Mar 02, 2017 4:19PM

Khalid Makes Sad R&B For Gen Z

American teen.

Khalid is a kid from El Paso, Texas who just graduated from high school and only started writing songs a year-and-a-half-ago. Since then, he's managed to rack up over 13 million YouTube views on his hit single 'Location' and signed to a major music label. Not too shabby for a 19-year-old who applies his warm, soulful sound to "sad as hell" subject matter.

Khalid's debut album American Teen is out this week, along with the fomo-inducing clip for the title track. To celebrate, we caught up with the R&B star to chat about generation Z, growing up in a military family and his classical choir training.

Darren Luk: Hey Khalid, what've you been up to today?
Khalid: I just had my last show of the European tour and I'm going back to The States tonight!

How are you feeling about putting your first album out into the world?
Feeling super well about it. I'm kind of anxious about it and a little nervous at the same time, but I'm just ready to get this final introduction into the world and show people who I am.

What was going through your mind when you were recording American Teen?
I feel like the main thing going through my mind was trying to be super vulnerable with the project. Everything on the album I felt was super necessary to give everyone a true introduction, because I want people to feel connected to me. There's a message and there's a story. Some of the stories are my own personal stories, some of them are my friends. For the album as a whole, I really want the songs to feel super relatable and the listeners to feel comfortable; almost like they are listening to my personal journey.

You've gotten a lot of social media love and shout outs from bunch of different people already, did you expect that?
I didn't expect that because I feel like, compared to the first time that I ever wrote a song, which was about a year and a half ago,
there's been so much love. So many people on social media are showing a lot of love. Different people — like, Zendaya to P. Diddy to Lorde — it's just so crazy to think that someone that high of a calibre is listening to my songs and liking them. It was overwhelming at first, I was like, "No way". I mean, I'm still19 years old and literally just graduated high school last year. For me to have gotten all these people to like it and publicly say they like it, is insane.Do you recall the first time you wanted to be a musician?
So, the first time that I really thought about music was when I was a child in elementary school. I actually went back to my hometown in Germany a couple of days ago and I was talking to one of my friends and they pulled up an old video of me performing, acting, singing, dancing at a school play in elementary school. I just thought that it's super crazy that my life's turned around and made a complete 360. Music has always been in my life, but I feel like as a child, when it came to high school, I kind of wanted to get into music education and wanted to be a music teacher, but luckily one thing led to another and I became a recording artist first.

What were you like in school?
In high school, honestly I was super engaged from my freshman to junior year. I was the president of the multicultural club, vice-president of the Spanish club and the lead of my choir; so I was interested in all these different things. But, in my last year of high school I was so unmotivated at first then I changed my motivation to music. I always thought I was the kid that hyped everyone up, helped everyone and make people feel good, but I felt loneliness in high school. I didn't have too many friends, at least in my mind I didn't have too many friends. I'm just so glad it's over.

Has your classical training influenced the way you make music now?
I was trained through choirs, chorally and took lessons in high school. I really enjoyed choir and went in multiple choir competitions. I feel like it does have an influence, just because when it comes down to the musicality I guess I know a lot more about my voice than a lot of people my age. When people hear me sing, they're like: "How are you 18 or 19 years old?" I've been singing for so long. In high school that was something I was super into. I feel like I add different things I've learnt, whether it's the ability to harmonise, structure and all that type of stuff.

You grew up in a military family, what were some of the biggest challenges for you?
I think the biggest challenge was the sense of loneliness, just because I've lived in so many different places and travelled so much. I met so many different people and I feel like there was a sense of loneliness because whenever I got attached to someone I had to move to a different location and it kind of got to me as a child. I guess now, being a little older in age I kind of learned to take advantage of these different moments and move more freely and be super appreciative of this life and the lives of others. I also think being in a military family has given me a lot of structure and maturity. As you've mentioned you grew up living in a lot of different places, but you call El Paso home. What's your favourite thing about El Paso?
El Paso is a real good city for the hospitality. Every time I go back there, everyone always makes me feel welcome and shows me a lot of love. There's a lot of cool things to do. In my free time I would go up to Scenic Drive and look at the city. Scenic Drive is one of the highest points of the city and you can look out to Mexico and El Paso. I feel like that was always eye-opening to me. Every time I look out into the city, I would feel so inspired. It's so crazy, I use to have all my best times on these view points. I feel like that's something super beneficial for me.

I've read that your mum is your biggest inspiration, what's the best piece of advice she's given you?
Just to always travel with music. Always keep music in your life. She sang to me as a child and raised me through her voice with lullabys. A two-minute song can change your mood. You can listen to one song and a few minutes later you feel a completely different way. Sometimes you might feel inspired, or emotional. You can't really go a day without hearing a song and if you did, it probably wouldn't have been a good day. But, it was to keep music wherever I went.

What are the best and worst things about our generation?
The best thing is the fact that we're finding our voices, especially a lot of people in my age group who're learning to speak out and finally
getting comfortable in their own skin. Probably one of the worst things is how much social media has an effect on everything in a negative manner. We have all the tools and the power but sometimes it's used negatively and it's very upsetting.

What's one thing you'd love to see more of in the world this year?
I'd like to see a lot of new music. I'm excited about a lot of musicians coming up. I want to see all my friends win. At the same time, I feel like there's just going to be a moment of just breakthrough for all of us to find enlightenment. Something really good is going to happen, I don't know what it's going to be; I'm kind of just all for letting life take it's own course and super excited for whatever happens.

Who are some of your favourite musicians that you think we should listen to? 
Russ is dope, 6lack, Kehlani, Quin is super cool, SG Lewis and Alina Baraz.

Lastly, how would you describe your sound in 3 words?
Sad as hell.

Photo: Courtesy

Darren Luk