Khalid: An American Teen In London

Every so often you get an artist who sneaks up on you and before it’s too late you quickly catch up, relieved that you didn’t miss the wave. Khalid is one of those artists that snuck up on us via the brilliance of SoundCloud and completely caught our attention, enough to warrant a place on the 17 On The Frontline artists to watch.

Taking it back to when Lauryn Hill emerged, we were exposed to the possibility of creating the kind of blueprint that would become a guide to so many. Lauryn personified the art in which you can document those real things when given the ability and platform – a word to Erykah Budu and Nina Simone too. With Khalid his genre bending genius is almost a recantation of that time when new sounds were seen as a fad – Rap, Punk… but just like those movements, experiencing the sound live is when the real platforms and performers came to life.

Fast forward to 2017, and compliments to those gloomy British skies it definitely wasn’t a day you wanted to stay out any longer that you needed to but on this Monday I needed to see Khalid. Closing the last leg of his tour at the Hoxton in London, I’d previously met Khalid back in December when I had to chance to interview him for the #17OnTheFrontline cover story.

As I arrived at the venue and found my spot, one thing that caught my attention and that was the diversity of Khalid’s audience, I mean I could have gone with my mother and we’d still fit in. Most often then not songs translate differently live and it can be a deal breaker for supporters if you can’t perform those songs to the quality of the recorded version. For some reason I felt having met with Khalid before that the performance side of his artistry would be just as important to him as every song lyric. With an album yet to be released, there was a sense of familiarity and unfamiliarity of what would entail, as the show started with an interlude that could be from the album, maybe. You could hear Khalid talk about his move to El Paso with his family, making the transition into music, and then he walked onto the stage and the band let it rip – ‘Let Go’ was the first on the set list. From my vantage point, all I could see was Khalid’s afro bouncing on the stage.

Creating something that’s sonically indifferent to trends and remarkable at the same time is impressive. We see that with ‘Location’ a joint that is the nexus between societies logic and social media’s permanent fixture in our lives. It is the feeling of any person in a relationship who is torn between figuring out if, the one they are with, is really the one for them. Hearing the track live was therapeutic, sending me back to those emotional relationship archives that had me zoning out and reliving those experiences.

Being Khalid’s debut show in London, it defied the notion that you need to be all over radio and TV to be a star musician. Having platforms like SoundCloud to gratify the needs of the independent artist are transformative as Khalid tells the audience, “It took one song to change my life” and that song was ‘Saved’. Going straight into an acoustic set, right there and then you could see the living testament that dreams really do come true – like for real. Taking chances inevitably allowed Khalid to catapult himself into the position he is in now – a major label signee. Word for word aspiring singers in the audience took the opportunity to really use their vocals as well as the non-singers who just wanted to sing along. It was a nexus between the two – magical.

‘Reasons’ gave us another reason to feel magical in the moment when Khalid put on another flawless acoustic performance, totally immersed in his music jamming with the band and milly rocking. Offering up his latest song from the album, ‘American Teen’, you can really see the interaction between him and his audience. In the middle of his set he touched on being bullied in high school simply because of being different to the popular kids, at the time one of his peers had told him the song sucked but he decided not to let that deter him from what he wanted to do. Best decision Khalid ever made.

Closing the show off with ‘Coaster’, Khalid stepped out afterwards, to say hello to every single one of his supporters who had stayed behind, connecting with them on a personal level. Khalid’s debut album is due for release this Friday and after this show I’m certain its going to be one of those albums that will put him in a conversation that sets the course for his genre bending talents and catapults him into greater groundbreaking achievements.

Read the exclusive Cover Story with Khalid right here, the debut album ‘American Teen’ is out March 3rd 2017.