THE INKED OAKLAND BEAUTY CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY
Meet Kehlani, born and raised in the Bay Area, California. The 19 year-old singer and songwriter is currently selling out shows across America. Though her edgy appearance causes some to mistake her for a rapper, Kehlani adds a soft touch to HBK Gang with her smooth, soulful vocals. Her musical influences are evident in her sound especially on her song, ‘Get Away’, which samples Ginuwine’s ‘So Anxious’. Kehlani’s love for nineties RnB classics continues, she even sampled Montell Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’ on her song, ‘How We Do Us’.
Before getting her first tattoo at 16, Kehlani faced the possibility of winning America’s Got Talent as a member of the girl group Poplyfe. Just three years later, she released her mixtape ‘Cloud 19’ as a solo artist. Facing a challenging childhood and adolescence, Kehlani was forced to establish her independence at a young age, and her maturity shows as she acts as a positive leader to her listeners. Earlier this year she released a video for ‘First Position’, encouraging the LGBT community to know that they can be “whatever they choose to be, whomever they choose to love, it’s completely fine and will not come in the way of their goals.”
Kehlani’s skin is laced with ink but as much as she exudes sexuality, it’s not what she’s leading with. The most prominent tattoo, on her lower arm, is a portrait of one of her biggest musical influences; Lauryn Hill. Her plans for 2015 include the release of her next project, ‘You Should Be Here’, plus another round of touring. Lani Tsunami has made it clear that she’s here to stay and we’re all for it.
How would you describe your music?
It’s heavily nineties, early 2000’s influenced RnB, pop-influenced vocals. A lot of different influences actually because I listen to almost everything. I write as well, so I make a lot of different things.
After watching the music video for ‘FWU’, the use of choreography reminded me of music videos of that era. How much focus do you put on choreography?
Dancing was my first love! I think it’s important to show kids coming up that they can explore as many of their talents as they want to; singing, dancing, acting, painting; all of it. If you’re interested, dive in.
Growing up, what music videos inspired you?
Probably Aaliyah and Missy Elliott videos. Always aesthetically pleasing and very entertaining. They were beautifully confident, very different women who weren’t focused on showing too much skin or shaking ass.
‘Get Away’ has to be my favourite song from your project ‘Cloud 19’. What song did you enjoy creating?
Thank you, ‘Get Away’ is my favourite as well! I enjoyed making them all but probably ‘How We Do Us’ with Kyle Dion because it was a last minute session that almost didn’t happen and when we got in the same studio, music spilled out of us. Kyle is an amazing writer and vocalist, I picked up tips from him as we went along!
Your latest video release ‘First Position’ explores sexuality. What is the message you wanted people to gain from watching the video?
I wanted people in the LGBTQ community to know that whatever they choose to be, whomever they choose to love, it’s completely fine and will not come in the way of their goals. I remember saying, “Yo I want to make a song about a girl!’ And my friends were like, “Duuuuude whaaaaat? How will people receive it?” And I said, “it doesn’t matter, either way I’m going to speak my piece.” So I did! I’ve heard stories about young people getting inspired to come out to the world because of the song. With the video I wanted to show that I could make a sexy video without it being overly-sexualised or exploiting myself. I think we did just that; David Camerena is a genius.
Read the full article in the Spring Summer 2015 issue of Viper Magazine. Buy a copy here.
Photo by Julian Schratter
Words by Claudia Arach