Kehlani: “I Honestly Didn’t Expect A Grammy Nomination This Early”

Oakland’s finest on the surprise nomination, her first ever European tour, and why she made shirts for Paris fans in the wake of the attacks.

Photographer Joyce Kim
December 08, 2015
Kehlani: “I Honestly Didn’t Expect A Grammy Nomination This Early”

It's been a big week for Kehlani already. The FADER 99 cover star is currently in London for two sold-out headline shows to round off her first ever European tour. As if that wasn't enough, these shows are now looking like a victory lap: when she arrived in the city yesterday, she checked her phone to find out that her break-out mixtape You Should Be Here has been nominated for a Grammy in the Urban Contemporary Album category alongside The Internet, Lianne La Havas, Miguel, and The Weeknd.

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As she takes over The FADER UK Instagram today, the Oakland native checked in to reflect on the recognition from the Academy, how Europe's been treating her, and why she made a special limited run of "Peace Love Happiness" t-shirts to hand out at her recent Paris show.

Congratulations on the Grammy nomination! Where were you when you found out?

KEHLANI: I was on the bus, I had just got to London. I actually texted G-Eazy’s manager because I was seeing all the photos from his album, and I was like “Yo I’m so proud of you guys and the way you guys move!” About two minutes later we’re getting off the bus and he texts me back, “I’m crying, I’m so proud of you!” And I’m like, “Well, thanks! You know, London’s about to be tight.” And he’s like, “No, the Grammy nominations just came out, they’re about to go live in 15 minutes, and you’re nominated.” I just started freaking out. When they said my whole mixtape was nominated in a category full of albums, I basically started crying. I called my mom, I called my grandma, I called my friends. I haven’t stopped freaking out yet.

It’s crazy because I created most of my mixtape before I got signed. I’m just proud of the fact that my team did it themselves, and I wrote 100% of the lyrics. All the glamorous stuff is really cool, but getting recognized by your peers is a whole other ball game. So the Grammys are so important to me.

What does getting a Grammy nomination mean to you?

I honestly didn’t expect [a Grammy nomination] this early. I haven’t even made my first album. I didn’t expect one to come for a while, so it’s completely ridiculous. I’m at a loss for words.

That’s really what [The Grammys] mean to me, it shows that they really pay attention to the quality of music and not the hype of it. Not just who’s selling records and who’s on the radio—I’m not on the radio, I’m not a chart-topper. I don’t even have anything on the charts. So the fact that they pay attention to the quality and hard work and effort that’s gone into the mixtape is very honorable. I’m very grateful.

“It shows that [The Grammys] really pay attention to the quality of music and not the hype of it...I’m not on the radio, I’m not a chart-topper.”—Kehlani

How’s the Europe tour been?

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The Europe tour has been nuts. Honestly, like I walked past a line today, and they screamed like it was Beyoncé. I had to look around for a second, I caught myself looking around like, 'who are they screaming for?' And then I realized it was me!

How have you found it different playing your material in Europe compared to the U.S.?

Europe goes super extra hard. I feel like they’re still in the groove of what I’m making. They’re still in love with ‘90s R&B and ‘00s R&B. I went to the club and they’re playing “Peaches & Cream” and shit like that. You go to the club in L.A. and they’re playing like, Young Thug. But you go to the club out here and it's all the oldies. Also, hearing everybody scream my lyrics in an accent is crazy. Paris probably was my favorite show so far.

You played right after the attacks in Paris—what was the energy at that show like?

I think it was important...The venue were surprised that we were able to pack it like that, because people weren’t really leaving their houses. People weren’t really trying to be outside. I had to tell them, you know, sometimes unexplainable crazy things happen, but what we can’t do is let fear run our lives, and continue to live our lives in fear every single day. Just enjoy yourself. Stay protected, of course, listen to warnings and things like that, but don’t let it scare you out of living. So it was a really good moment. We got to give out specific Paris Tsunami Mob t-shirts that said “Peace Love Happiness” on them. The first 300 kids got them. It was very special.

I sent this to my mommy. The city of love.

A photo posted by Lani Tsunami AKA lil'LayLow✍🏼 (@kehlani) on

What gave you the idea for the t-shirts?

Because when we found out what happened, everybody was telling us not to come. So we said, you know what, to not come would be like kicking them while they’re down. If some of them only could look forward to this concert, why would we not come? So not only did we come, but we thought we need to give them something to take away from this, to just enjoy this moment. We thought the t-shirt would be really special. It’s one of a kind, no other kid from anywhere around the world will have it. I definitely teared up. I’m a very emotional person so it was hard to not cry my eyes out.

What was your favorite part of being in Paris?

I think the Eiffel Tower was really cool. Growing up in Oakland—half the people in Oakland have never even been across the bridge to San Francisco, or been to Los Angeles. They’ve never left the city. So the fact that I’m coming from being this kid in Oakland, to seeing landmarks—seeing the Eiffel Tower that you see on TV. It’s real! It’s like, this is real!

How does it feel to be selling out shows in Europe already?

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I really don’t have words for it, honestly. It’s a really big trip. It’s one of those moments where you just have to smile, because there’s not much I can say except that I’m so thankful that my fans are this supportive.

Kehlani: “I Honestly Didn’t Expect A Grammy Nomination This Early”