MIQ chatted with the American Teen sensation on everything from how he got started to what drives him as an artist.
“Send me your location,” the infectious beginning of Khalid’s triple-Platinum debut single, “Location,” has propelled the 19-year-old singer/songwriter from El Paso, Texas to instant stardom and he’s kept it going with his well-conceived and critically-acclaimed debut album American Teen. MIQ caught up with him via phone just as he was gearing up for a performance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show to talk about his success, what got him going, what keeps him going and more.
MIQ: When did you first realize you were drawn to music? Is it something that’s been with you your whole life?
Khalid: For me I feel like music has been with part of my life for my whole life, but I got drawn to singing-songwriting probably around my sophomore year in high school.
MIQ: Well, what is it like to have success so soon for something that you’re relatively new at?
Khalid: It’s crazy. I mean I feel like I’m handling it well probably more than most would if they were in my position because it’s so rapid and a lot of people go crazy. But I think I’m having the time of my life right now.
MIQ: So why do think you’re so grounded with fame?
Khalid: Probably my relationships with my friends, how they’re super honest with me, and my mom. My mom definitely keeps me grounded.
MIQ: Your sound is very interesting in that it has a timelessness to it and, thinking of your album’s title American Teen, it has this sort of Americana sound to it that’s kind of now and also yesteryear. What do you attribute that to?
Khalid: For me, I definitely attribute that to my influences, my musical influences. I love Fleetwood Mac. I love Frank Ocean. And my mom groomed me and raised me with the music she’s been influenced by as well. Just the authenticity and just being myself within my music and expressing what I love to listen to. So I think that helps me so much as an artist.
MIQ: What city were you in when you started writing and singing because it seems that you moved to El Paso not too long ago?
Khalid: I was in El Paso. That’s when I wrote my first song. And it was after a super abrupt move for me. I feel that song just knocked me into a super creative spot where I can became comfortable writing a lot more.
MIQ: If you’d been doing things kind of on your own, how did you get to the point where you were comfortable collaborating with people?
Khalid: For me collaborating is based off of friendship. If I have a great friendship with an artist, I would love to work with them if it makes sense. I hate to do things to myself that make me uncomfortable. It doesn’t make sense. If I don’t like it, then it doesn’t get released.
MIQ: So who was the first person you collaborated with on a song?
Khalid: The first person that I collaborated with on a song has to be Alina Baraz [Her single “Electric” featuring Khalid was released in January]. That was my first collab and it’s actually one of my favorite ones.
MIQ: What are some of the favorites on your album and why?
Khalid: Favorites on my album, “Angels” just because it’s a song that means so much to me. “Location” because it’s the song that changed my life. “Young Dumb & Broke” because, I mean, that’s exactly what I was a year ago. And “8Teen” because I mean that song is so much fun for me to perform.
MIQ: Were you surprised at how well “Location” was received considering that it’s so different from a lot of stuff that’s out here?
Khalid: I was definitely surprised but, at the same time, I feel like I’m blessed and I’m so thankful. I mean the song is still getting played on the radio and I wrote it around a year and a half ago so the fact that that’s happening that means a lot.
MIQ: And one would not think it’s a song that Lil Wayne could jump on.
Khalid: And he exploded on it. He did such a great job. I love that I got the knockout accomplishment because a Lil Wayne feature is very rare and I did that kind of early in my career.
MIQ: Did you originally hear someone like Wayne on it?
Khalid: I didn’t. I didn’t imagine. Honestly when I listen to that beat, I think the beat is so weird I could barely imagine myself on it but I feel like that’s what made the song so much fun to write.
MIQ: Do you have some favorite producers that you like to work with?
Khalid: I loved working with Calvin Harris and I can’t wait to get back with him and he’s such a good friend too. Joel Little [Lorde] was amazing to work with. He produced more of my favorite songs. I’m excited to get back in with him.
MIQ: At a young age, you’re already ahead of the game. You’re writing your songs and you have a publishing deal through Sony/ATV. Where does that business savvy come from?
Khalid: Business savvy I think it comes from my Mom. She also reminded me, before I made music, I had to graduate first. She told me I had to be on my business and especially with an education I feel like that’s just important and it’s helped me a lot. Being young but learning so rapidly and fast it allows people to not take advantage of you.
MIQ: And where do you go for that knowledge? Do you have mentors other than your Mom?
Khalid: My manager [Courtney “Court Luv” Stewart] is a big mentor of me. He teaches me a lot about myself and he’s super helpful.
MIQ: When you do shows like Kimmel and The BET Awards, what kind of reception do you get?
Khalid: I get positive reception. I’ve had a lot of people who have watched and have grown up with me in this career who have watched my performances and they say that I’m improving so, hopefully, I can continue to get better.
MIQ: When you have a tour that’s been so successful with sold-out dates, how do you stay motivated? How do you push yourself to another level?
Khalid: Just thinking of my long-term goals and, honestly, success drives me. I like being successful and being young. It’s fun and I can inspire my friends as well to push for their dreams.
MIQ: Why is the title American Teen befitting of you and this project?
Khalid: For me the creation of the album is all about self-reflecting and I feel like it’s definitely helpful to look at who I am as an individual. I was like, “oh, I’m an American teen.” No matter if people like that about me. No matter if people like the fact that I’m an African American teen. It’s who I am. And so it was just me accepting my name and accepting my place and I love the fact that other people are finding their own [space] and they are like “I’m a teen from Canada, I’m a teen from Africa. It’s who I am” and I think that’s great.
MIQ: You said “Angels” meant a lot to you. Can you elaborate?
Khalid: When I started writing it, it was super quick but I never finished it. And I realized that I never finished it because I had to go back to El Paso to finish the song. I had moved to L.A. and, every time I worked on it, nothing clicked, but the moment that I came back to El Paso, the song just wrote itself.
MIQ: Why is El Paso that special to you?
Khalid: Just because it was the first city that I felt support from as a creative. They stood behind me when they didn’t have to and they kept me going.
MIQ: El Paso isn’t a musical stronghold like L.A., New York or Atlanta…
Khalid: El Paso is growing. I feel like it has potential. Hopefully I can help it grow. Hopefully I can teach other artists and help them become more expressive because I feel like, with due time, it could become the next powerhouse of music.
MIQ: American Teen has this innocence that’s kind of a throwback to what youth should be. This just feels full of hope and innocence.
Khalid: Oh thank you. I appreciate that. Writing the album, it was super genuine. It was from a genuine place of mind because after I created every song I would send it to my friends and ask what they thought and they always gave me constructive criticism and just allowed me to just keep going.
MIQ: Finally what has allowed you not to bow down to the industry pressure to look or sound a certain way?
Khalid: Continuing to keep my friends around me reminds me that I am a regular 19-yearold kid and I don’t have to change the way that I am to impress other people. I mean sometimes insecurities are a thing. I mean I have lots of insecurities but it’s about using those insecurities to my advantage and turning them into attributes that I can use to fall in love with.
by Ronda Racha Penrice
Check out the video to ‘Location’ here