Kehlani Explains The Difference Between Working With Men And Women
One particularly sunny Los Angeles afternoon in February, I sat down for a pre-Grammys chat with Kehlani, the Oakland native whose first mixtape You Should Be Here was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album, up against the likes of Miguel, The Weeknd, and The Internet. This was also before an apparent suicide attempt and resultant media frenzy that she’s now bouncing back from.
Kehlani is only 20 years old, but she sings, writes, and carries herself like a seasoned vet of the industry, while maintaining the easygoing, approachable demeanor of someone her age. Kehlani has gone through a lot in life already—her father died soon after she was born, and her mother suffered from drug addiction, so Lani grew up with her aunt, first aspiring to be a professional ballet dancer, then deciding to pursue music while still in high school.
Now, Kehlani’s teaching us the Lani Tsunami way. In between giving us a tutorial on rolling up a Backwoods and getting glammed up for a Galore exclusive photoshoot (the self-described tomboy rarely wears girly clothing), Kehlani talked to us about her influences, douchey industry guys, and her favorite Frank Ocean song of all time.
So what did you listen to while writing your mixtape You Should Be Here?
I listened to a lot of rap, a lot of hip-hop. I tried not to listen to any R&B, like any Rihanna or Beyoncé, because singers tend to pick up on a lot of [that.]
Would you listen to Janet Jackson?
I wouldn’t. I think for artists to widen what they’re writing about—and sound-wise—they have to listen to shit that’s almost opposite. I was listening to Amy Winehouse when I was writing, which is cool, because she makes such deep, sad, shit, and I write more happy things. I think you have to find what sound you’re going for, and then use stuff.
Now what are you listening to?
Now, I’m totally digging the Rihanna album [ANTI]. I’m loving it. I really like “Needed Me.” Star is such a talented writer—so flame. I’ve always been such a genuine fan of hers. It’s like every time there’s a new wave of music, she kills it. The techno wave comes out, she kills it. When dance music comes back, she kills it.
Cause I’m such an artist sometimes, it’s hard for me to figure out how to be an artist that’s looking outside of themself. There’s a saying that says a good artist sticks to their own path, and a great artist is able to take their heads out of what they’re doing and then apply it to their own work.
Whose music taste do you trust the most?
Hmm…it’s this girl named Omri. She’s in my Tsunami collective, and I don’t want to call her my artist because she’s totally her own, but she’s so dope at finding cool shit. Her type of music is like The Internet—super dope jams and vibes, and her production is really crazy.
Is working with women important for you? Have you found big differences in working with men and women?
Yeah, because a lot of the time with the guys, they’re either hitting on me, or like, belittling me or chastising me. And it’s like, I know I’m 20 and I know I’m a girl, but I’m definitely in the same room as you for a reason.
It’s crazy that you’re only 20 years old!
I guess. [Laughs] And I think that working with women is really important because you gain perspective on your own perspective, or other women’s perspective of your perspective.
And also, in the 90s, R&B was mostly ran by women. I mean, of course we had guy groups and things like that; but still, in their music, they were paying homage to women. It was almost a woman’s thing in the 90s, and now…male R&B is talking shit about women, and women’s R&B is just like…over sexualized.
Speaking of music now—are you waiting for Frank Ocean’s album to come out?
Everybody’s waiting for it. If it never happened, I’d cry. Girls will cry.
What’s your favorite Frank Ocean song?
I think my favorite would be “Dying for Your Love” from The Lonny Breaux Collection, but there are so many good ones. So many songs off that collection, I can’t choose. That’s hard!
Photography and Creative Direction by Prince + Jacob
Styled by Alexandra Mandelkorn
Hair by Aliky