As he sat in a basement recreation room at Covenant House on North Kingshighway, Turran Coleman was quiet, shy even, as he talked about his rise in music by way of becoming a viral Instagram and Tik Tok sensation.
He was the typical reserved teen, slow to talk about his accomplishments through his music career. He has the attention of millions as singer/songwriter Luh Kel.
“It’s different from the normal, but I’ve kinda gotten used to it,” Kel said. “It’s just extra attention.”
Between the social channels of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, Kel has upwards of three million followers.
When he was 15, he started uploading clips of himself singing the songs he wrote to his Instagram followers. At 16, a Tik Tok challenge for his song “Wrong” exploded. Now at 17, he has released a Billboard Top 200 debut album, a top 40 hit in “Wrong” that enjoyed 112 million streams and 60 million views on YouTube. He has nearly 3.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and is being hailed as the next big thing in R&B by the likes of XXL.com and HipHopDX.
And while becoming a rising music star, he is still a student at University City High School – where he will graduate this spring.
The week before, he had a nearly sold-out crowd singing along to every word of his songs at Fubar.
“That’s a whole different feeling,” Kel said. “It’s knowing that you are influencing people. Just looking at everybody’s faces and seeing everybody singing your songs – it shows that hard work really pays off.”
Two Fridays ago, he was giving back.
“It feels good to know that I’m helping people out,” Kel said. “I just like helping people. I don’t like being selfish. You can have one thing at one moment. And in the next moment, you can lose everything and have nothing.”
Kel and his team took the coats down to a basement recreation room to be distributed to residents of Covenant House, a multi-service residential facility providing housing and crisis services and transitional programs for young people age 16-24 who are facing homelessness.
They were then met by Covenant House staff for a brief tour before the coat giveaway.
“I was just watching you on YouTube, that’s crazy,” a resident of Covenant House said as she waited in the lobby for her ride.
“I would come down there for the coat drive, but my birthday is tomorrow. I have to work tomorrow, so I’m turning up today.”
“Tomorrow is your birthday for real?” Kel asked the young woman, who appeared to be in her late teens.
He said something to a member of the crew who had come along with him to the coat drive. The entourage member reached into his pocket and handed Kel a large wad of money. Kel handed the money to the young woman.
“Oh my God, thank you,” she said, while stretching out the money that appeared to be mostly 10- and 20-dollar bills. “You don’t get a blessing like this every day.”
Kel and the crew moved on with the rest of the tour. She picked her phone back up. “Girl, Luh Kel just gave me all the money out his pocket for my birthday. That’s so lit. I’m for real. Yes, the real Luh Kel. We ‘bout to turn up!”
Kel didn’t dwell on the moment, or hold his phone up to capture it for the social media community he influences. He just moved on with the rest of the tour.
When they arrived back down in the basement, a few of the residents were using the room. One young man was playing the piano. Kel casually walked over to him. “Man, I wish I could play like that.”
The resident gave him an impromptu lesson that culminated with notes Kel played on one hand blending harmoniously with the chords that his pop-up instructor played simultaneously.
“That’s tight,” Kel exclaimed.
Word had spread that Kel was at Covenant House.
“Aye, you Luh Kel,” one young man said.
“Yeah,” Kel said.
“You tight,” the man said in response.
“I appreciate you,” Kel said as a follow up.
Another young man came with a Bluetooth speaker playing some of his original music. Kel nodded along, giving the young man fist bumps as he played the song.
The vibe felt nothing like a celebrity helping those less fortunate. Kel was kicking it with some new friends.
“Now that I have things, I just want to help people,” Kel said. “I still move the same way.”
His next career moves include a remix to his hit “Wrong” and dropping the next single from his album “Mixed Emotions,” which was released in November. All the while, he’s counting down the days until he walks across the stage at U. City High.
“It’s rough, I ain’t going to lie,” Kel said. “And I will be so happy when I’m finished.”
He admitted that balancing a music career and high school can be exhausting, but says it’s worth it for the sake of setting an example.
“Education is always key,” Kel said. “Even if you have dreams and you pursue your dreams, you still need something to fall back on. I’ve always been taught that, so it’s good to show the youth that as well that it’s possible to do education and do big things at the same time.”
For more information on Luh Kel, https://luhkel.com/ He can also be found on the social channels of Twitter and Instagram through the handle @lifewluhkel and as Luh Kel on Facebook and YouTube.