Sounds Like: The swing of Brandy and What's the 411?-era Mary J. Blige mixed with the open-book honesty of the social media age
For Fans Of: Anyone who enjoys a splash of Yay Area grit and grind in their R&B
Why You Should Pay Attention: Oakland-to-Los Angeles singer Kehlani Parrish has soared since she broke from Poplyfe, the teen group that landed in fourth place on the 2011 season of America's Got Talent. She racked millions of SoundCloud plays for her Cloud 19 mixtape, while her sun-dappled video for "FWU" has over 700,000 YouTube views. As a member of East Bay Area rap squad HBK Gang, she lent vocals to Sage the Gemini's Remember Me and Iamsu!'s Sincerely Yours. And she's built a reputation as an unapologetically frank and thoughtful artist, from celebrating her bisexuality in "First Position," to engaging with Twitter critics. "It's a combination of how I look, how I talk, and some of the language in my music that people consider me a hip-hop artist. But I make pretty soft music," she says. Her next project, You Should Be Here, drops on April 28th.
She Says: "People always told me I wouldn't make it because what I look like. They said, 'Oh, you're way too tatted. You're not going to be an approachable R&B singer.' I had someone tell me on Twitter a week ago that I would never get a Top 40 record because of my face tattoo. I didn't know Top 40 records revolved around face tattoos, but thanks for the information, guy! I'm not being [outspoken] to be different. I'm doing it because I genuinely have a message that needs to be told. I have young girls that are just like me, that have been through the same things that I have, and who need a voice."
Hear For Yourself: In contrast to the primarily heteronormative love songs on the radio, the slow-winding "First Position" finds Kehlani claiming she's "not cookie-cutter, not picture perfect," to a female admirer. Mosi Reeves