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Kehlani Parrish (born April 24, 1995), known professionally as Kehlani, is an American R&B singer-songwriter who is currently signed to Atlantic Records. Kehlani is originally from Oakland, California where she achieved initial fame as a member of the teen pop group, PopLyfe, which was a finalist on America's Got Talent. She released her first mixtape, Cloud 19, in 2014. The album was listed among Complex's "50 Best Albums of 2014." Kehlani's second mixtape, You Should Be Here, premiered at number 2 on the national R&B charts in 2015 and preceded her sold-out North American tour.
Kehlani grew up in Oakland, California. She has described her ethnicity as a mix of "black, white, Native American, and hispanic" She was raised by her aunt because her father died when she was young and her mother was in and out of prison. She attended the Oakland School for the Arts initially with a focus on dance.
Early in her life, Kehlani had aspirations of going to Juilliard as a dancer, but she suffered a knee injury in junior high and turned her attention toward singing. Her aunt listened almost exclusively to R&B and neo soul artists, and Kehlani counts Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott among her early influences. When she was 14, Kehlani was recruited to join a local pop cover band, PopLyfe.
Kehlani's singing career effectively began as the vocalist for PopLyfe. The band's music was produced by former Tony! Toni! Toné! member, D'Wayne Wiggins. The group played shows throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere for about two years. In 2011, they auditioned for the sixth season of America's Got Talent, and eventually finished in fourth place in the finals. During their final appearance, judge Piers Morgan told Kehlani, "You've got real talent, but I don't think you need the group."
Kehlani left PopLyfe soon after the end of America's Got Talent because of several managerial and contractual disputes. For six months, she avoided doing anything with music for fear of being sued by the group's management. In 2012 and 2013, Kehlani was effectively homeless, moving from house to house and often sleeping on couches. During her senior year of high school, she moved to Los Angeles with no legal guardian before returning to Oakland soon after. To help with money and food, she turned to stealing items from grocery stores for a short time.
In 2013, Nick Cannon, who had been the host of America's Got Talent during PopLyfe's run, called Kehlani to ask her about being in a rap group. She agreed at first and went to Los Angeles, but, ultimately, she didn't like the direction of the group and moved back to Oakland again. A few months later, Kehlani released her first solo track on SoundCloud called "ANTISUMMERLUV." Cannon called her back after hearing the song and set her up with an LA apartment and studio time.
This studio time culminated in the 2014 release of her first mixtape, Cloud 19. Cannon also sent her to New York City to work with producer, Jahaan Sweet. The album ranked 28th on Complex's list of the "50 Best Albums of 2014," and was also listed among Pitchfork's "Overlooked Mixtapes 2014." Her song, "Till the Morning", was chosen by Billboard as one of the "Emerging Picks of the Week" on November 7, 2014. In early 2015, Kehlani opened for G-Eazy on the second leg of his "From the Bay to the Universe" tour.
In April 2015, she released her second mixtape, You Should Be Here. Billboard called it the "year's first great R&B album," and it debuted at number 2 on the R&B charts. The album features guest appearances from Chance the Rapper and BJ the Chicago Kid. A week after the release of her mixtape, she announced that she'd been signed to Atlantic Records. In support of her album, she went on the "You Should Be Here" tour which sold out every North American date and select European dates. Throughout 2015, she has also received individual plaudits. Complex called her one of the "15 Artists to Watch Out for in 2015" and Rolling Stone named her one of the "10 New Artists You Need to Know." She was also nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album. She has been confirmed to be featuring in Zayn Malik's debut album, "Mind of Mine" to be released on March 25th, 2016.