"The chicken and waffles is so fire,” says Kehlani. The 22-year-old singer, who’s wearing a leather beret and a sweatshirt reading “Honey” that covers the tattoos snaking around her arms, is sitting at Crossroads Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in West Hollywood where the chicken is, of course, in quotation marks. This is one of her favorite haunts in her Los Angeles neighborhood; she has been vegan for five months, following a “chicken wing phase” on the tour for her widely praised January debut album, SweetSexySavage. “I couldn’t stop eating hot wings,” she confesses, but watching a health documentary immediately cured her of the habit. “I knew it was time for me to step it up in that area,” she says matter-of-factly. “And once I did, it made sense. All my energy shot back up.” Now, she is inclined to call kale salad “fire” too.
Whether talking about fake meat, last night’s Halloween festivities at a WeHo gay club (“my favorite place in the world”) or her “beautiful” girlfriend, a tattoo artist/painter named Shaina, Kehlani is warm, unguarded and effusive. And in her music, too, raw honesty is her default setting. She’s learning as she goes and makes no attempt to hide it, which has endeared her to a young fan base who see their own vulnerabilities reflected in her. It has also made her an unconventional star: a dancer-turned-singer who co-writes her own music, lives as an out bisexual woman, exposes even her darkest moments to the public -- and achieves real mainstream success. SweetSexySavage, an inventive R&B album with hints of TLC’s CrazySexyCool, pristine production from Pop & Oak and Kehlani’s own captivating vocals -- a buttery coo with the slightest hint of a rasp -- went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Top R&B Albums.