There's never any telling for sure who becomes famous in this crazy world, but if Vegas were taking bets, the wagers would be stacked in Kehlani's favor. And after a stellar hour-and-a-half set at Slim's on Sunday night to a sold-out crowd, fame for the East Bay native seems even more of a foregone conclusion.
Consider Kehlani's fans, who presented bouquets of flowers at her arrival to the stage, and who sang along, loudly, to every word of her songs. Consider Kehlani herself, with the wardrobe of Aaliyah, the choreography of Beyoncé and the heart of Lauryn Hill. Consider the club's bartenders and other staff at the show, and the look on their faces that asked: Who is this girl?
Kehlani Parrish is a 20-year-old R&B singer and songwriter whose Oakland upbringing wasn't always easy. At a young age, her father was murdered, and later, her mother bounced in and out of jail with drug problems. Singing gave her an escape, and in her early teens she fronted a group assembled by Dwayne Wiggins from Tony Toni Toné called PopLyfe. (Even at a young age, Kehlani's stage presence was irresistible; after their performance at Oakland's Malcolm X Festival in 2009, this reviewer stated that she was “destined to be a household name someday.”)
PopLyfe enjoyed national TV exposure in 2011 on America's Got Talent, eventually finishing in fourth place. Later, locked into a contractural obligation, Kehlani worked lousy jobs and couch-surfed, eventually hooking up with Richmond's hip-hop collective HBK Gang. When America's Got Talent host Nick Cannon called to see what she was up to, he offered studio time, resulting in her free mixtape Cloud 19 in 2014, followed by You Should Be Here in 2015.
Insert a move to L.A., a Jay-Z co-sign, a Selena Gomez shout-out, an Atlantic Records deal and a sold-out national tour, and that's the basic story so far. What doesn't get captured in dates and names, though, is Kehlani's confident-yet-relatable personality. Born a mix of black, white, Native American, Latino and Filipino, and having dated both boys and girls, Kehlani's ace in the hole is an instantly universal honesty that never feels forced.