Khalid, the eighteen-year-old El Paso, Texas rapper, initially seems to have come out of nowhere. It’s a bit misleading to label him a rapper; Khalid defies the typical parameters of rap artists these days. In fact, he seems to be defined by his genre bending contradictions, he’s equal part indie soul and new wave rap. He’s a wordsmith with the range and melodic ability to break out of the typical constraints of his genre, but not quite the ability to be a successful R&B artist, yet the awareness to accept this. So Khalid has settled into a sweet spot, using his distant yet emotional voice to switch between the slow croon of a maligned R&B type to the confident wordplay of a season veteran rhymer. That’s why his only two songs with cross-platform release, “Let’s Go” and “Location”, have a combined 9.5 million views on Spotify (with the latter racking up over 8 million listens in a matter of weeks.
The appeal is clear, but it is rare for a rapper to have found his sound this fast; and while Khalid defies expectations, even he needed an identity forming phase. This phase is showcased on his Soundcloud page, which has six previous release before his two more popular commercial releases. These songs display an exuberant struggling artist, yet they lay the groundwork for his future success. His first song, “Stuck On U” features catchy crooning vocals over simplistic guitar chords. It showcases the vocal ability and chorus writing that serves Khalid well later, but attempt to stray too far into indie R&B singer territory. His next two songs suffer from the same problems. “Saved (rough draft),” an incredibly similar song to “Stuck on U” again seems unpolished, which even Khalid recognizes hence the song’s title. “Lost” a Frank Ocean cover, is probably Khalid’s worst song, an imitation of an R&B legend is a bit of an overly ambitious undertaking.
Continuing with a bombardment of material, Khalid then releases, “Would You” which strays a little too far in the other direction. The production is much better, Khalid ditches the stripped down guitar for a medley of bass and instrumentals, which compliments his voice perfectly; but he ditches the emotional vocals for a series of corny confident lyrics. A month later, Khalid switches sounds again like an overcorrecting pendulum, this time opting for smooth vibes over some simple piano in “Coaster”. The song is quite soothing, but still leaves a listener with the sense that there is untapped potential. Same thing goes for his pre-commercial final song, “Reasons,” released three months later, which although his best release to date as he switches back to the intricate production that serves him so well, still leaves a little to be desired. But after taking a few months to work on these two songs, it finally seems as though Khalid has cracked the code. Both songs contain bass-heavy exciting beats made by seasoned veterans Syk Sense, Tunji Ige, and OZ, yet they leave enough room to set the stage perfectly for Khalid to be the incredibly charismatic, yet enigmatic, start that he is.