Even if you’ve never heard of Khalid, you’ve heard Khalid. The singer/songwriter is a reliable standard on the Top 40 charts, but his origins are more humble.
Khalid Donnel Robinson was born on February 11, 1998, in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Moving around with his mother and father to various locations before settling down in El Paso, Texas, Khalid found solace in creating music. In 2017 Khalid signed to RCA Records and has since worked with the likes of Alessia Cara, Benny Blanco, and Halsey. This helped skyrocket him to the level of popularity he enjoys today.
Growing up for Khalid was a pretty different experience from most kids. Because his father was in the military, he was forced to move around without establishing any real bonds with other kids. The way the singer/writer coped was through creating music. Three years before settling completely in El Paso, Texas he attended Cartridge Center Highschool in Cartridge, New York where he joined the Army Chorus.
Khalid, definitely has a distinct sound. With one foot planted in the world of hip hop and the other in the world of R&B, it’s hard to define Khalid under one particular genre, and it is easy to tell why from his influences because they are some of the best contemporary artists.
For example, the singer says that Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Father John Misty, Frank Ocean, and Chance the Rapper are some of his biggest influences.
Success on Streaming Services
Using music streaming apps as a way to express himself in high school, he became pretty popular on the platform. In 2016, Billboard magazine started paying attention to Khalid’s Soundcloud presence and featured him as an up and coming artist via “Billboard’s Twitter Emerging Artists” section and his song “Location” began popping up on music charts everywhere. In 2016 “Location” wrapped up in the 20th spot on the Billboard Charts.
In 2016 Khalid caught the eye of A&R rep Tunji Balogun after posting his song “Stuck on U,” and he started following him on social media. Telling NPR, “He followed me back and I just started talking to him. He was in high school. It was early and I just was telling him — you know, giving him words of encouragement and letting him know, ‘You’re doing something really good here, man. This is extremely promising.’ And like, ‘I’m here if you need any help or any resources.’”
Another artist manager, Courtney Stewart told NPR that once she found out about Khalid’s online presence, she immediately tried to get him to Atlanta to record and talk about representation. Then, Stewart made the ultimate bold move and flew the aspiring performer out to Atlanta to get him in on his first studio session.
In the Studio
One of the songs Khalid recorded during that session with Stewart in Atlanta happened to be his hit song “Location” that blew up not even a year later. Using what he learned in the studio to his advantage and taking risks, his team at the time knew they were about to have a hitmaker on their hands. After he posted “Location” to his Soundcloud, he saw quite a bit of success. Now, he has over 800,000 followers on the platform.
Once Stewart and Balogun tweaked the already popular song, it began to place on the charts. This eventually inspired Khalid and his team to start touring and getting the word out about this up-and-coming-artist. Considering that Khalid was very young at the time, he expressed to his team that he would like to grow as an artist.
There they began to nurture his art so he could expand his knowledge. Eventually, his team got him to work with Elton John on a song. Despite vast differences between the artists in terms of style and influence, he was able to stay true to his authentic self.
As impressive as the young star’s resume already is, his team says they work hard to make sure the singer doesn’t fall in a category of some over popularized marketing wonder. Instead, they believe that they should nurture his talent and allow him to stay true to himself.
Balogun told NPR, “It’s about galvanizing the people that are already in love with him and then slowly trying to reel in other people through these collaborations with other artists that he respects. Let’s just figure out an order to the chaos and make it make sense.”
Khalid’s second single “Young, Dumb and Broke” became a hit but only under the radar. Eventually, the song hit the pop charts and began to chart again in 2018. In 2017 he was featured in Alina Baraz’s single “Electric” and became a hit pretty quickly. That same year, he collaborated with Basstracks for the song “Whirlwind.” The song became so popular it closed out the year with 700,000 on Soundcloud.
After releasing his debut album, “American Teen” Khalid refused to stop the momentum in 2017. While he prepared to go on a 21-city tour supporting his new album, he wasn’t expecting to sell out every one of those shows but he did.
After his tour, Khalid reaped the benefits of his hard work and earned himself a 2012 VMA award for being the “Best New Artist” and was nominated for a Grammy. Later that year, the musician had his first feature on cable television appearing on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he was backed by the popular hip-hop group, The Roots. Also, in 2017 the hit show Grey’s Anatomy featured the singer’s song “Angel” where he enjoyed more streams on music streaming platforms.
Refusing to let himself be a one-album wonder, Khalid got back in the studio in 2018 and began work on a follow-up. He was featured on one of the biggest years’ biggest film scores with his song “The Ways” which awarded him even more streams while he was working on his follow up album Free Spirit.
Although the singer lived in various locations growing up, he considered El Paso his adoptive home. When the 2019 Walmart Shooting occurred in El Paso that left 22 people dead, the singer organized “The Night for Sun CIty” event to raise money for victims of gun violence. Raising $500,000 to go towards charity, the event saw famous faces like Matthew McConaughey and Beto O’Rourke.
To solidify his popularity and lend his voice to a cause close to him, the singer wrote “Youth” with artist Shawn Mendes and performed it during an award ceremony in 2018 featuring the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School choir to take a stance against gun violence.
He told the El Paso Times about the event, “”I have been rocked to the core by the horrific act of gun violence that came to El Paso, and by the continued acts of senseless violence that our country faces daily… I want to give back to my community of El Paso, the city of the 915, who has given so much to me. Please come out and let’s heal together through music while raising money to help those who need it.”
Although Khalid has performed and collaborated with some of the best artists around, his collaborative spirit has been the key factor in getting his music out in a big way.
While artists featured on a collaborative project get them a lot of airplay on someone else’s album, they still get discovered this way. With Khalid, he was featured in 20 chart topping singles in 2019 alone. In fact, many people could change the station and hear him on a different song if they wanted to because the genre-bending artist fits in so well with multiple styles of music.
Sometimes the general public gets saturated with a certain singer because a label pushes and markets them in levels that make them impossible to hide from. Khalid’s management team is well aware of this but tries to keep the singer grounded in his roots.
Discovered on social media, Khalid believes that young people gravitate towards that outlet to hear original content. He believes that keeping his younger audience happy with authenticity could benefit him in the long run.
Considering you hear the singer on the radio on just about every channel these days, Khalid says there is a reason for this. Telling NPR, “it comes from streaming. Streaming gets it first, you know, the fans. Younger generation — they’re all for streaming. They hear it first. That’s when the older people … they see it. Half of these radio-heads are asking their kids, ‘What are they listening to?’ And their kids are telling them, ‘I’m listening to so and so and I’m listening to so and so.’ And that’s how these artists get huge off of streaming and cross over to radio. Because … streaming, it’s the numbers. It’s the facts. You just got a hundred million plays. Are you going to deny that?”
Rise to Fame Continues
His team believes the reason for his rising popularity is due to his authenticity. Balogun told NPR that in the past fans weren’t able to do their research on a particular artist because the mythos around them tended to overshadow the reality of the art the artist was putting out. With social media, artists are not more accessible than ever before.
“If you didn’t come from an authentic place, you’re going to get found out and exposed a lot quicker in this era. And if the fans feel like it is something honest, they’re gonna love it even more, because, you know, after they do their research they’re like, ‘OK. Wow, this person really, you know, got it out the mud,’ as we would say in hip-hop. He benefited from that, and he’s really an artist that’s of his generation,” Balogun said.
After his blowout 2017, Khalid’s star continued to rise with collaborative efforts. He saw more success with guest spots with his songs “Lovely,” “Goodbye and Good Riddance” and “Eastside.” Khalid also released the EP “Suncity” in October of 2018 through RCA records which debuted at number 8 on the charts that year.
In early 2019, he released the song “Talk” and immediately became a hit. After making his debut on being featured in an episode of Saturday Night Live, the singer’s popularity began to soar to new heights. He was the first artist ever to have 5 songs top the pop charts and even enjoyed 59 weeks being featured on the Billboard Charts.
The rising star is going to continue to see success for years to come. After mastering the art of being a Soundcloud rapper, Khalid knows what his audience wants. After selling out his fourth concert tour and wrapping it up in 2019, one can only tell where this musician is going to go.
Right now, the singer is so popular he took Ariana Grande’s spot as one of the top streaming musicians in the world. “Trigger” was the last single the artist released with Major Lazer. Considering Khalid is one of the more popular top 40 musicians out there, he isn’t going to go away any time soon.
“I think radio would have definitely boxed him in,” Stewart told NPR. “Cause of how he looks.” They also asked him if by how he looks he meant that Khalid is a black man. “Yeah,” says Balogun. “He’s a black man. So that means he belongs on an R&B or hip-hop station.”
His team says they don’t just go into the studio and look to have him at number 1 on the streaming services. Instead they help him ring out his talent and let it show in his songs. What comes next is definitely up to his adoring fans and people who are discovering him for the first time.
Considering he has over 7 million followers on Instagram alone, one could wonder if Khalid has learned how to master the art of social media to benefit him monetarily. Whatever the case may be, people are still enjoying his music and fans keep coming out of the woodwork. The artist even says he gets personal with fans.
Telling NPR that one time he met a fan who lost her headphones and saw the singer on the street. When she spoke to him, she told him he was like a little brother and thanked him for the music.