehlani's first proper album, SweetSexySavage, which in February 2017 entered the Billboard 200 at number three. "Distraction" earned Kehlani her second Grammy nomination, this time for Best R&B Performance. Several tracks followed during the rest of 2017 and throughout 2018. "Good Life" (a G-Eazy collaboration off The Fate of the Furious: The Album) and "Honey" both earned gold discs for Kehlani as a lead artist, while she was also featured on hits such as Calvin Harris' "Faking It," Charlie Puth's "Done for Me," Kyle's "Playinwitme," and Cardi B's Top 40 entry "Ring."
The collaborative energy spilled into the 2019 mixtape While We Wait. Packed with several featured appearances and different production credits on each track, it registered on the Billboard 200 at number nine, driven by the platinum Ty Dolla $ign collaboration "Nights Like This." The tape, along with assists on tracks by Justin Bieber and Megan Thee Stallion, effectively built anticipation for the 2020 arrival of Kehlani's second proper album, It Was Good Until It Wasn't. ~ Andy Kellman
BORNApril 24, 1995