One part of feeling old seems to be recognizing that many popular, talented individuals are younger than you. From twenty-year-old Olympic gold-medalist Simone Biles to nineteen-year-old University of California, Los Angeles basketball phenomenon Lonzo Ball, talent bends to no particular age. This is the case with Khalid Robinson (who records and performs under the stage name Khalid), a nineteen-year-old R&B singer-songwriter based out of El Paso, Texas. His debut album, American Teen, was released on March 3, 2017 through RCA and Right Hand Records.
The third track, “Location,” is likely the most well-known song from the album, released in August 2016 as the albums only single. In “Location,” Khalid sings smoothly to a catchy beat layered with claps and snare hits. He flows “send me your location” as the song’s hook, and one reason my friends here dig this song is because we too say this line (or something similar) when waiting for each other in the Fireplace Lounge before dinner or looking to meet up on a Saturday evening. “Location” has nearly ninety million Spotify hits as of April 2, 2017, and has been remixed by Lil Wayne and Kehlani.
It can be easy for artists to diminish the quality of their work by trying to cover themes they have not experienced. Yet, one of the strongest qualities of American Teen is that Khalid sticks to what he knows –the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. His descriptions of his experiences are witty, catchy, and ultimately relatable.
Look to the chorus of the seventh track, “8teen,” where he sings “because I’m eighteen / and I still live with my parents/yeah they’re not like yours / yours are more understanding.” I understood these lyrics from my own experience as a teenager; among my friends some of our parents were a little cooler and less strict than others. The second track, “Young Dumb & Broke,” highlights his feelings of youth as well, where he sings “yeah, we’re just young, dumb and broke / but we still got love to give” and later ends the chorus with “[While we’re] Young dumb broke high school kids.”
His lyrics convey the innocence of free-spirited high school students beautifully: the youths who do not have much money and do not make the best decisions but are passionate individuals with strong emotions who make meaningful experiences with their friends and lovers. It is difficult to listen to these words without reminiscing on those four formative years and their distinct memories. Khalid’s nostalgia-coated lyrics make high school, an experience that is only about three years old for me, seem like something much more distant.
While it may have been tempting for Khalid to solely sing simple songs about being young and free, he strives to show a lyrical maturity throughout the album. This is best demonstrated on album’s fifth track, “Saved,” where he lets the listener know why he has kept his ex-lover’s phone number.
He initially puts the obligation to reach out on his lover, writing “I’ll keep your number saved / ‘Cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me / I’m hoping that you’ll say / You’re missing me the way I’m missing you.” However, he puts this same obligation on himself as well, singing “So I’ll keep your number saved / ‘Cause I hope one day I’ll get the pride to call you / To tell you that I’m finally over you.” While he ultimately asserts that he has gotten over his ex, he feels the urge to call them to let them know, suggesting that strong feelings remain.
By acknowledging his real feelings, albeit subtly, he signals that his carefree days as an American teenager are winding down because he is aging, growing to something bigger, older.