In 2013, Kehlani Ashley Parrish was houseless. It’d been a year since she’d left her post as the lead singer of the girl group Poplyfe, citing managerial and contractual issues. Four years later, the 22-year-old is a Grammy-nominated R&B singer with an ongoing slew of collabs and singles soundtracking mega-movies like Suicide Squad (“Gangsta”) and The Fate of the Furious (“Good Life”).
The first time I saw the Oakland-raised artist was at Bumbershoot 2015, and I’ll never forget it. When she took the stage with those sultry dance moves alongside her adorable DJ Noodles, the crowd went batshit. It was plain to see that Kehlani had already built herself a cult following of sneaker-loving, tattoo-sporting, badass young women who knew the words to every uplifting, confident song. I was shook by how beautifully she sang live—her voice was strong and chillingly soulful. (She’d be a perfect choice to voice Nala in that live-action Lion King movie, in case Beyoncé says no.)
Kehlani’s come a long way in the past few years, but her wave is clearly still gaining momentum. Her studio debut SweetSexySavage came out earlier this year, and does not disappoint. If you’re planning to check out Kehlani’s Portland show, you’ll benefit from knowing the cult classics beforehand. You know, so you don’t feel left out.
1. “The Way” feat. Chance the Rapper
Okay, if you listen to Kehlani even a little bit, you probably already know this song. Even so, it’s always a good time to brush up! Watch the music video again to remind yourself that you totes ’ship Chance and Kehlani.
Dear white people: THIS SONG IS NOT FOR YOU. No one wants to hear a bunch of white girls scream-singing “Niggas gon’ always be niggas/Can’t afford to give my heart to these niggas.” So just don’t. That being said, “Niggas” is definitely one of the best (and most real) songs on You Should Be Here, and anyone with African heritage should sing along.
3. “Did I”
On this sassy track she stunts on someone who was sleeping on her talent and now wants to be down with the Kehlani tsunami. Prove you’re not one of those people (even if you are) by knowing at least some of the words.
This is the type of song you cue up when you need to celebrate yourself and the boss you’re becoming. With lyrics like “Everything I do, I do it with a passion/If I gotta be a bitch, Imma be a bad one,” get ready to turn into K’s cohesive hype machine. It’s gon’ be lit.
Oh, how relatable this song is. And like many of Kehlani’s releases, it’s got a ’90s pop flavor. When that chorus comes in, be ready with the “Do ya do ya do ya do ya wanna be a distraction baby?”
With a snappy beat and more ’90s pop production, Kehlani asserts her identity and asks her lover to accept her natural state. “Sometimes I come home and I’m sweaty from the day/My hair’s all in a messy bun ’cause I had to get it out my face/And I’d rather lace my sneakers up cause high heels ain’t my thing/I don’t see a flaw in that I never want to change.” Just make sure you get that catchy chorus down, ya’ll!
7. “Too Much”
Kehlani’s tone takes the cake as she declares her worth and owns all the ways she might be too much for some niggas: “I’m too much of a woman/Too much of a bad ass bitch/Too much of a boss, baby it’s your loss/Now you gotta live with it.”
This was the first song Kehlani released after that horrific Instagram photo including ex-boyfriend PartyNextDoor, which resulted in hundreds of abusive tweets aimed at Kehlani because of perceived infidelity toward then-boyfriend Kyrie Irving. She attempted suicide and was hospitalized. “It’s okay to not be okay, to dive in your pain,” she sings. “It’s all right to not be all right, to search for your light.”
9. “Doesn’t Matter” feat. Elhae
I’ll be honest, I’m just praying she performs this song despite the fact Elhae won’t be here to do his verse. Maybe a backup singer can fill in? I don’t know. But Kehlani’s verse (“Think Imma keep to myself these days/Thinkin’ Imma focus on my health these days”) would be multiple flame emojis regardless.
10. “Thank You”
I can just tell this is gonna be the one to make me cry (because I get emotional listening at home). In this triumphant track, Kehlani sings her heart out and expresses gratitude to all her supporters through her ups and downs. This isn’t so much a sing-along as much as a clap-and-sob-silently.