Kehlani kicks off ASUC SUPERB’s Getting Your Bearings festivities

Kehlani
Atlantic Records/Courtesy

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What a homecoming: ASUC SUPERB’s annual back-to-school festivities — formally referred to as Getting Your Bearings — is off to a roaring start as it is set to host Oakland’s own R&B queen, Kehlani, for its opening concert.

In past years, SUPERB’s Getting Your Bearings gigs have showcased Berkeley’s finest musical talent: The last two fall openers to grace the Memorial Glade stage were chillwave trailblazer and East Bay transplant Toro y Moi and #based rapper Lil B.

The Berkeley-born, Oakland-raised Kehlani might just be the most high-profile local artist nabbed by ASUC SUPERB. And what a time for them to recruit her for a homecoming show; with her smoldering contribution to the “Suicide Squad” soundtrack, “Gangsta,” Kehlani nabbed her first Billboard Hot 100 single earlier this week.

Couple that with collaborations with the beloved Chance the Rapper (“The Way”) and boy bander-turned-moody heartthrob Zayn (“Wrong,” from Zayn’s debut Mind of Mine), as well as a Grammy nod earlier this year, and the singer-songwriter’s career is hitting its critical and commercial stride.

Kehlani’s roots in the East Bay run deep: As a former student of the Oakland School for the Arts, her prodigious singing abilities led to her fronting the Oakland-based five-piece band PopLyfe (which led to an eventual stint on “America’s Got Talent”). And it was “America’s Got Talent” and the link to show host Nick Cannon that eventually culminated in Kehlani’s two outstanding SoundCloud-circulated mixtapes as well as a major label deal with Atlantic Records, where she’s set to drop her debut album in the coming months.

To be sure, 2016 hasn’t always been kind to Kehlani: Rumors of an affair circulated between her and the Drake-affiliated musician and producer Partynextdoor in March. A crude, vitriolic social media war on the singer ensued, one that climaxed to a pained, brutally direct image posted by the singer on Instagram from a hospital bed.

im a BELIEVER IN FOLLOWING YOUR HEART and not LYING TO YOURSELF,” she commented on the post, which has since been deleted from her profile. That’s the M.O. when it comes to Kehlani: Direct, emotive honesty, even if it hurts, makes for the most powerful art.

As far as rising R&B stars go, Kehlani might just be the most emotive in the game. Her breakthrough sophomore mixtape, aptly titled You Should Be Here, is a love letter to the city that raised her and a contemplative take on modern love. In all of the silken, confident kiss-offs from the album, lines like “Took way too long to find the light inside of me” off “N*ggas” peek out like quiet rallying cries.

But the events leading up to her new album’s release have hardened her up. Take “CRZY,” a bold, commandeering triumph of a song that may pop up on her major label debut. “All this shit I’ve been through and it made me more real than assassin,” she chants, weary, wiser, and ready to take on more.

It’s in these moments of transparency that Kehlani strikes common ground with her fans.

Her live sets, then, are equal parts pep rally and confession booth, which she recently showcased in her Sunday set at Outside Lands Music Festival. Between lively, masterfully choreographed routines and celebratory singalongs, she rallied for the talent in the Bay Area to rise up and take its rightful place on the stage she was standing on.

If you want to catch a glimpse of it all, you should be here.

Kehlani will be playing at Lower Sproul on Friday as part of ASUC SUPERB’s Getting Your Bearings series. Berkeley rap musician Caleborate is set to open. The show is set to start at 8 p.m. Cal IDs will be checked upon entry. The show is for UC Berkeley students only.

Joshua Bote is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.