Khalid is quietly making a name for himself in popular music. The 19 year-old singer broke through with his 2016 single “Location,” which Kylie Jenner gave a big boost when she played the song on her Snapchat account. Since then, Khalid (born Khalid Robinson) has built a devoted fanbase who find familiarity in his eclectic mix of ’80s funk and millennial R&B. His music speaks to “letting sorrows go, sending dropped pins for rendezvous,” says DJ Booth critic Yoh, “And confessing to keeping a former lover’s number saved―it’s a well-crafted teenage panorama that gives off the feeling of someone living in the moment.”
Tonight, Khalid is scheduled to make his live television performance debut on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. It’s a huge step for the small town kid, but given his ability to make sweet, relatable songs, one that was will prove the first of many grand successes. Learn more about Khalid’s musical influences and personal life below.
1. He Was Born In El Paso, Texas
Khalid was born in El Paso, Texas in 1998. Growing up, he felt an unspoken kinship with his surroundings, as he told Forbes Magazine: “El Paso was the place that kind of… it didn’t necessarily create me as an artist, but I feel like it changed me, and that’s where I had started making music. That’s where I started creating.” He went on to say that “I feel like it had such a big influence on just the person I became. So when I was writing the album I just wanted to like give inflictions of El Paso and the culture.”
Khalid also mentioned that it impacted the melancholy lyrics of his album American Teen: “I think El Paso allowed me to just tap into the sense of loneliness that I have when it comes to writing music and focusing on the fact that loneliness isn’t a bad thing. El Paso is in the middle of nowhere. A lot of people don’t know too much about the city, so I feel I tapped into the sounds of just… alone.”
2. ‘Location’ Was Inspired By Not Owning A Car
“Location” has been the undeniable hit of Khalid’s career thus far, peaking at number 15 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. It’s been described as a silky ode to out-of-reach love, or as RWD Mag wrote, “The kind of love that you would travel all over the country to find. It’s just a story of searching for something that we all want in life no matter who we are and that’s a real genuine lover, but it doesn’t come easy.” Ironically, the song was actually inspired by Khalid’s lack of transportation.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the singer revealed that he didn’t have a car in El Paso, and would often have to rely on others for rides. He mentioned that on one occasion, he was forced to tweet out “Can someone please come pick me up and take me to record at my friend’s house?” The encounter led to a creative spark for Khalid, who then turned his vehicular woes into something that sounded a bit more romantic.
3. His Mother Is His Biggest Musical Influence
Khalid’s mother, Linda Wolf, was also a singer in her youth. As she recounts in an interview with Noisey, “He was in my stomach when I was in the studio in Atlanta… trying to make it in the era of En Vogue and SWV.” When Khalid was born, Wolf shifted her attention raising him, but they eventually traveled overseas so she could sing professionally in Germany. “That’s when I found out he had a gift,” she recalled, “he had to be maybe ten.” Initially, Khalid had plans to use this gift to be a music teacher, but he quickly discovered that he had a passion for writing his own, intensely personal songs.
Outside of his mother’s obvious influence, Khalid has also cited artists as varied as Michael Jackson, Frank Ocean, Billie Holiday, and Father John Misty to be important in his progression as a songwriter. “I feel like music now as a whole is about experimentation,” he told Noisey, “Back then the lines were the lines… [now] people listen to Beach House and Travis Scott and Kanye West and Fleet Foxes.”
4. He’s Signed To RCA Records
Khalid signed with RCA Records in 2016, where he would release his debut album American Teen. On the record label’s website, it reads: “[Khalid] reflects the spirit of classics such as The Breakfast Club and 90210 through a kaleidoscope of glitch-y soul-driven cinematic 21st century pop and his transient upbringing in a military family.” It’s obvious that RCA is impressed with the young singer’s talent, especially after he went on his first nationwide tour earlier this year and earned praise for his thoughtful, charismatic stage presence.
This positive feedback, coupled with buzz-building tools like the premiere of a new song on the popular Beats 1 Radio Show with Zane Lowe, and a documentary that aired on The Fader about his youth, have put Khalid in a very good position to thrive.
5. His Album Debuted At Number Nine On The Billboard 200
American Teen was released on March 3, and was quickly met with critical acclaim. The New York Times‘ Jon Carmichael called it “a promising amalgam of bedroom art-soul and 1980s new-wave pop maximalism, and a union of lonely-boy mirror gazing with a sense of larger cultural purpose,” while BET‘s KC Orcutt called it “equal parts cohesive story and collection of separate tales, with its nuanced emotions tied together by a young man experiencing his teenage years as completely and unapologetically as possible.” In accordance with these excellent marks, American Teen debuted at the number nine spot on the Billboard 200.
According to Billboard, the album moved 37,000 equivalent units its first week, with 33% coming from traditional album sales, 8% coming from track equivalent albums, and 59% coming from streaming. These numbers received an extra boost from “Location” and album cut “Single,” racked up streaming numbers of 13.2 million and 3.3 million respectively (in their first weeks on the chart).