Khalid talks finding his voice & charting his own path to success
At just 18-years-old, R&B singer/songwriter Khalid isn’t your typical teen. With a newly acquired deal under his belt from RCA Records, his rise to the forefront of the music industry has been swift and organic in its’ origins. After all, it was only during the first quarter of 2016 that the vocally-trained soul singer started releasing music online as an independent artist residing in the border city of El Paso, Texas. One of his earliest releases, “Location” quickly surpassed expectations – collecting over a million streams in a mere two months, and ultimately leading the new high school graduate to sign with RCA.
While the release of “Location” established his marketable credibility, it’s Khalid’s unmatched voice and seamless delivery that undeniably wins him respect within the greater international music community (and with his growing fan base). His lyrics deliver the perfect concoction of depth and nostalgia that is both present and reminiscent. Currently he’s embarking on his first headlining North American Tour – appropriately named, The Location Tour. It’s on the afternoon of January 15th, while preparing for his third show in Toronto, Canada, that we connect for a quick phone interview.
“Growing up was a lot of ‘nos’. People kept telling me – ‘No, this isn’t what you should do,’ or ‘No, you should sing this way.’ But I gave myself the yes. ” – Khalid
The warmth of his voice envelops the conversation as he rebuttals a comment on the weather in Toronto, elaborating, “Toronto’s super cold. I actually lived three hours from Toronto when I lived in New York.”
Following inquiries about how someone goes from living in New York to El Paso, Texas, he describes a transient childhood, “I’m actually a military child, so my mom was in the army and still is in the army. I lived in Germany for 6 years. I moved to New York and was there for four years, and then I lived in El Paso for a year and a half.”
The tour’s title, The Location Tour resonates deeper as he relays his experiences moving around. He’s enthusiastic to explain the dynamics of his upbringing, “Moving to El Paso really had a big influence on my music career because I wouldn’t have became a musician or a recording artist if I hadn’t moved to El Paso. That move from New York to El Paso was really, really dark for me. Being a senior in high school, I didn’t really know where my life was going to take me. I didn’t know what decisions I wanted to make. I didn’t know what I wanted as a job. But the moment that I moved to El Paso and I got introduced to all these cool people, some of the friends that I have right now, gave me the strength and courage to keep pushing my music. And it created an opportunity for me when I released one of my first songs called “Saved” in voice memo form.”
He pauses to take a breath, and also to take a moment to reflect. Through the phone, you can hear him fully recounting how his dreams came to fruition, and the excitement builds in his voice as he continues on, “I put rough tracks on it and I put it out there. Seeing everyone in my city react to that, kind of hyped me up to keep going and keep pushing. It lead up to ‘Location’ which is doing so well right now. I wouldn’t have even imagined that it would do as well as it’s doing right now, and it’s so special because I really feel like that was the tipping point for me. It really set up everything for me, on the course of the tour, on the course of signing.”
He laughs again when talking about the creation of “Location”. The background story he describes is idealistic, and relatable – two qualities that have been worked into most of his music. And credibly, these qualities are what have garnered the music video close to 5 million plays online. He describes, “I wrote it a little bit before prom. I was trying to impress this girl. I just didn’t really have any strong attributes other than music. So I was like, “You know what? I really feel like it would be super dope to write a song (for her).” I’d started this song out in Atlanta. It was after this long session I’d had, and I didn’t want to keep going. But there was something in me that was like, you kind of have to keep going. So I wrote the chorus in Atlanta, got back to El Paso with the girl on my mind, and finished the song. I was like, “I have to release it before prom. It has to come out before my senior prom.” I didn’t get the girl, but I won prom king.”
At only 18, the transition from youth to adulthood is a period of self-discovery and self-reflection that many of us can relate to, or are currently going through. He expresses the need for creative outlets, and on the role that music has played in his life, he contends, “Throughout high school I really felt like I was going to be a music teacher. I was gonna’ be in music education. I was gonna’ have a vocal performance major. I was gonna’ minor in music education. So I really learned a lot about music, and about the way I felt was best for me to sing. I actually didn’t win a lot of the competitions that I was in because my voice was so different from everyone else’s. I feel like when it comes to the terms of music and vocal performance and all that, it’s very one track. You kind of have to sound a certain way because that’s the best way to sound. And since I never really sounded like that, I never really did that good – until last year. The moment that I turned it into recording music, everyone was listening to the songs and like “Why does this 18 year old sound 30?”
Most interesting is our discussion about the inevitable resistance that comes with the territory of fame and success. On making music that is different from the mainstream, Khalid shares his own experience of overcoming negativity, “In El Paso, when I started creating music they thought it was weird. They thought it was different. The most popular kid probably in my school stated that the song ‘sucked’. So I kept going. Growing up was a lot of ‘nos’. People kept telling me – ‘No, this isn’t what you should do,’ or ‘No, you should sing this way.’ But I gave myself the yes. I was like, I’m gonna’ do what I wanna’ do. If this is really what I wanna do and if I make a song for this reason, there has to be a reason I made that song. I really didn’t care what anybody else told me.”
With such an overwhelming amount of success occurring so quickly, it’s hard to imagine what he might be feeling at this point. He gets slightly quieter as our conversation comes to an end, and he humbly recounts on all of the developments in his life, ” I would say that it was super overwhelming because I didn’t expect it to happen. So the moment that everything started moving as fast as it did. I was like okay, I really have to grow up. I have to learn. I have to be open to doing a lot of things. I have to really put myself out there. I have to be more vulnerable. It was really a growing process to see how fast everything was going. Just the momentum, and the way that it’s been pushing has been really humbling. And it always reminds me to keep grounded. Because I’m like, why did I come into this profession? Why did I want to be a recording artist? I had to keep in mind all of that stuff. This job is just so easy to get carried away with everything that comes with it.”
He’s about to be pulled away to get ready for his show, and we end our call contemplating what he’s grateful for. With honest appreciation in his voice, he states, “The fact that everyone comes out and they know all the words to the songs.” The answer is to the point, and uncomplicated. As a kid who’s finally received recognition on a larger scale, he’s just thankful that people are appreciating his music. The lines drops and there’s a resounding feeling that he’s only skimmed the surface of the success he’s going to receive.
Check out future dates of The Location Tour here, and stream “Location” below.
Written by Kira Hunston for HipHopCanada