Kehlani has been gaining buzz from the tastemakers and innovators on Twitter timelines and Tumblr posts since 2014 when she released her debut mixtape Cloud 19. The eight track mixtape was a collection of love songs and party records (“Act A Fool” is a personal favorite) that showcased Kehlani’s soulful vocals while introducing an artist that doesn’t look or sound like your typical R&B artist. When listening to Kehlani release her inner bedroom intentions on “1st Position” or speak about being head over heels in love on “As I Am” it’s not hard to see why so many people are feeling the Oakland native. The first time I heard anything from Kehlani was from a track she released on Soundcloud called “Raw & True”. I couldn’t get over how honest the lyrics were and the way Kehlani sung them with so much passion. As soon as I heard Kehlani sing, “Don’t be scared / Don’t be shy / Stop looking down at your wallet / I’m trying to see your eyes.” I was drawn to what she was trying to express and it made me want to get into Cloud 19.
A year later Kehlani has transformed a growing fanbase and cosigns from various internet critics to a deal with Atlantic Records and the release of her debut album You Should Be Here. This project easily improves on the solid material that can be found Cloud 19 while letting listeners more into Kehlani’s personal life. The album opens up with a phone call with a grandpa that misses his granddaughter and is wondering when he’s going to her next. After that Kehlani goes into a monologue letting listeners know that behind her tough exterior, there’s a person that isn’t always as strong as she seems but no matter what can’t give up because her purpose in life is greater than her insecurities. In two minutes you gain more insight on this artist than most decide to put on a whole album and it really pulls you into Kehlani’s world. From family members or friends that didn’t make it to see where Kehlani is today or a past love that in her words, “someone I gave my heart to that didn’t know what to do with it.” You Should Be Here is dedicated to them and you can hear that as you get more into the album.
The first song “You Should Be Here” is the perfect introduction for people who haven’t got a chance to hear Kehlani’s previous records. Over dreamy production Kehlani lets her baby know that he should be fully present with her in this moment, “Your body is here but your mind is somewhere else / So far gone and you think I can’t tell.” I love the concept of this record and it really shows how talented Kehlani is as a song writer, definitely one of the highlights of You Should Be Here. Honestly I quickly became a big fan of the first set of tracks on the album that it took a minute to delve into the rest of the album. From Kehlani’s confident tone and dope production that can be found on “How That Taste” and “Niggas” to my favorite track on the album “Jealous” there’s so much to digest and we’re only a few tracks in.
“Jealous” became my favorite track off of You Should Be Here for a couple reasons. First off the idea of the song and the way that Kehlani presents it is why I love music. The feeling I get from Kehlani becoming fed up with a guy that seems to be in her life for the perks instead of actually caring about her is priceless. I can picture all of the people looking to get their 15 minutes of fame from an Instagram post or the opportunists that have a motive for every conversation and I can emphasize with Kehlani is singing about. While it sucks have to constantly go through figuring out who’s actually here for them, being able to put those feelings into a song is a great way to vent some of that frustration. “Jealous” also contains a solid verse from Lexii Alijai, an upcoming rapper that’s gaining some attention for her slick flow and her honest wordplay. I would love to see “Jealous” play off in a visual.
You Should Be Here features some other talented artists that should gain some mainstream recognition sooner than later. Chance the Rapper and BJ the Chicago Kid complement Kehlani’s sound on two of the love songs on the album. BJ sounds great on “Down For You” as he tackles a verse and sings on a hook with Kehlani. This track also showcases Kehlani’s voice very nicely on the Jahaan Sweet produced beat. “The Way” has Kehlani love-struck singing about how good her guy makes her feel. I’ve really become a fan of Chance the Rapper from his mixtapes and most recent collaborative effort with Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment so I always love hearing him on a record. Coucheron makes an appearance on the final track of You Should Be Here offering a pounding guitar driven production that helps Kehlani make a feel good closing track.
The production on this album is top notch, Jahaan Sweet definitely deserves a lot of recognition for the fresh production he created for Kehlani. Tracks like “Unconditional”, “The Letter” and “Be Alright” really showcase Kehlani’s unique vocals and with Sweet’s production and solid lyrics Kehlani can’t lose. I could never get tired of hearing what Kehlani brings to each track. No fillers can be found on You Should Be Here, an accomplishment to any artist that decides to release more than ten tracks on an album. There is more to be found on this album beyond love songs on trap tinged beats. For example on a track closer to the end of the album called “Bright”, Kehlani offers up some wisdom about having to love yourself before you can truly love someone else and everyone needs to hear a message like that. Especially the younger audience that makes up most of Kehlani’s fandom. Kehlani said it best on the “Runnin (Interlude)”, “Does it make you nervous I’m not afraid to say what I want?” Kehlani is seems so refreshing because she isn’t trying to rely on the trends. None of the music on You Should Be Here sounds like it was made to sound hot now and end up dated in six months. Everything sounds like it came from the heart and I can really hear longevity in these records.
What Kehlani lacks in vocal strength (She’s not belting like the Jazmine Sullivans’ in the world and doesn’t need to), she makes up for in the lyrical depth in her songs and the emotion she puts into each track. Each track on You Should Be Here gives you a glimpse into an artist that just wants to put her feelings and stories out to the world. I think what people love most about Kehlani is how real she is. When she walks on stage with sneakers and an outfit that your average dancer is wearing to practice, you see someone that doesn’t feel need to hide behind designer labels and an image filled to the brim with sex. Kehlani and her team obviously knows what that they’re doing to get her to the next level so she doesn’t need any advice from me but I hope that she doesn’t lose the authentic quality that helped garner attention in the first place. As long as she keeps releasing material that improves upon past work and continues to work on her stage presence, there’s no doubt in my mind that Kehlani won’t just be the internet’s R&B indie favorite for long.