Tink x Kelela x DJ Dahi

Written by Frances Capell, 04.28.2014
Photographs by Danny Manhattan


On a “wintery” day in Los Angeles, Kelela flies around her cozy MacArthur Park apartment, mimicking melodies from Tink’s “When It Rains” as the afternoon sun pours through her glass-paneled doors. Tomorrow, she and DJ Dahi will join the rising Chicago teen at Encore Studio to assemble a song from scratch. “I love her,” she gushes. “She has like 14 melodic ideas in that one song! You’re hearing somebody that’s rooted in church, or very familiar with gospel. Even though I didn't grow up in church at all, I have a visceral reaction to that.”

While Tink was raised in a musical household with a studio engineer father, Kelela forged her own path. She grew up striving to imitate her favorite ‘90s R&B records, she remembers driving from her native Maryland suburb to New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club to watch vocal powerhouse Amel Larrieux perform. “[For] people who study music, study jazz and theory, there are rules. I've sort of done it more haphazardly."

DJ Dahi—the Inglewood-raised producer behind Drake’s “Worst Behavior” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees”—also comes from a gospel background. “When I want to make music, I kind of just think about the pure feeling of it, nothing to do with the words,” he says. “That was the thing I guess you could say church started.”

The session for “Want It” begins with a skeletal drum loop, followed by hours of vocal improvisation at the mixing board. “He heard the rhythm and I heard the same exact rhythm,” says Tink.

The words just kind of flew right in because we were thinking of the same idea.

”Aha” moments come when one of Tink’s melodic ideas sets Kelela alight; she jolts up from her seat and the pair volley until it’s fleshed out. “When you have a similar ear, it's not so hard to put your thoughts out because you know it's going to be received,” says Tink. “When I think I didn't nail it, she'll be like, You did good on that. It's refreshing.”

During the session's final hour, Tink concocts a scorching rap verse. "When I was listening to it the first time, I was singing," she reflects. "Once I heard the piano, it made me rap. That's what's great about Dahi—his beats transform."

Merging her two sides was, perhaps, the producer’s end goal. “She can go in and spit a cadence that has a certain pace to it, and she can throw a melody on top of that,” he’d observed before they met. “I'm just helping set the canvas up, putting it in a frame, and she can go in and just paint.”


Artwork by Markus Hofko