Kehlani graces the cover of the The Fader's new issue.
Bay Area singer Kehlani has come a long way since last year's Cloud 19 tape (our main entry point to her music), signing with Atlantic, touring relentlessly and showing marked improvement on this spring's You Should Be Here. Now, she's The Fader's latest cover star.
In a lengthy interview, Lani Tsunami discusses her troubled childhood, stint on "America's Got Talent," Nick Cannon's involvement in her career, and the attempts that Chief Keef, The Game and Birdman made to sign her. Read a few excerpts below, and the full thing here.
On signing with Atlantic:
Kehlani resisted these temptations and, by the start of 2015, had taken meetings with "every label there is, more than once." She started recording at Atlantic’s studios and 'clinked glasses,' as she puts it, with them in January, while continuing to court other offers. She says her deal was finalized just before the April 2015 release of You Should Be Here, which was billed as a mixtape but is not meaningfully different from an album. Comprised of new songs with original beats that don’t use illegal samples, it was seemingly recorded with an awareness that it would be put up for sale. By July, it had sold 23,000 units, according to Nielsen Music. On SoundCloud, its songs had been collectively streamed more than 26 million times.
On her childhood:
Growing up in north Oakland, Kehlani helped look after her aunt’s two younger children. “We lived in this little duplex until everything started breaking,” Kehlani says. “It was getting really cold, and the heater broke, and then the sink broke, then the washing machine stopped working.” Even as a child, she says she aspired to find the bright side of bad situations. “I’ve always been a little light. Something bad would happen, and I’d be like, ‘Well, this is happening, but we’re lucky in these other ways.’” But things got more complicated when her mother reentered her life—though not as her guardian. “At that point, my mom had two other kids. I just couldn’t understand why I was the only child who couldn’t be around her. She would be doing her shit, then get clean for two months, but I was never allowed to stay with her, and I couldn’t grasp why. They would be literally dragging me out of my mom’s crib, holding-on-to-the-walls type shit. Screaming like, ‘Why am I the oldest and I can’t be here? Don’t you think I’m the most mature?’”
At school, Kehlani’s talents were acknowledged. She danced seriously from childhood through junior high, until, after an injury, she switched her focus at Oakland’s School for the Arts to singing. “Everybody was gay as hell,” she says of the school. “It was like Glee in that bitch.” As a teenager, she had girlfriends and boyfriends. “I got my first girlfriend in ninth grade. Then I told her I didn’t know what I wanted and broke up with her. I think I was always just, like, you have to be gay or you have to be straight—that those were conflicting. I learned that there’s really no wrong or right, that it was cool to like everything. But it was a lot for me.”