Meet Kehlani Parrish, an incredibly talented 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Oakland, California.
She previously fronted PopLyfe, a pop group that finished fourth on season 6 of America’s Got Talent in 2011.
Judge Piers Morgan advised Kehlani to leave the group and go solo. In 2013 she did and released her first mixtape, Cloud 19, in 2014. It was well-received and listed 28th on Billboard’s ‘50 Best Albums of 2014’. Critics describe her as having a traditional R&B sound and a style comparative to Ciara and Janet Jackson.
Kehlani released her second mixtape, You Should Be Here, in April 2015. It debuted at number 2 on the R&B charts and she signed with Atlantic the next month. The mixtape includes the song Niggas which is about no-good men. The chorus goes
“Niggas gon’ always be niggas
Can’t afford to give my heart to these niggas
Ain’t got time to lose my mind to these niggas”
Kehlani embraces her multi-racial heritage. When asked about it she has described herself as black, white, American Indian, Latina and Filipino in interview after interview and on her website. She was raised by her aunt, who she describes as “one of those soulful white women who only fucks with black guys.”
“All her friends are these super neo-soul, eccentric African females. We grew up around that. All she played was neo-soul music. Neo-soul and OG R&B. You can ask me about hip-hop history, I have no idea. You can’t ask me about a lot of current things, because for my entire life I was stuck in the early 2000s. Even before. Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, the Fugees, end of the ‘90s, early 2000s. Even TLC, Aaliyah, all that, until currently. I’m even just now, starting when I was 17, started listening to the radio, started listening to current things. Other than that, the only music I listened to that was current was the new neo soul albums, the new Jill Scott, the new Jamie Foxx, the new Chrisette Michele.”
Kehlani defends her use of the word ‘nigga’ by saying she checks white people for using it.
“When you look at me, you can’t really tell what I am but I’m black, white, Native, Spanish and a little bit of Filipino. I’m the type to check white girls for saying it.”
But people aren’t exactly buying that explanation, as evidenced by the comments under the song’s video.
There is undoubtedly privilege at play here. Kehlani is undeniably talented and has worked hard to ascend in an industry that is treacherous, particularly for young women, but she also benefits from its favoring of women of color who are racially ambiguous, but can claim access to black style, dress and lingo.
The R&B genre has become increasingly difficult for talented darker-skinned black women to advance in, a fact R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan spoke about recently to the Associated Press.
As for the use of the term ‘nigga’, writing blog Writing With Color explains why it shouldn’t be considered a ‘catch-all’ term for people of color.
“Where do you get this idea that you can reclaim (hint: reclaim) something that does NOT apply to you.
When did Blackness become this product that us negros just ship to all of ya’ll to share?…
People of Color are not interchangeable. We are not a monolith of one people, even if we reunite under the same boat of “othered.”
Please see the history of “WoC” and understand the unity among the application of POC is just that; for unity. But we remain individual people of different races. Our histories are different thus our realities are different.”
Nonetheless there are plenty of Kehlani fans, both black and non-black, who have caped for her when it comes to the use of the word.
Ladies, what are your thoughts?