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Kehlani has rightfully earned herself a The Fader cover, penned by the mag’s EIC, Naomi Zeichner. The profile traces the singer all the way back to Oakland — where she opens up about being homeless, growing up lost about her identity, linking up with Nick Cannon and so much more. I bet you didn’t know Mr. Nickelodeon was instrumental in her career and that she was once a contestant on America’s Got Talent.

But when it came time to answer the questions about her rumored romantic relationship with PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kehalni declined to comment.

On her childhood: “There were times where I really had to do shit like wait outside of a train station and snatch iPhones out of peoples’ hands and run and sell them,” she says. “I went through people’s houses. I ran through cars – all type of shit that I feel like made me grow up fast. I’ve been banned from Walgreens. I’ve been banned from Walmart for stealing fucking clothes and food. Lucky’s caught me with a box of Wheat Thins and some bread. I was like, ‘Can’t you tell I’m stealing because I’m hungry?’”

On her past relationships: “I got my first girlfriend in ninth grade. Then I told her I didn’t know what I wanted and broke up with her. I think I was always just, like, you have to be gay or you have to be straight—that those were conflicting. I learned that there’s really no wrong or right, that it was cool to like everything. But it was a lot for me.”

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There’s a great view of Burger King from the window of Kehlani’s apartment, one of hundreds in a resort-style complex in downtown Los Angeles. The building feels like a hotel that’s only half-full. The guests are staying way past check-out.
Inside, Kehlani’s place looks like any typical 20-year-old’s starter home. There’s a small sectional couch and no TV; empty Hennessy bottles decorate the top of the kitchen cabinets. A bag from a trip to the Louis Vuitton store sits in the corner like furniture, proud and out of place.

“I am Mother Theresa!” Kehlani shouts from her bedroom. She’s joking about last night, when a friend showed up needing a place to crash at two in the morning. No one here—not Effie, Kehlani’s roommate and backup dancer, nor Edward, her personal assistant and childhood best friend—is sure how the girl got in.

But it’s no big deal: their guest has already departed and everyone else is humming around. Kehlani and Effie debate whether or not they remember how to find a waterfall they once hiked to. Edward is researching sugar gliders, the tiny, exotic marsupials that Kehlani wants to buy as pets before she leaves on her first headlining tour in a couple of weeks. They’ll need to get two: evidently, sugar gliders crave companionship and are prone to depression when left alone.

Kehlani pays her rent with money from her label, Atlantic, which is priming her as a crown-jewel “mindie” act—a major artist with indie bonafides. Now that streaming has become more popular and grassroots Vine memes have started breaking actual hits, it’s an increasingly common strategy. A label provides studio time and marketing budgets to an artist who has already found some success independently, taking care not to disturb the existing (and profitable) direct relationship the artist has with their fans. In some cases, these partnerships are kept quiet so fans don’t feel like their favorites have changed course; for example, the rapper Logic has said he worked with Def Jam well before announcing his deal.

So far, most mindie artists make rap music; Kehlani is a gifted singer. Aspects of her inspirational R&B are familiar—she nods to the neo-soul of the early 2000s, she’s earnest like Frank Ocean and louche like The Weeknd—but she combines them in a way that sounds disruptive on the radio today. After Kehlani released her debut mixtape, Cloud 19, independently in 2014, it landed on critics’ year-end lists and attracted attention from other artists. Chief Keef offered to sign her over FaceTime; The Game sent her a gym selfie over DM; Rich Gang reached out to make her their first lady.

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE FADER

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