There’s a chance you’ve heard of Kehlani. But if you don’t spend your time reading Pitchfork or Stereogum, the name probably doesn’t ring a bell. She’s often compared to Tinashe, but after hearing You Should Be Here, it turns out she’s more like Frank Ocean. A young, gifted songwriter who created the first truly great R&B album of the year.

Kehlani was sixteen when she participated on America’s Got Talent, as a member of the band PopLyfe. While that was only four years ago, Kehlani looks to be a whole different person now.1 The Bay Area singer has graced her body with ink, pierced her nose and figured out her sexuality. In a recent interview with Complex, she said: “By the time I was 17, I was out the house. I discovered who I was. That’s why I’m so tatted—I know myself enough to recognize that I’ve [actually] been the same person my whole life. (…) I think it’s important that there is a voice for that right now. I wouldn’t even necessarily say I’m bisexual—I like who I like. I’ve dated both men and women. Sex is biological, but gender is mental.”

Coming from someone who is technically still a teenager, this is, well, something. After releasing the popular mixtape CLOUD 19 last year, Kehlani Parrish slowly moved from under the radar to seconds away of making it big. Her view on life is both easy and sharp, and is tangible troughout her first full length album/mixtape,2 You Should Be Here. After the brief intro, Kehlani opens the record with her dreamy voice singing “I’m looking right at you, but you’re not there / I’m seeing right past you, but you seem well aware”. With just two lines, she showcases her talent for songwriting and her vocal skills. By the time the chorus kicks in, you’re pulled in and under and the only thing you can do is accept that you’ll be drowning in Kehlani’s music.

On How That Taste, Kehlani is mean-mugging her way through all the haters. The song is reminiscent of Cassie’s under-appreciated RockAByeBaby, without feeling as a cheap rip-off. Where Cassie maintains that tough-girl stance throughout the whole tape, Kehlani’s attitude is more ambivalent. She’s at once the leader of the Tsunami mob and longing for affection. “Like the Sun you are so warm, and for once I feel adored / Oh I could not ask for more”, she sings on Wanted. The emotional center piece on You Should Be Here comes halfway in, in form of The Letter. For almost three minutes, Kehlani makes it sound like a song about a failed romance. But it’s about her absent mother:3 “Every girl needs a mother, and damnit I needed you / Instead you duck for cover and you ran from the truth / Like kids do”.

You Should Be Here isn’t a particularly long album, most songs clock out in under three miutes, and that’s part of its greatness. There are almost no fillers,4 and when you’re through, you want to hear it all over again. Kehlani created a great R&B album, without comprimising and losing her own voice. She deserves to be heard, and You Should Be Here is a terrific way to start.

  1. You wouldn’t recognize her. See? Told you.
  2. I really don’t know the difference between these two anymore. Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s Surf and this record? You tell me what’s an album and what’s a mixtape. I’m lost.
  3. Kehlani was raised by her aunt; her mother suffered from drug addiction.
  4. You could argue that The Way with Chance The Rapper is a barely-good-enough try at a mainstream hit.


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