Kehlani (Digital Cover Story)
Fearlessly revealing, even when elusive, singer-songwriter Kehlani is as transparent in real life as she is online and on wax.
The first time I met Kehlani was during her guest spot on Billboard’s The Juice podcast alongside BJ the Chicago Kid, in October 2015. Hours after our convo—about music and fame—she texted me, asking if I thought her tweets were “too emotional.” Doubt, whether instant or eternally buried, can be pretty damn real.
I suddenly got caught in a flashback. It was 2008, and I was laying on the floor, spread out in my office at VIBE magazine. “He said, I was too emotional,” I vented to my friend and former co-worker Shanel, with wet cheeks. The guy I was dating at the time had told me I was “too much.” It took years—and a text from Kehlani—to realize he was wrong. It wasn’t that I was too much. It was that he wasn’t enough.
“No, absolutely not,” I told both Kehlani and my past self, who moved the anchor an inch enough to creep out from the abyss.
Kehlani Parrish, 20 years old, has a way of accessing those latent emotions. She sings sincerely of love, she’s admittedly clumsy in heels, and she gulps down harsh reality like a shot of whiskey. You can’t help seeing yourself in her, and be encouraged to own who you are because of it.
Her first mixtape, Cloud 19, had just dropped two months prior to her Billboard podcast appearance, and it was as if I was witnessing Kehlani shift, as the spotlight grew stronger and it began to sink in, for her, just how far her influence reached.
“I’m still very emotional via social media. But, as far as social media, I think I’ve learned to only say things that could possibly be transferable to other people in forms of lessons, rather than making it so personal to where people can’t relate,” she says.
Within a year of meeting Kehlani, she’s released her EP, You Should Be Here, which ignites rekindling and eases the blow of a goodbye. She was allegedly dating singer-songwriter PARTYNEXTDOOR toward the end of the year, but after a song seeming to be dedicated to her (originally titled “Kehlani’s Freestyle“) and exchanges through Instagram, the flame seemed to have blown out.
The moment she’s in now is her finest because she’s fully living in it—and on top of that, not alone. Kehlani is currently dating someone she calls her friend (A KEY TO SUCCESS), Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. He evokes a type of enchantment that permeates audibly–at least that’s what it seemed like, when she’d giggle over the phone with me in early January, while simultaneously FaceTiming with Irving.
ERIKA RAMIREZ: How do you know when you’re falling in love?
KEHLANI PARRISH: You catch yourself trying to almost say it, all the time. You have to stop yourself, like, “I love…tomatoes.” You know what I mean? There’s so many sides, but it’s different with every person. I think that when you know, you know. There’s no timing on it. You’ll just say it. I think if you’re really in love with them, then you know. That kind of feeling exists whether or not they say it back.
You say it because you want to say it, not because…
Yeah. You’ll put yourself out there if you’re really in love. If you’re saying it just to hear it back, then I think it’s some kind of security thing.
That’s very true. How did you first learn about love?
That’s the thing: I didn’t know anything. Nobody in my family’s married. I have never been to a wedding. My grandpa is married, but it’s all single women in my family. I’ve never seen an example of real love, besides in the movies and books and what I imagined things to be.
How does that affect how you love someone?
A part of me freaks out, like, What are you doing? [Laughs] The rest of me is feeling like a princess fairy. I think you kind of just fall into it. It becomes distracting almost: You’re at work thinking about it, you’re at home thinking about it, you’re in front of the person thinking about it.
Love is a very for sure thing. I think if there’s any doubt, then it’s not the case, but if you can say it without a doubt and you can feel it whole-heartedly then…I think that when I know, I know. I’m only 20. Everything will get better with time, as everything in love usually does.
You’re kind of doing it yourself.
I’ve hoped that in the absence of love, in the absence of seeing it, that I’ve learned more. I don’t have parents that have been married for 30 years and they’re an example and blah, blah, blah. What I missed influenced what I want to have.
Even with parents who are together, you may look at their relationship and think that that’s not what you want.