17 On The Frontline: Khalid

“If I don’t do it now then I’ll never know.”

It’s a deceitful Wednesday morning in London town, the sun is bright and tempting but it’s a cold winters day. The air is fresh and the hustle and bustle of everyday ensues as I travel to London’s hipster town, to speak with an elusive Texan. As I wait, sipping on some Camomile tea, a tall bearded 18-year-old walks in my direction, donning Yeezy’s and holding a bottle of water with glazed donuts. Ready for the day, although jetlagged and new to our treacherous weather conditions, Khalid is welcoming with an unavoidable coco butter afro, Gucci backpack, Burberry shirt and black jeans. The simple ensemble speaks to his name perfectly – Khalid meaning eternal.

We make our way through Brick Lane for a photo-shoot, and as we bop along acting like tourists, Khalid has his first random moment of the day. Recognised by a songwriter he’s only met previously in LA, after exchanging details, a shocked Khalid tells me that this happens quite often to him. Bumping into people at a completely different point of the earth from where he originally met them says Khalid is as though he is “in a parallel universe”.

As we walk through to Hanbury Street, there’s a sense of familiarity as people pass by, staring but yet not quite sure if it’s Khalid. Smiling, again he seems naturally surprised by the dawning reality that a Soundcloud profile alone could make him so recognisable, so far from home. Hamish, our photographer finds spot after spot to shoot and Khalid’s fluid and modest persona confidently comes to life in front of the camera. Though shy and reserved, he seems to be in a content space, laughing, making jokes and enjoying the moment.

It turns out photography is one of Khalid’s favourite pastimes. As we take a look at some of the images mid shoot, he points to one of the pictures laughing infectiously as he tells me that it may have made him look as if he was sulking. After the shoot we head back before Khalid’s busy day ahead at a scheduled studio session. Ironically his Twitter’s been buzzing with suggestions that he should get in the studio with S.G. Lewis. It turns out that’s exactly who Khalid’s about to work with and he tells me they’re both fans of each other so the collaboration just made sense – we all hop into an Addison Lee and head over there.

My first encounter with Khalid was through random tweets on my timeline. When I checked him out I found why the desire in his music was so intense. Khalid grew up in a military household, traveling frequently with his parents to Korea and then living in Germany for about 7 years. Admitting it was stressful it also made him “mature at a young age”. Although he would make and lose friends, the truest ones he says stayed with him: “Being with the people I love was important and it stuck though knowing my family will come home, it ultimately touches on the way you appreciate things, life and enjoying the moment, so I loved being in a military family.”

“If I don’t do it now then I’d never know.”

When Khalid uploaded his demo it categorically changed his universe in every aspect. During his senior year at High school in El Paso, sadly with no friends, Khalid was going through a breakup at the time when he discovered that music was a therapeutic way to deal with his feelings. Recording ‘Saved’, in one take he told himself “if I don’t do it now then I’d never know.” Without so much as a listen, Khalid uploaded it to Soundcloud.

Before moving to El Paso, Khalid had been living in New York , a more settled time despite enduring the consequences of life as a military kid. From Prom Prince in his junior year, just like that he went to no friends and found himself living in a weird space mentally; “ it makes you think on the reality of temporary relationships.” With the personality that Khalid had been growing into, High school was a struggle, his peers found him too different, too artistic and intimidating. Being the expressive person he was, he understood that they weren’t used to the “weird kid in school” staying true to who he was.

Khalid reflects on his days playing the part of Cornelius in his high school musical ‘Hello Dolly’, “expression of art helped me be super comfortable, putting myself in uncomfortable positions and purposely taking those risks artistically.“ Although he loved acting he wasn’t interested in being front and centre quite yet, he just loved the intricate artistry of it. Eventually his difference made him the stand out out as a kid and Khalid came into his own.

As we drive through London’s architectural pleasures, Khalid tells me about his experiences with love at a young age and having his heart he says “ripped to shreds” as he jokingly laughs it off. As a seventeen year old, Khalid had a difficult episode which he says was part of a growing process and so “when I started writing my own music, I asked myself, what story do I want to tell? For me the best would be for me to tell mine, honestly and really accept my emotions and I feel that’s when amazing things come.” No doubt ‘Location’, came from that bark; including colloquial swag and youthful essence.

Khalid comes across as genuine teenager who just wants to help others with his story. A process he starts with poetry is the foundation he champions and works well with. With his joint ‘Hopeless’, a very alternate and emotionally driven cut, he’s experimenting with different sounds which he says is quite intuitive and how he wants his music to translate sonically. Already exhibiting a retro and youthful sound, Khalid, whose favourite genre is Folk, is creating his own genre in a way. With a mix of new disco, hip-hop, folk organic soul, this is his interpretation of his influences from Father John to Misty.

My short terms goal is to keep positivity around me.

However his most impactful musical influence he says is his mother and at this point, Khalid experiences an onslaught of pride and glee in his presentation. His mother, who he considers his musical foundation, joined the army as a vocalist to support her family. Khalid says she’s the first person he ever grew up listening to before anyone else and she’s absolutely his favourite singer. Although his father wasn’t that inclined, Khalid describes a loving household that instilled good morals and principles in him. Being the middle child with one older and one younger sister, Khalid says his parents trusted his vision for this journey. Declining to go to college the decision to pursue music tendered on a make or break flight.

“I don’t know how this is going to work out but I am going to show them what I can do; it was either going to work or not”. If it didn’t, the great Khalid had a plan, he would study music in New York and eventually move back to Texas to be with his family where he would be a music teacher. Luckily, it worked out. “The goal I have is to make sure my family is not necessarily happy with me but with what I surround them with. My short terms goal is to keep positivity around me.”

Khalid is knocking barriers down whilst listening to Migos’ ‘Bad and Boujee’, he says the journey so far has been intimidating but he’s processing it well “the moment ‘Location’ hit 1 million plays, I knew if I could achieve that I could achieve more. That was a breaking moment for me. Now it’s reaching over 70 million people, that’s insane to me.” And even though he’s a bit of an elusive character on social media, Khalid’s managed to take the stage at last years ComplexCon. Khalid says it was the first time he experienced a pool of people singing along to his song. After that he couldn’t wait to go on tour, he chuckles, almost like he’s travelling in time back to that moment.

I ask Khalid about who he is outside of music and he tells me “Khalid is always dancing, being goofy and watching old movies with his friends and eating” he laughs out loud continuing, “we are actually watching Atlanta right now. Khalid and his friends do the weirdest things and embrace each other, and talk and just be”. Khalid is a carefree approachable spirit who is influenced by his friends, turning to them when he’s feeling blue, these bff’s from the second grade are his foundation. “They influence my song writing skills, hearing the hurt in their voices, what they are going through, I just want to write stories for them to make them feel better.

A lot of things really need to change. A lot of the mind frame of the American people is negative and I am very pro-positivity

As a young gifted black creative, Khalid’s thoughts on the current state of America is that there is a very negative current pulsating through the country. “As a black man and all, that comes with that identity. I want to work hard and prove them all wrong, even though I am different, I can make changes through music.” He adds, “A lot of things really need to change. A lot of the mind frame of the American people is negative and I am very pro-positivity”

As we get closer to his arrival at the studio, Khalid tells me that he has some exciting stuff coming – and I can attest to it. There’s a lot of Khalid stepping out of his shell, more growth, and from what I’ve heard, a young man with a plethora of beautiful audio interpretations of who he is. A vulnerable, super deep character who really depicts his true emotions through music.

Khalid’s British musical palate is building up credibly with Ray Blk and James Blake as his favourites, whilst here, Khalid says he’s making it a point to listen to more British music, “I hear its popping in South London, Brixton” he laughs, “knowing that I was going to London I was inspired to write.”

Khalid’s debut album ‘American Team’ is dropping March 3rd 2017 and is available to pre-order, listen to the new single ‘Saved’ out now.