Source: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for MTV/Paramount Global

Shaping Modern R&B: Khalid's Unique Impact

Explore how Khalid reshaped modern R&B, refusing to be boxed in and transcending genre lines with hits like "Location" and albums that top charts.


Nov. 2 2023, Published 8:40 p.m. ET

No doubt about it — Khalid creates stellar tunes!

Right from his first song to go mainstream, “Location,” which he released in 2017, and the release of his first album, “American Teen,” cemented him as an up-coming musical talent. His first song earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Song, and his album received a Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Two years later, Khalid released his sophomore album, “Free Spirit.” The project was received well among fans and critics and debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. Additionally, the album propelled Khalid to be the most-streamed artist on Spotify by 2019.

With the success of his three albums, Khalid has had a turn in shaping modern R&B. While his fans undeniably love his artistry and craft – after all, he has sold millions of album equivalents – he has also been at the forefront of changing R&B.

On Apple Music, Khalid is described as an R&B star “whose music sneaks its way under genre boundaries.” While he is an R&B artist, his style and artistry help his music transcend the genre’s boundaries.

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Khalid was at the forefront of pushing the boundaries in R&B. In 2017, Time Magazine explored the influence of Khalid in the genre, noting that not only had he positioned himself as the “voice of a blossoming generation,” but he was among the artists at the forefront of changing R&B. It notes that R&B was being “rapidly reshaped by young talents more interested in atmosphere and perspective than devotion to classical ideals.”

In an interview in 2018, GQ notes that Khalid broke into the scene around the same time that R&B had started to experience a resurgence. Importantly, they noted the new-age R&B artists, including Khalid, were at “forefront leading the charge into R&B’s future.”

A Deliberate Decision Not to Caged

While many artists have created a style that straddles different genres, such as hip-hop and R&B, Khalid was among the first artists to blur the lines between R&B and pop. His music can sit on either chart without increasing the world without feeling out of place.

This was a deliberate decision from the beginning of his career.

In an article in NPR, his manager, Courtney Stewart, and label executive, Tunji Balogun, reminisced about Khalid’s early days as a musician.

Stewart remembers Khalid saying he did not want to be boxed in. “Being a Black artist, that’s always a challenge,” he noted. “They [industry players] want to label you an urban artist.” He went on to say some very soulful artists are sometimes placed in the adult contemporary box. He adds some of these labels prevent artists from going “mainstream.”

Stewart added, “I think what’s special about him is that he’s able to do a song with H.E.R.” Stewart explained that Khalid can do songs with the likes of Marshmello and Elton John, while the music is “still true to who he is.”

Balogun said they worked to ensure Khalid had a foothold in both R&B and pop music. As such, Khalid has appeared on a wide variety of playlists on streaming services, redefining what an R&B artist can do.

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