With his feel-good melodies and messages of being young and living free, Khalid has grabbed the attention of young listeners as well as pushed R&B to new heights.
“Location was definitely the start of everything, people who look like me and the majority and aren’t making music like that — it was different for a lot of people so they didn’t know where to place it.” In an interview with Hot97 radio, Khalid touched on being thrown into the industry overnight with his smash hit “Location” and making music that can fall into multiple genres. Khalid's debut project, “American Teen,” debuted in 2017 and since then, he has topped R&B charts but his melodies aren’t just one dimensional. Khalid has all sorts of nods to genres like hip hop, 80’s techno, pop, and rock. He has collaborated with producers with backgrounds in folk and rock. Most recently, Khalid has dropped his third and most anticipated project “Free Spirit” which made him the first artist to claim the first five rankings of Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart.
Khalid grew up within a military family and thus moved around without staying in one place for too long. He was born only an hour outside of Syracuse in Northern New York before he moved to Heidelberg, Germany for 6 years. Finally, he moved to El Paso, Texas for his senior year of high school — it is El Paso that Khalid has the most affinity for. Khalid’s music often has small elements of folk and southern flare, a characteristic of Texan music, and Khalid even dropped a seven-song extended play called “Suncity” as an ode to his home. El Paso is at the root of all of Khalid’s music. You can hear this on tracks like “Saturday Nights” with R&B melodies that feature country style guitar riffs spliced with techno beats to create, as Khalid said, a genre that “people don’t know where to place.”
In that same Hot97 interview, Khalid opens up about the struggle of being black and the seemingly definite labels that try to place him in one category. He often felt as though record labels tried to conform him into a certain image or stereotype because of what he looked like. “[Record labels] said let’s work with the R&B thing… the pop thing is a little to far one side… because I’m black of course.” This is just a small hint of the deep seeded awareness and maturity Khalid has. It is further astounding to think that he only began his career three years ago. Recognizing and dealing with racial stereotypes from well-founded industry executives while continuing to release music every year is no small feat and it is why he is so celebrated by his peers and his community.
If you're looking for something to listen to, truthfully “Suncity” right now is my favorite tone that Khalid has created. Everyone can get behind someone writing a love letter to their hometown. Nevertheless, “Free Spirit” is the most relatable for a college student. We’re all on a journey of self-discovery which can be extremely exhausting at times. Listening to Free Spirit, I often found it reassuring to see one of my idols navigating similar situations and problems as me. Khalid also is pushing his creativity forward and trying new ideas. He uses a vocoder on the track “Better” as a guitar solo going full Kanye “Runaway” on it, then arranging that solo to flow directly into the witty light synths on “Talk” which make you feel lost, and like you’re floating in the clouds — the exact message of the track. It is these subtle messages and innovative styles that make it his most mature album. If you’re looking to let loose and have fun “American Teen” is always a bop and an easy listening experience. Feeling nostalgic for our days in high school and the dissolving of responsibility, Khalid is the perfect artist for a college crowd. His dialogue is relatable, but not cheesy and his ability to utilize different genres makes him appeal to a diverse audience. He is a leader in the black community as well a symbol for young kids everywhere that are tinkering around on their guitar or singing quietly in the shower that they can make an impact in the industry. All that combined with his discography and his astronomical potential make him someone that we all need to keep tabs on.
Catch Khalid at Block Party April 26th to see all of this live.
By Jackson Siporin