Climbing the stairs of the London Hotel where we’re set to meet one of RnBs brightest new stars, I see a radiant halo shining in the lobby, underneath it stands Khalid. All the way from Texas, El Paso, there’s an air of excitement emanating from the group around him; in hours he’ll perform for the first time in London. Khalid’s step into music has been rapid, with a highly successful debut album, dream collaborations and taking the VMA ‘Best New Artist 2017’ award. We sit down together, exchanging thoughts about the show taking place after our interview.
Khalid is enthusiastic, in a cool bluesy type of way. With enough creative stamina to break into the music industry and substantial raw emotivity to keep him there, he recognises the acceleration of his career. He points out, “What’s so insane is the fact that a year ago, I was in high school. I was a senior, I’m nineteen. You can’t even drink in the states. It was my last year in school and I was like, what am I gonna do with my life? Where is my life gonna take me?”
Beginning the conversation with such a deep existential question, it quickly becomes clear that Khalid is ready to bare his soul. He adds, “I was like, I don’t know where my life is gonna take me, I hope it takes me somewhere that I love. I had plans to go to school, I was actually going to be a music teacher, I was gonna teach music to kids. But one experience led to another.” A move from New York to El Paso impacted his creativity as he admits, “I was just so lonely at the time that it knocked me into a creative realm. I started writing music and I finally got the confidence to upload the music. When I uploaded it, I was so nervous, I didn’t know how people [would] react to this because it was so personal to me.”
I observe a parallel between his music and poetry, which he acknowledges, “I’m giving my journal to the world. [When I first] put it out, it hit the most popular kid in my school. He turns around and says the song sucked, he talked so bad about the song. He didn’t even know me because I was new, so he didn’t know who I was. He downplayed the song but instead of giving up, instead of quitting, it kind of gave me the courage to push myself. Like, a year from now this is what I’m gonna be doing, these are the achievement’s I am going to have made.”
From that point he went on to make the song ‘Saved’. Featured on his album ‘American Teen’, it’s a track of internal awakenings and edenic symphonies; it was the first song he finished. Khalid continued to put out music, leading to the release of ‘Location’. He explains the process of its creation, saying, “I made ‘Location’ when I went to Atlanta. I recorded the chorus and took it back to El Paso, finished the song [there] and uploaded it. I was like, ‘I don’t know where this song is gonna’ take me, but I just know it’s gonna’ take me somewhere’. I had that feeling where I knew this is gonna be something and it exploded! My graduation day came, Kylie Jenner played it on her Snapchat. That was big for me, she played it three days in a row. It was just so crazy, I always think back [and] I told myself that this was gonna’ happen. I told myself, I’m gonna’ perform overseas. I told myself music is gonna bring me back home, I’m from Germany, I lived [there] for six years and yesterday I went back to my hometown.”
As if having realised a part of himself in telling that story, he proceeds, “You tell yourself all this stuff. Even though there are so many people that doubted me and who didn’t believe in me, I focused on the people that did believe in me. I focused on believing in myself, I was like, it doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks I’m going to do it. I have to make myself do something, work, work super hard, hit all these goals and now I got an album out. It’s insane.”
With that potent combination of character and musical ability, I ask about the aforementioned popular kid at school that slated his work, “Was that scar tissue for you or fuel?” He responds, “It was fuel. He said it on a snapchat. For me to hear that there’s a snapchat about me, it’s not a feeling of anxiousness, but when you hear someone talking about you, you feel it in your heart. I go a little spiritual on him and ask, “Do you feel the vibration towards you?” Unflinchingly he responds, “Yeah, I felt it in my heart. You know it kinda hurts a little bit. He didn’t know me, I’m new, I barely have any friends and people are already talking bad about me. It put me in a really bad state of mind, I had to tell myself, you have to knock yourself out of this moment. You have to put yourself in a different moment, you have to not let him get you down. He tried to hurt me but he wasn’t gonna’ hurt me. So I was like, I’m gonna’ put out another song, and another song, just to piss him off because he hated the first song! By doing that, I was just so creative, I came into the school not knowing what I wanted to do, right after that happened, then I was like, I know what I want to do.”
Khalid’s commentary is becoming the soundtrack for a generation. With momentary expression the form, human stories the narrative, the vibe is as loud and reflective as the young people listening to it.
Words by Anastasia Bruen
Photos by Courtney Francis