Pride Month Spotlight: Kehlani

Lisa Marino, Radio General Manager

[Eds Note: This article has been published in partnership with Spinnaker Radio to feature LGBTQ+ music artists and celebrate Pride Month.] 

Getting her first recognition with her band Poplyfe on the American TV show America’s Got Talent, Kehlani Parrish is now a two-time Grammy-nominated R&B artist.

Kehlani has always been an artist. When they were a child, they aspired to be a professional dancer and attend Julliard in New York: however, Kehlani decided to focus on music instead after enduring a knee injury in middle school.

The album Cloud 19 was Kehlani’s first mixtape release in 2014. The year following, Kehlani released their second mixtape You Should Be Here, which was nominated for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.

Record company Atlantic Records offered Kehlani a signing deal in 2015. SweetSexySavage was Kehlani’s long-awaited debut album with Atlantic Records released January 2017. Popular songs on the album include CRZY, Escape, and Distraction. With nearly 275 million streams on Spotify, the track Gangsta is featured in the Academy Award winning film Suicide Squad.

Already being an advocate for the LGBTQ+ Community, Kehlani officially told fans that they are lesbian in a TikTok in April 2021.

Photo courtesy of Kehlani.
Photo courtesy of Kehlani.

Kehlani has also revealed that they are non-binary and uses the pronouns she/they. In an interview with Byrdie, Kehlani said they appreciate when people use the pronoun, “they.”

“I don’t mind when people say, ‘she’ at all, but something feels really affirming when people say ‘they,’” said Kehlani in the interview with Byrdie.

The R&B track What I Need is a collaboration between Kehlani and Haley Kiyoko. The music video for the song displays a love story between the two artists and ends with Kehlani and Kiyoko sharing a kiss.

After working with Kiyoko on the song, Kehlani said that she intentionally wants to make music to inspire LGBTQ+ audiences in an interview with Sasha Geffen.

“I’m more aware that this isn’t just my truth: it’s something I can empower youth with, rather than just serve myself. It’s definitely a new process that I’m excited to explore,” said Kehlani.

Released in 2019, While We Wait is one of Kehlani’s most popular mixtapes. It’s home to their most streamed song on Spotify, Nights Like This (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), as well as Butterfly and Too Deep.

Too Deep is an R&B tune about not wanting to fight with someone because that makes matters too complicated. Kehlani explains to the person they’re singing to that they do not want a relationship.

The song begins with a single electronic melodic lick before a strong bass drum introduces the percussive groove in a compound meter. The bass drum continues to embellish on the down beats while a snare and shaker stay constant throughout the first verse. Vocals in this verse are simple with only one voice singing the melody.  

Instruments cut out, leaving the vocals acapella for half of a measure to separate the first verse and chorus. Numerous new vocal tracks are immediately sounding with harmonies over the melody and other background (BG) adlibs.

While the melody of the verses is somewhat a face-paced plead, the ostinato choruses highlight the instrumental textures and the stacks of vocal tracks. The chorus encompasses many vocal patterns including harmonies above and below the hook as well as numerous BG vocals to compliment the chord progression. Percussion and the introductory electronic melodic lick continue throughout the whole song.

Photo courtesy of Kehlani.
Photo courtesy of Kehlani.

More BG vocal tracks are incorporated in the second verse and onward until the bridge interrupts the groove. Kehlani sings over only the electronic melodic lick and subtle percussion on the down beats.

Building up to the final chorus, all instruments are reintroduced into the second half of the bridge. Kehlani reintroduces the hook with high belts outlining the chords. Background vocals swim from left pan to right pan and settle  to center pan.

Vocals and instruments ring on the concluding chord. The same distorted, electronic, melodic lick ends from the introduction ends the song.

Kehlani’s music can be found on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music.


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