If you haven't listened to Kehlani by now, you should. Not only are they an incredible singer, but they are also a dancer, parent, activist and spiritualist who has earned notable collaborations with artists such as Justin Bieber and Cardi B.
Kehlani Ashley Perrish is an Oakland native, born in 1995. The singer grew up in a challenging atmosphere, as both their parents suffered from drug addiction. Consequently, Kehlani’s father died when they were only a toddler, later taken under the wings of their aunt after being adopted by her.
After a rather rough childhood, Kehlani attended the Oakland School of Arts as a teenager, aspiring to become a dancer. Yet, a knee injury put a stop to this aspiration, causing the singer to turn to their next greatest passion: music.
Trying to pave their way, the singer joined the musical group, Poplyfe, as their lead vocalist in 2009. Two years later, the group made it onto the sixth season of "America’s Got Talent," earning fourth place overall at the end of the national competition.
During their national television run, the judges of the talent show urged Kehlani to go solo after the season ended, which they did in fact did, but stayed under the radar in fear that Poplyfe’s manager might sue them for breach of contract.
As their musical career came to a startling halt, Kehlani was homeless throughout 2012 and into 2013, yet finally released 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 mixtape received recognition from the likes of Rolling Stone, Complex and most importantly, The Grammys, as the project was nominated for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” in 2016.
Pushing the envelope of what R&B could look like in the late 2010s, Kehlani surprised listeners everywhere with their first album, “SweetSexySavage,” which dropped a few months after their run at The Grammys.
What made this album so noteworthy was Kehlani’s take on writing music aimed at telling the stories of queer individuals, especially on songs such as “Distraction” and “Advice.” As they continued to evolve past this project, Kehlani became more honest within their songwriting, openly admitting to their past queer relationships and desires.
While Kehlani began touring shortly after their debut album with artists such as Demi Lovato and G-Eazy, the singer ventured into unknown territory: becoming a parent. Two years after “SweetSexySavage,” Kehlani brought their daughter, Adeya, into the world.
Now balancing being a parent and their career, Kehlani still persisted at developing their sound, even releasing another album while they were pregnant called “While We Wait.” The singer earned even more acclaim with the song, “Nights Like This (feat. Ty Dolla $ign),” proving that they had not grown tired of creating.
Yet, the singer still found cracks in their foundation, still struggling to fully come to terms with their identity, for their sake and their daughter’s, thus dropping 2020’s “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t.” This album was a darker, more blurred depiction of what Kehlani’s life was at the time, admitting to not feeling secure in their relationships, as well as understood.
Shortly after its release, Kehlani took to TikTok to post their coming out story, unafraid to tell fans that they now were a lesbian, after years of identifying as queer and bisexual. With this newfound revelation, the singer finally could release the tension evident on their previous project and create one that was now more reflective of who they were.
Thus, came “blue water road,” which was released this past April. Entertainment Weekly called it Kehlani’s “most confident album yet,” and now the singer is performing nightly on their sold-out U.S. tour.
Clearly, Kehlani has proven to the world that a queer artist can be successful, even after facing hardships, and that by speaking your truth through music, you will find your strength and confidence to be who you are.