The Gospel of Kehlani

Vortex Music Magazine

R&B/hip-hop star Kehlani treated Portland to a sold-out show on her SweetSexySavage tour with support from Ella Mai, Jahkoy and Marteen.

As the doors opened to Kehlani’s sold-out show at the Crystal Ballroom, the line wrapped around the entire block. Fans near the front screamed as they finally entered the building. Despite the rain and cold, many fans wore short shorts, fishnet stockings or ripped up jeans. They excitedly whispered to their friends, hashing over plans to somehow make it up to the front row.

With her latest album, SweetSexySavage, an ode to the R&B and hip-hop icons of the 90s, her fan base has surely grown. It’s an impressive record by an impressive artist, showcasing her style and energy within its 17 tracks.

The bill for the night advertised three openers, all of which swept by quickly, with an early start to the show and most artists having a slot of only 15 to 20 minutes. The first artist up was Marteen, a 16-year-old rapper with the confidence of someone twice his age. Though a high school-aged kid asking “Where my ladies at!?” would usually be deemed slightly off, the crowd seemed to take a liking to Marteen and his style.

Jahkoy took the next slot, throwing down tracks that many in the crowd seemed to recognize, despite maybe not knowing the artist until then. Already gaining fans in the likes of Pharrell Williams and Zane Lowe, Jahkoy and his energetic grooves are sure to go far in the future.

Ella Mai at the WOW Hall on April 28—click to see more photos by Emma DavisElla Mai at the WOW Hall on April 28—click to see more photos by Emma DavisElla Mai took the stage next, and the crowd was thankful she did. While Mai may not have a full-length album under her belt yet, the London-born R&B crooner’s three EPs have already made an impact, delivering soulful and upbeat songs that resonate with Kehlani’s fanbase. There’s no question Mai left the stage with new additions to her ever-growing group of followers (especially evident later in the evening in the merch room, where dozens of fans swarmed for a picture).

Though the night had already seen three opening acts, only an hour and a half had passed before the headlining set started. Before Kehlani took the stage, her DJ, Noodles, took some time to warm up the crowd, mixing tracks like Amine’s “Caroline” and Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” to get the fans hyped up. As the ballroom bounced underneath the jumps of the crowd, the anticipation for Kehlani’s arrival grew.

Once Kehlani took the stage, kicking off her set with “Keep On,” the first song proper from her latest album, a sea of cellphones emerged from the depths of the crowd, lighting up the room with their small screens, cameras pointed at the action on stage. Fans swept in closer, trying to get as good of a view as they could as the R&B pop star reigned over the room.

As the crowd hung on to every word, it was evident that Kehlani was held on a high pedestal by her fans. And as their celestial idol, tonight she spread her gospel.

Kehlani at the Crystal Ballroom on May 2—click to see more photos by Renée LopezKehlani at the Crystal Ballroom on May 2—click to see more photos by Renée Lopez“I want you to picture yourself inside of a box, a box only you can fit in,” she said, addressing the crowd partway through her set. “Nothing else can fit inside your box, only you. Outside of this box is a circle. Inside that circle is all the negativity. Tonight, I want you to remove yourself from the negativity. Leave it outside tonight and put yourself in your own box. There’s no room in your box for the negative shit.”

“There’s a lot of shit going on in the world, with our political system” she continued. “And we’re not gonna say his name. We don’t need that in here. Let’s leave that outside of this show.”

The crowd cheered, and Kehlani resumed her set, leaving the negativity behind and bringing a positive vibe to the Crystal Ballroom through her music.

Though her set consisted primarily of tracks off her latest record, the Oakland native found time for a couple throwback songs for those of her fans that have been there since the beginning. The entirety of the show brought an energy that found its way to the back of the room, the entire venue moving and singing along with every second of the set.

Even with a sold-out crowd, Kehlani maintained an intimate connection with every member, at one point moving from the stage and striding to the back of the room, where fans reached out to her.

At the end of the night, closing out with undoubtedly her most popular track, “CRZY,” Kehlani had proved her worthiness as one of the best performers in her genre. No matter what was going on outside of that room, only positivity, love and joy could be found inside.

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