Alicia Keys and Kehlani on New Music, Spirituality, Motherhood, & More

On staying actual in a faux world, spirituality, writing love songs, and the teachings of motherhood

Welcome to Rolling Stone’s 2021 Musicians on Musicians bundle, the annual franchise the place two nice artists come collectively for a free, open dialog about life and music. Every story on this 12 months’s collection will seem in our November 2021 print subject, hitting stands on November 2nd — with 4 particular covers, together with this one. We’ll be rolling out all 10 tales this week and subsequent, so verify again typically. 

Kehlani can’t bear in mind the primary time she heard Alicia Keys — simply that Keys was there, in her childhood, as each legend and blueprint. In her head, she will see the CDs and the music movies; she will hear the younger women in school belting Keys’ 2003 hit “If I Ain’t Received You” to show their vocal bona fides. She wouldn’t have even been 10 on the time of its launch. So to listen to Keys clarify, in a West L.A. studio this previous August, the primary time she heard Kehlani’s personal music feels a bit of surreal. “It was undoubtedly the primary album for certain,” Keys recollects, referring to 2017’s SweetSexySavage, “but it surely was one thing greater than that. It was nearly like you may have a sure vitality that you simply carry with you.”

Keys’ major-label breakthrough, in 2001, got here on the finish of an period typically pitted towards Kehlani’s technology — purist followers of Nineties and 2000s R&B decry every part from the dearth of church-cultivated vocal conviction to the lyrics that echos in the present day’s flightier attitudes towards courting and love — however solely mutual respect exists between the 2. Of their inventive lives, they share a knack for aesthetic subversion and understated eloquence; of their private lives, a dedication to residing authentically, even when that eclipses expectations lingering over them. Each are in a interval of flowering, mirrored of their upcoming releases. Keys’ as-yet-named eighth album, due out later this 12 months, aligns with a newfound readability of imaginative and prescient; Kehlani’s upcoming Blue Water Highway is, in her personal phrases, “vastly completely different than something [I’ve] ever created” — a lot in order that to even share it with the world scares her. On this level, they splinter, with Keys extra assured than she’s been at any time in her profession.

Keys and Kehlani’s dialog brims with earnest curiosity that reveals a kinship that extends past music. Although time might break up them, Keys, who celebrated her fortieth birthday this 12 months, acknowledges in Kehlani one thing acquainted. “I don’t see you chasing something besides your reality,” Keys tells Kehlani. “You had the music with, like, ‘I’m singing like Alicia’ [Kehlani’s 2020 track “Can I”], after which I saved rocking with you and using with you. However I really feel like the very first thing that introduced me to you was your vitality and your individuality.”

Alicia Keys & Kehlani photographed exclusively for Rolling Stone's Musicians on Musician's 2021 portfolio in Los Angeles CA on August 31st 2021 by Kanya Iwana

Alicia Keys and Kehlani photographed in Los Angeles on August thirty first, 2021

Photographed by Kanya Iwana for Rolling Stone. Produced by Rachael Lieberman. Style course by Alex Badia. Set design by Dureen Troung. Keys: Styled by Jason Bolden. Tailor-made by Erin Citadel. Hair styled by Kendall Dorsey for Manufacturing unit Downtown. Make-up by Tasha Reiko Brown for the Wall Group. Manicure by Temeka Jackson for CMNsoon Leisure. Jacket and sneakers by Michael Kors Assortment. Pants by Isabel Marant. Earrings by Cartier. Ring is Alicia’s personal. Kehlani: Styled by Oliver Vaughn. Hair styled by Cesar Ramirez for Cesar Ramirez Styling. Make-up by Pircilla Pae for Hendrix Artists. Manicure by Brittany Boyce for Nails of LA. Outfit by Robert Wun.

Keys: You’re a inventive being. But the music world, the leisure world is, let’s simply be trustworthy, faux. So how does an actual particular person such as you handle in a world that’s based mostly on phantasm and issues which are completely not actual?

Kehlani: I don’t suppose I used to be at all times actually good at it. From the skin trying in, folks have complimented me in that manner, like, “You’ve at all times appeared such as you simply knew precisely who you have been.” I believe I used to be simply actually trustworthy about the place I used to be at with it. I may need been like, “Oh, I really do not know what I’m doing proper now. I really am trippin’ proper now. I’m really going by means of it proper now.”

So I don’t know, navigating the music business is certainly completely different. I’ve at all times had folks — you’re one among them, and only a few — who’ve reached out and been like, “Yo, I just like the music, it’s cool. I like what you do. However I see who you’re as a person,” and selected to latch onto me to supply me help. That’s been the very best factor.

Keys: I believe that’s it, simply discovering kindred folks.

Kehlani: I obtained a query for you. How do you suppose it’s now versus whenever you first got here out? Like navigating from then to navigating it now? As a result of I couldn’t think about. Y’all didn’t have Twitter, y’all didn’t have—

Keys: Firstly, clearly, there wasn’t these sorts of social media instruments and platforms. I bear in mind after they first began coming round, I used to be so like, “Ugh, I’m alleged to share every part?” I’ve at all times been super-private anyway, that’s my nature. I’m not the one that wishes to — it’s most likely simply New York shit, you retain it near your vest.

Kehlani: Yeah, y’all completely different.

Keys: Uh-oh!

Kehlani: No, no, no, I like it. I want. We’re a bit of too chill. We’re like, “Yeah, I’ll inform you every part it is advisable to know” [laughs].

Keys: Proper, and we like, “Nah, you don’t actually know me, you suppose you already know me” [laughs]. However truthfully, I suppose the factor is it hasn’t modified. Individuals are at all times going to attempt to use you. You’re a transaction to most individuals. As an artist, your most prized possession, which is the magic that we create, is unbuyable and it’s unsellable. It’s a connection. It’s a frequency.

So to attempt to make that an merchandise of commerce naturally is a tough factor, however the commerce of it’s at all times usually the identical. The way it’s shared has modified, that’s a distinction. And I like that. Earlier than, there was so many gatekeepers who held the keys to your life and your future, and now you maintain your personal keys. You create your connections, you may have a person’s perspective, and you’ll share it. I believe that’s actually a ravishing freedom.

However, man, what do you do for inspiration? You’ve gotten a really stunning non secular aspect to you. You’re in search of and actively looking out and actively training. How did you get into it and the way are you training it amid super-busy-ness, being a mother and all of the issues? What’s your observe?

Kehlani: For probably the most half, I’m in a really dedicated, very critical non secular observe.

Keys: That’s stunning.



Kehlani: I used to be on lots of completely different non secular journeys rising up. I grew up Christian, after which my grandma who was taking me to church handed away. After which I used to be like, “Oh, Buddhism appears superior,” and I’d dip my toe.

Then one thing else would appear superior, and I’d learn up and I’d go join with folks, and they might take me to their temples and they might take me to their ceremonies. However to me, crucial is lineage and ancestor work and simply caring for the individuals who have been right here earlier than you as a result of it’s actually all that we will do to go on in an actual manner. Like we all know the place they go after they usually have a serious objective for us, so we actually must be on the opposite aspect of that relationship and deal with them as nicely.

Keys: Oh, my gosh, I really like that.

Kehlani: I believe each single particular person on Earth has the power to be mystically non secular. It’s about sustaining a reference to the spirits that you’ve got round you, and all people has the aptitude to do it as a result of all of us have useless folks. All of us have ancestors. Everyone has someone to deal with. It’s super-simple. However spirituality has at all times grounded me as a result of it does remind you that there’s a lot greater than proper right here.

It saved my life so many instances. So now I’m simply actually disciplined with it and provides as a lot vitality to it as I can, and it takes care of me the identical manner.

Keys: What do you hearken to? What’s some issues that you simply return to and also you’re like, “This units me off,” or that you simply just lately found even?

Kehlani: My mother, the one which raised me, is an excellent neo-soul head. Such as you would have thought I used to be a child from Philadelphia after I was little as a result of I solely knew neo-soul from what was performed in the home, and like a bit of little bit of R&B right here and there. Then, as I obtained older, music modified and neo-soul sort of like branched out into different issues. However I didn’t know any rap after I was little. Folks could be like, “Who’s your favourite rapper,” and I’d be like, “Whew, that is arduous.” I additionally wasn’t a giant outdoors child. My aunt protected me from lots of stuff, so she saved me just about in the home, sort of in our personal little world. And my mother — I say my mother and aunt interchangeably, however that’s my mother — she has that CD participant I’m speaking about. It was all the identical. We’d add albums when folks that she had all of their albums in there dropped one other album, if that is smart.

Keys: I really feel you. I like Jhené, I like H.E.R., I like Kehlani, I like SZA. I wish to take it again to Nina [Simone]. I really like Fleetwood Mac. I wish to vibe with simply super-classic issues. I really like information. There’s some artists from Saudi which are wonderful, and a few artists from France that I like to get into which are loopy. I simply like to discover all these completely different tastes and tones.

Kehlani: What’s your comfort-food spot, although? Like musically. As a result of that’s what I’m speaking about. I hearken to lots of issues, however I at all times return to — how I begin my morning accurately is identical, it’s like my candy spot.

Keys: I believe my comfort-food music is Sade. I really feel like after I put her on, I can simply be like, “I’m good.”

Kehlani: That’s how I really feel about Stevie [Wonder]. I’m at all times going to be like, “OK, I can chill out now.”

Keys: That’s one, comfort-food Stevie. So for you, I suppose you extra just lately grew to become a mama, and that may have been in the midst of a freakin’ pandemic.

Kehlani: She spent her first birthday really within the pandemic, so it was really every week or two after they introduced we’re formally locking down. We had a pandemic birthday, simply me, her dad, my little sister — just about anyone who lived in the home and, like, her one greatest pal that we obtained super-tested. Everyone wore masks and stayed aside as a result of we didn’t actually know something on the time. And it’s been fascinating as a result of I dropped an album from residence. I shot a bunch of movies from residence.

Keys: Like actually residence?

Kehlani: Actually residence.

Keys: And people visuals have been contemporary, too.

Kehlani: It was me and one particular person, my photographer. We purchased a digicam and we purchased Adobe, and we actually obtained on YouTube and discovered the right way to edit movies and simply, like, did all of them in my sizzling storage within the Valley with no AC in there and my child on my lap.

Keys: That’s wonderful.

Kehlani: So I haven’t skilled what it’s like but to be super-away from my baby as a result of we spent nearly all of her life thus far on this pandemic, and all of my work has been from residence. I’m simply now beginning to go away and be again on set or be again within the studio or be again away from my home and sort of navigate what that appears like for me. Creatively, I take into consideration every part completely different. I can’t actually be super-reckless. You’ve gotten a second thought always, like I’ve one thing main to think about in each single motion of my day, even when it’s tiny. Even now, I’m listening to my allergy symptoms, like, “My child wants me to not eat issues I’m allergic to.” Even issues like that, so every part is completely different.

Keys: It’s undoubtedly completely different. I bear in mind for me, too, it was similar to I discovered my energy. I didn’t have the energy to inform folks no on my own as a result of I wasn’t essential sufficient to myself, however that child was essential sufficient to me that I discovered my energy. I do know what you imply about being extra thoughtful. I used to burn the studio all the way down to the bottom. I’d be digging for the factor till I used to be on the ground. I couldn’t determine it out, and it could be seven within the morning and I’m lastly going residence. Now, I’m at a spot the place I’m similar to, “OK, it’s not occurring.”

Kehlani: Go to mattress.

Keys: Go away!

Kehlani: I really like whenever you lastly get to that time. It’s the very best, like, “You understand what?…”

Keys: It’s not my day in the present day.

Kehlani: I’m going to sleep. Precisely.

Keys: And that modified every part, too, as a result of it really allowed there to be extra space. And I didn’t understand that area gave you extra—

Kehlani: Inspiration.

Keys: Right here you’re, pondering you bought to …

Kehlani: You’ll be able to’t create if nothing’s occurring.

Keys: You understand?

musicians on musicians alicia keys and kehlani

Alicia Keys and Kehlani photographed in Los Angeles on August thirty first, 2021

{Photograph} by Kanya Iwana for Rolling Stone

Kehlani: I’m the identical manner. If I’m attempting to place myself within the studio each single day, I’m seeing 4 partitions, for 12, 13, 14 hours a day, after which I’d go residence and see my 4 partitions and my mattress. What, am I going to write down music in regards to the 4 partitions? Am I going to write down music about my mattress? The lights within the studio? What am I experiencing to permit me to carry something in? And at the least if I’m residence and I’m resting through the day, it’s not my darkish room at nighttime as a result of that’s the time I get residence, so I really feel it.

I believe motherhood influenced my writing — you write about love from completely different feelings. You’ll be able to write about love from anguish or impatience or gratitude or lack of it. However the entire stuff you achieve whenever you turn out to be a mum or dad affect the way you view love. I write love songs. I don’t say I write extra issues than that, I don’t even combat it anymore.

Keys: Proper, like it’s what it’s.

Kehlani: I make music about love. It’s probably the most common factor. It’ll by no means go away. You’ll by no means get bored with it. Folks will expertise it till the Earth explodes. So clearly my child gave me endurance and a spine and all this stuff.

Keys: That’s what I’m speaking about!

Kehlani: So then I’m experiencing relationships, and I’m hella affected person now and I’ve a spine, after which the songs aren’t these like “Choose me, I’m dying with out you” songs as a result of all of it goes again to how my child made me. I believe parenthood transforms emotion usually, and emotion is direct creation.

Keys: Yeah, man, I really feel you. I really like that spine. That’s actually it.

Kehlani: What? I used to be spineless [laughs].

Keys: It’s like that. It truly is like that.

Kehlani: It occurs. We made it out. We free.

Keys: How does [preparing to release new music] really feel?

Kehlani: I be scared, yo. I don’t know. I really feel like nobody is round whenever you’re creating it however the core folks that you simply’re creating it with, and it’ll by no means imply what it means to the folks within the room which are creating it to anyone else. I imply, it’d imply extra to some folks as a result of they resonate with it in a particular manner, however you weren’t there to like this music in the way in which that me and the producer and the instrumentalist and all people that was there with me like it. So it’s this scary feeling of like, “Will you actually get how a lot this implies to me? Will you actually get why I’m so pleased with this? Will you actually get how far this feels, prefer it was completely different from the primary music I ever dropped?” I’m about to drop music that, to me, feels vastly completely different than something I’ve ever created. I wouldn’t name it the identical style sonically as I’ve performed earlier than. And I’m scared about it as a result of I’m like, “Y’all might obtain it and simply really feel like Kehlani is dropping one other undertaking.” And to me, I’m making a pivot creatively as a result of it was one thing I at all times needed to do with folks I at all times needed to do it with.

Keys: Sure…

Kehlani: I suppose I simply be nervous, however I needed to additionally cease psyching myself out. I attempt to look from this massive chicken’s-eye view of like, “Nicely, I’m most likely going to drop like 5 extra albums. I’m going to have this expertise a bunch of extra instances, don’t freak out, be like water, let it come out. Let folks suppose no matter they suppose.” I attempt to at all times come again to the emotion that I felt after I was creating it.

Keys: So do you suppose that the factor that makes you nervous is the judgment? Like simply truthfully, as a result of it must be, proper? All of us, everybody will get afraid of being judged in a manner that you simply don’t—

Kehlani: I don’t even suppose it’s judgment. It’s receiving. It’s like — you understand how we’re sitting right here and also you instructed me your favourite factor about me is me?

Keys: Proper.

Kehlani: You’ll be able to obtain me, you may see me. I generally have a tough time feeling like folks don’t obtain me. You’ll be able to really feel how you’re feeling about no matter comes out on the floor with music, creativity, interviews I would’ve performed. However, like, being perceived or acquired as a complete, actually it’s seeing my coronary heart. So I really feel like if I’m placing out this factor that’s coming from my coronary heart, and I really feel like you may’t obtain my coronary heart in it, that makes me nervous. You’ll hear it, and also you’ll suppose that is one other music. I’m like, “Did you hearken to the lyrics?”

Keys: “Did you hear what I used to be saying?”

Kehlani: “Did you hear what it meant? Might you perceive?” I’m going by means of these processes. So it isn’t even judgment as a result of I don’t care in case you favored the music or not. Someone goes to love the music, and I’m actually glad they do. And I really like this music, however can you’re feeling me?

Keys: You described that superbly. You will get used to selecting up different folks’s vitality as a result of all people has pores and skin within the sport. They’ve one thing they’re to achieve or lose out of your shit. And so I believe I used to choose up their vitality a lot that I’d begin to make it my very own ideas when it wasn’t actually mine — I inherited them.

In order that’s one thing that I discovered over time, to be actually cautious and privy to what your emotions are. As a result of lots of instances you’re simply regurgitating what another person is feeling. I believe that’s fairly tough, particularly on this world the place there’s so many opinions hooked up earlier than you even — you share your music together with your internal crew, they usually’re going to have their vibes on it.

Kehlani: “This the very best music you ever made.” Then you definately’re like, “Is it? Fuck.”

Keys: Or they is perhaps like, “I imply, ‘Nah, I prefer it, however …’ and then you definately obtained to really feel how that feels, too. And once more, again to that factor about what you’re saying — I like it, I’ve a imaginative and prescient for it, and I’m going to personal it. And so I believe that’s the place the place I’m now.… I’ve given up lots of this concept of wanting folks to approve of me, and that feels significantly better.

Kehlani: Give me a few years [laughs].

Keys: You in your manner, you shut.

Kehlani: I’m lots nearer than I used to be a 12 months in the past.

Keys: You’re shut. Truthfully, I do know what you imply as a result of lots of people would inform me, too, like, “Man, Alicia, generally you share that you simply didn’t have a robust sense of your self, however you at all times got here off so robust.” Like, “What do you imply, ‘You at all times have been so robust?’”

And, I believe, that’s what occurs with robust folks. I believe it’s these folks that come off actually robust and collectively that oftentimes want probably the most checking in on.

Kehlani: As a result of often they’re holding it down for lots of different folks.

Keys: Yeah, I perceive. I can already inform that you simply’re undoubtedly in that area. You’re good, super-good.

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/alicia-keys-kehlani-musicians-on-musicians-1239156/ | Alicia Keys and Kehlani on New Music, Spirituality, Motherhood, & Extra


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