Rolling Stone

ALICIA KEYS & KEHL ANI

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[ Cont. from 42] to my allergies, like, “My kid needs me to not eat things I’m allergic to.” Even things like that, so everything is different.

KEYS: It’s definitely different. I remember for me, too, it was just like I found my power. I didn’t have the strength to tell people no by myself because I wasn’t important enough to myself, but that baby was important enough to me that I found my power. I know what you mean about being more considerat­e. I used to burn the studio down to the ground. I would be digging for the thing until I was on the floor. I couldn’t figure it out, and it would be seven in the morning and I’m finally going home. Now, I’m at a place where I’m just like, “OK, it’s not happening.”

KEHLANI: Go to bed.

KEYS: Leave!

KEHLANI: I love when you finally get to that point. It’s the best, like, “You know what? . . .”

KEYS: It’s not my day today.

KEHLANI: I’m going to sleep. Exactly.

KEYS: And that changed everything, too, because it actually allowed there to be more space. And I didn’t realize that space gave you more—

KEHLANI: Inspiratio­n.

KEYS: Here you are, thinking you got to . . .

KEHLANI: You can’t create if nothing’s happening.

KEYS: You know?

KEHLANI: I’m the same way. If I’m trying to put myself in the studio every single day, I’m seeing four walls, for 12, 13, 14 hours a day, and then I’d go home and see my four walls and my bed. What, am I going to write music about the four walls? Am I going to write music about my bed? The lights in the studio? What am I experienci­ng to allow me to bring anything in? And at least if I’m home and I’m resting during the day, it’s not my dark room at nighttime because that’s the time I get home, so I feel it.

I think motherhood influenced my writing — you write about love from different emotions. You can write about love from anguish or impatience or gratitude or lack of it. But all of the things you gain when you become a parent influence how you view love. I write love songs. I don’t say I write more things than that, I don’t even fight it anymore.

KEYS: Right, like it is what it is.

KEHLANI: I make music about love. It’s the most universal thing. It’ll never go away. You’ll never get tired of it. People will experience it until the Earth explodes. So obviously my baby gave me patience and a backbone and all these things.

KEYS: That’s what I’m talking about!

KEHLANI: So then I’m experienci­ng relationsh­ips, and I’m hella patient now and I have a backbone, and then the songs aren’t these like “Pick me, I’m dying without you” songs because it all goes back to how my kid made me. I think parenthood transforms emotion in general, and emotion is direct creation.

KEYS: Yeah, man, I feel you. I love that backbone. That’s really it.

KEHLANI: What? I was spineless [ laughs].

KEYS: It’s like that. It really is like that.

KEHLANI: It happens. We made it out. We free.

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

KEHLANI: I guess I just be nervous, but I had to also stop psyching myself out. I try to look from this big bird’s-eye view of like, “Well, I’m probably going to drop like five more albums. I’m going to have this experience a bunch of more times, don’t freak out, be like water, let it come out. Let people think whatever they think.” I try to always come back to the emotion that I felt when I was creating it.

KEYS: So do you think that the thing that makes you nervous is the judgment? Like just honestly, because it has to be, right? All of us, everyone gets scared of being judged in a way that you don’t—

KEHLANI: I don’t even think it’s judgment. It’s receiving. It’s like — you know how we’re sitting here and you told me your favorite thing about me is me?

KEYS: Right.

KEHLANI: You can receive me, you can see me. I sometimes have a hard time feeling like people don’t receive me. You can feel how you feel about whatever comes out on the surface with music, creativity, interviews I might’ve done. But, like, being perceived or received as a whole, really it’s seeing my heart. So I feel like if I’m putting out this thing that’s coming from my heart, and I feel like you can’t receive my heart in it, that makes me nervous. You’ll hear it, and you’ll think this is another song. I’m like, “Did you listen to the lyrics?”

KEYS: “Did you hear what I was saying?”

KEHLANI: “Did you hear what it meant? Could you understand?” I go through those processes. So it isn’t even judgment because I don’t care if you liked the song or not. Somebody is going to like the song, and I’m really glad they do. And I love this song, but can you feel me?

KEYS: You described that beautifull­y. You can get used to picking up other people’s energy because everybody has skin in the game. They have something they’re to gain or lose from your shit. And so I think I used to pick up their energy so much that I would start to make it my own thoughts when it wasn’t really mine — I inherited them.

So that’s something that I learned over time, to be really cautious and aware about what your feelings are. Because a lot of times you’re just regurgitat­ing what someone else is feeling. I think that’s quite tricky, especially in this world where there’s so many opinions attached before you even — you share your music with your inner crew, and they’re going to have their vibes on it.

KEHLANI: “This the best song you ever made.” Then you’re like, “Is it? Fuck.”

KEYS: Or they might be like, “I mean, ‘Nah, I like it, but . . .’ and then you got to feel how that feels, too. And again, back to that thing about what you’re saying — I love it, I have a vision for it, and I’m going to own it. And so I think that’s the place where I am now. . . . I’ve given up a lot of this idea of wanting people to approve of me, and that feels much better. KEHLANI: Give me a couple of years [ laughs].

KEYS: You on your way, you close.

KEHLANI: I’m a lot closer than I was a year ago.

KEYS: You’re close. Honestly, I know what you mean because a lot of people would tell me, too, like, “Man, Alicia, sometimes you share that you didn’t have a strong sense of yourself, but you always came off so strong.” Like, “What do you mean, ‘You always were so strong?’ ”

And, I think, that’s what happens with strong people. I think it’s those people that come off really strong and together that oftentimes need the most checking in on.

KEHLANI: Because usually they’re holding it down for a lot of other people.

KEYS: Yeah, I understand. I can already tell that you’re definitely in that space. You’re good, supergood.

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