Kehlani’s artistic excellence and ability to overshadow other artists on a track make her the R&B equivalent to J. Cole. We rank the singer’s best features, duets, and collaborations.
Three years ago, Kehlani released her debut studio album SweetSexySavage. The LP is resilient in its cloudy R&B nature. blending the melodic pop cadences of the early 2000s with the present sound of Bay Area hyphy and ’90s hip-hop soul. It finds Kehlani baring her soul in the throes of a rollercoaster partnership while discovering her artistic worth and meanings of womanhood in the process.
What’s most impressive about SweetSexySavage is that it’s an entirely solo project. Seventeen tracks. No guests. This was a completely different challenge for Kehlani: she’s collaborated with many artists throughout her career. In a way, her work ethic and ability to shift the momentum of a song with her artistic excellence is what makes her the R&B equal to J. Cole, who had his own run of impressive features throughout his career.
In honor of the anniversary of her debut and her appearance on Justin Bieber’s new single, “Get Me,” here are Kehlani’s top 14 features and collaborations.
14. “The Way” — Kehlani & Chance The Rapper (2015)
Over the years, Kehlani has built an earnestness in her affectionate vocal style. On this staple, from her second mixtape, You Should Be Here, she delves into the many reasons why she is in love with her partner. Both artists execute a regal sense of chill over a leisurely beat.
13. “Get Me” — Justin Bieber & Kehlani (2020)
In his quest to bring back “R&Bieber” the pop star enlisted the expertise of Kehlani for a slinky new single. With a pumping pulsation — that fuels their lyrics about looking “beyond the surface”— both croon “you get me” on the song’s hook. In recent news, it’s been announced that Kehlani will be one of the co-openers for Justin Bieber’s tour for his upcoming album, Changes.
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12. “Ring” — Cardi B & Kehlani (2018)
Cardi B’s Grammy award-winning debut effort, Invasion of Privacy, stood out not only because of the Trap Selena’s vivacious personality, but also for her ability to balance the turn up with scorned vulnerability. At the heart of her softer records is “Ring,” which fittingly hears Kehlani singing “you don’t hit my line no more” in the addictive hook. The song eventually peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
11. “Footsteps” — Kehlani & Musiq Soulchild (2019)
On While We Wait, Kehlani expresses a deeper maturity when it comes to discussing love. She’s a bit more introspective in her lyricism, taking more time to engage her male antagonist’s point of view. On “Get Away,” from her debut mixtape, Cloud 19, the singer wonders why the love of her life let her walk and didn’t pursue her. Interestingly enough, on the track Kehlani mentions how “Mr. Soulchild” was the music playing in the background during their tense moment. Five years after Cloud 19’s release, Kehlani finds herself duetting with Mr. Soulchild himself— in a full circle moment— explaining “When I walked away, I left footsteps in the mud so you could follow me.”
mentioned musiq in a lyric on my first tape
sampled/flipped him on my second
featuring him on my third.
what. you. water. grows.
— Kehlani (@Kehlani) February 12, 2019
10. “Change” — Arin Ray & Kehlani (2019)
At the heart of this duet is a ’90s vibe, one that captures the soulful feeling of R&B, according to Arin Ray. Although “Change” utilizes the “break up to make up” trope that’s popular in R&B vernacular, the chemistry between both stars is what sets this collaboration apart. The song holds a vibe of hip-hop soul, with both artists exchanging rap verses with one another.
11. “Nunya” — Kehlani & Dom Kennedy
Kehlani’s sound has always been smooth — especially when she’s at her most ruthless and savage. “Nunya” goes right after that signature formula, as the singer finds herself telling her ex “ain’t nunya business” about what she does after their break up. Dom Kennedy, who at times has a Too $hort-like flow, answers back in playboy style while acknowledging “I admit it, I admit/If I saved her phone number then I did it.” Ultimately, it’s Kehlani who wins this West Coast back and forth with her sharp punchlines.
8. “wRoNg” — ZAYN & Kehlani (2016)
“It’s so tight, our song is super tight,” is the way that Kehlani described her feature to Hollywire before ZAYN’s album Mind of Mine dropped. ZAYN’s Mind of Mine is an essential R&B release of the 2010s, really showcasing the former One Direction bandmate’s ability to blend his Pakistani origins with the sounds of ethereal British R&B of the early 2000s. It’s only fitting that Kehlani would end up as the sole feature on that project, as she’s got the mysteriously sweet and laid back demeanor to balance that vibe.
7. “How We Do Us” — Kehlani & Kyle Dion (2014)
Cloud 19 honed in on the ’90s baby energy that distinguishes Kehlani’s brand of R&B from a majority of her peers. “How We Do Us” immediately starts with an interpolation of Montell Jordan’s classic “This Is How We Do It.”The energy of “How We Do Us” is lively, spirited, and lighthearted, channeling a similar house party feel to its original source. “How We Do Us” became a critically-acclaimed break out moment for Kyle Dion who has since made waves with his 2019 album, SUGA.
6. “All Me” — Kehlani & Keyshia Cole (2019)
Repping her native Oakland, Kehlani excited fans when she announced there would be a feature with an R&B queen. On December 19, 2019 Kehlani tweeted “the queen of Oakland, heartbreak anthems and vocals straight from the heart …guess!” Immediately fans knew that would be Keyshia Cole, who opens up her verse with “I know that I’m a movement, movement all by myself.” “All Me” is reminiscent of Keyshia Cole’s Just Like You run from 2007 — one that cemented her as a multi-platinum selling icon of her R&B generation. The baton passing full of “ayy!” adlibs makes for a jubilant affair, offering a party anthem that could rock well in the spring and summer of 2020 if cards were played right (pun intended).
5. “All In” — Mr. Carmack & Kehlani (2015)
Originally meant for the Songs From Scratch series where producers pair with vocalists to create in the moment tracks, “All In” carried so well that Mr. Carmack, an electronic DJ hailing both San Francisco and Hawaii, decided to include the four-year-old track on his 2019 vocal compilation album, VIISTA. Kehlani’s angelic voices creeps and lingers over a spellbinding arrangement of keys, as she vows to go “All In” and get past the “halfway point between what we say and what we mean.”
4. “Nights Like This” — Kehlani & Ty Dolla $ign (2019)
Fans didn’t know what to expect from Kehlani when she dropped the first single from While We Wait. What they received was a different sound that found Kehlani experimenting with Asian Pacific musical elements and genres such as Tokyo’s citywave. “Nights Like This” is soothing and calming aesthetically, although Kehlani coos about being jilted by another woman who “decided to be with him though.” The “him” is played by Ty Dolla $ign, a king in his own right at R&B features and collabs.
3. “Down For You” — Kehlani & BJ The Chicago Kid (2015)
Kehlani received a Grammy nomination for her second mixtape, You Should Be Here. On that prized jewel is “Down For You” which sings at the heart of neo-soul. BJ The Chicago Kid makes an impressive appearance, explaining the friends-lovers dynamic through his verse “But let me tell you one thing going through a nigga’s head/Most nigga’s just scared.”
2. “RPG” — Kehlani & 6LACK (2019)
“RPG” stands for role playing game, and that’s exactly what both artists do over this jazzy and loungey instrumental. Throughout the hook, Kehlani requests “show me your love” after verses acknowledging that her partner does certain things after the she complains about the lack of attention she receives. In 6LACK’s verse he sums up the generational romantic battles that couples his age experience in today’s dating scene: “Past life aggression, life time lessons, carryin’ a message/Real life angels, battlin’ depression.”
1. “Morning” — Teyana Taylor & Kehlani (2019)
Kehlani’s bisexuality has been a key factor in her discography (see: Cloud 19’s “1st Position” and While We Wait’s “Nights Like This”). She’s loud, proud, and boastful about her attraction to women; the opportunity to express these desires best presented themselves on Teyana Taylor’s “Morning.” A sensual duet inspired by the antics of Neve Campbell and Denise Richards’s characters in the 1998 film Wild Things. On the album art, Kehlani and Teyana Taylor recreate the movie’s poster art — floating heads in a swampy pool. On the song itself, both women harmonize perfectly with each other in the background of their verses and the hook. “Morning” feels as the title suggests: It blows easily in a synthy wind as both ladies sing about their sexual urges softly. “Morning” is Kehlani’s best feature because it’s her in her cool element— she sounds confident and in control.
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