Meet Khalid, the 18-Year-Old Singer Who Blew Me Away This Year

Love, social media and life are musing the music of one of my favorite new singers.

Love is an ancient concept that dates back to the dawn of time. Such a rare word—four little letters, but powerful in what it defines. A definition that is too ambiguous for Webster's, yet simple enough that every writer, poet, musician, and painter can channel the feeling into their art. It’s the artist that details the emotion that we all will stumble across as we skip through this journey called life.

Every generation of artists will tackle the subject, but it’s the singers who provide us with music to score our own personal, romantic comedies. There’s a song for that blissful first date, a song for that first night of passionate intimacy, and fortunately, a lot of songs to help you through the emotional tornado that is breaking up. Music is the parachute that glides you to the ground when you’re free falling in love, and it’s the airbag when that love train crashes. As long as there are people in love, there will be a place for musicians who sing about those four little letters.  

Music is in an interesting place with the coexistence of rap and R&B—two separate genres practically living under the same roof. As with any roommate, certain traits will rub off, and rap’s influence on the new wave of R&B singers is very apparent. From Auto-Tuned vocals to the narrative shift that seems more lustful than loving, it’s a bit different than the music of our parents and grandparents. Then again, our generation is living in a different age, and the music we hear should reflect that. It's the reason why Khalid caught my ear. Earlier this year, when his single “Location” was making its rounds across the blogosphere, the decision to press play came from a place of courtesy, and I was pleasantly surprised by what graced my ears.

First, it was his voice—gentle and mellifluous. Khalid’s dulcet tone is like applying honey to your eardrums. There’s also a unique warmth to his voice as if inhaling all the hot El Paso, Texas air has left his vocal cords with a permanent Southern drawl. The voice draws you in, but it’s his songwriting that’s also impressive. He sings as if he’s writing a confessional text message to a woman he’s head over heels for—one of those long texts that you hold your breath after sending, and almost suffocate while waiting for a reply. He sings of subtweets and sending locations, a form of courting that would completely baffle our grandparents, but is perfect for this age of dating. It’s modern but refreshing, a song for today that can live in tomorrow. Puppy love for the digital era.

Khalid is only 18, fresh from the halls of high school and making music that’s full of youthful innocence and poetic passion. There’s also an old soul quality to his music, a balance between past and present; a beautiful harmony. He doesn’t have an album yet, but a SoundCloud with 8 original songs and one cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost.” It’s fitting that a child born during the age of the internet would go for single releases instead of packaging together an album or EP.

If you look at the photos of his album art, he has a similar look for each release, a small detail that connects each release. He’s aware of branding, he’s aware of quality over quantity, and he’s aware of his sound. He has all the polish of a developed artist; it's shocking that he’s only been making music since the winter of 2015. It wouldn’t surprise me if A&R’s are drooling at his doorstep with contracts or if Drake is sending him Instagram messages trying to get the "Location" instrumental. (Editor's Note: Khalid is signed to a major label, but we have been asked not to share that information.)

One of my favorites is “Reasons”—produced by Ducko McFli. Khalid sings over a sample of Tupac’s “Do For Love”—another example of how he wedges between the ages. The beat plays beneath his vocals, allowing his voice to truly shine, and the hook is absolute. There’s a song for almost every mood—”Hopeless” for the hopeless romantics; “Let's Go” is the upbeat jam for the carefree young lovers; “Would You” illustrates the modern Casanova; the painful beauty of infatuation is captured on “Stuck On U”; one can reminisce over old flames with “Saved”; while “Coaster” is for the heartbroken who are grieving over the loss of a dear lover. Each song showcases his strength and range as a singer, his ear for diverse production, and his talents as a songwriter. Most importantly, everything simply feels warm and good, like a hug from your grandmother. If his SoundCloud is a free sample of food to come, I’m staying for dinner.

Khalid has become one of my favorite artists over the last few months. Next to Anderson .Paak and Frank Ocean, he’s probably the singer that I’ve listened to the most in 2016. The best artists make songs that you don’t get enough of, ones where no matter how much you play them, there’s something that brings you back. I have high hopes for what he will do in 2017.

Love and it’s many forms has mused Khalid's music; press play and let him be your parachute and your airbag.

Also: Read a Cheat Code review of Khalid's debut album American Teen.

By Yoh, aka 808 & Yohbreaks, aka @Yoh31



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