Still Making History: Leven Kali Shares His ‘Black Love’ Playlist Featuring Sade, D’Angelo, Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill & More

This year, Billboard celebrates Black History Month with different playlists catered to “Black Love.” We’ve handpicked artists, producers and songwriters to highlight songs that best embody the amorous theme and explain why these records give them that butterfly feeling every time. Be on that lookout every Tuesday and Thursday for new playlists from some of your favorite names in music.

Singer-songwriter-producer Leven Kali has been lending his talents to a multitude of R&B and hip-hop stars for years. He’s earned writing and production credits on Drake’s Billboard 200-topping mixtape More Life, Jazmine Sullivan’s new deluxe version of her Grammy-nominated EP Heaux Tales and KYLE’s latest album It’s Not So Bad. He also appeared on Playboi Carti’s critically acclaimed self-titled tape, Maeta’s debut EP Habits and Topaz Jones’ LP Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.

But when it comes to his solo material, the Netherlands-born, California-bred artist continues diving deeper into the G-funk bass lines that are perfect to cruise down the SoCal coast to, mixed with his heartfelt neo-soul melodies and irresistible charisma. After dropping his 2020 album HIGHTIDE, Kali is ready to take fans back on a ride with his new single “EEK,” out Friday (Feb. 18), from his upcoming project — and meet them on the road, since he and Col3trane will be supporting KYLE on tour starting next month.

“Black History Month is cool. But we always start with slavery. Black kids would grow up with way more confidence and pride having a connection to the traditions, music and spirituality from Africa before slavery,” Kali tells Billboard. “There’s royalty and wisdom in our blood. All the other minorities have a homeland to connect to, but we’ve lost the link between African Americans and Africa. Not cool.”

“I love the idea about Black Futures Month too,” he adds, which Ye has been promoting recently.

His Black History Month playlist blends India.Arie and D’Angelo’s self-assuring and reassuring soulful melodies, with Future’s dazed and amused bars, and The Neptunes’ spin on a Sade classic. “These are some of my favorite love songs. Good love, bad love, self love, family love, God’s love. It’s all love. Music is love,” he says.

Below, Kali dives into every track on his playlist in his own words:

1. D’Angelo, “Alright” 

Reassurance in love. Bass line on this song gets me every time too.

2. Stevie Wonder, “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)”

It always f—s me up thinking that he was 21 when he made this. It’s a masterpiece, so deep, and the transition from part one to two is crazy. My mom used to play this in the car a lot.

3. Sade, “By Your Side (Neptunes Remix)”

The feeling in her voice — and The Neptune’s flip — beautiful.

4. India.Arie, “Video”

Self-love song. 

5. Michael Jackson, “Butterflies”

Always seemed so dope to me that Michael wanted to get on a track like this, always evolving his sound.

6. Future, “Rich $ex”

Lots of songs today talk about the drama and the toxicity in love, but on this track, he’s talking about making love, passion — classic.

7. Mint Condition, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)”

The lead singer Stokely is singing his heart out and the band is going off the whole time. Love that. Tons of energy, but it’s all perfectly arranged.

8. Ye (Kanye West), “Family Business” 

Even though they got drama, you gotta have love for your family.

9. Ms. Lauryn Hill, “Tell Him”

Everything about this song: Her voice. The lyrics. The harmonies sound like a waterfall. 

10. Marvin Gaye, “Is That Enough”

It sounds so good you don’t realize he’s talking about divorce. “Why do I have to pay attorney fees?!” What a bar.

11. Leon Ware, “Learning How to Love You”

I love finding out who worked on my favorite music and connecting those dots. Leon produced a lot with Marvin Gaye. You’ll hear it immediately, his solo music is dope.

12. Otis Redding, “Try a Little Tenderness”

The way this song builds and opens up reminds me of how love grows between people. The music shows you how connected R&B and gospel has always been. 

Check out Kali’s “Black Love” playlist below.