Review: Khalid – ‘Scenic Drive’

Originally planned for release as an EP, 23-year old R&B singer/songwriter Khalid drops his debut mixtape, ‘Scenic Drive’…

Relax, and Enjoy the Ride

Dedicated to the after-hours, Khalid’s ‘Scenic Drive‘ quickly sets the mood. The R&B star’s vocals sound laid-back and unstressed throughout the mixtape’s runtime, even when he’s singing about actually being stressed.

As demonstrated on lead single ‘Present’, Khalid’s relaxed, worry-free artistry shapes ‘Scenic Drive’. This approach allows the release to unfurl gradually, as it makes its mark.

Co-starring R&B/soul heavyweight Alicia Keys, the project’s ‘Intro’ encourages listeners to, “sit back relax, and enjoy the ride”. ‘Intro’ briefly runs through a selection of Khalid’s biggest hits, before landscaped synths and soothed harmonies from Keys take over.

For the most part, ‘Scenic Drive’ is sexy, polished and sensitive. Its sonics are roaming and expansive. The track ‘Retrograde’ stands out in the project’s track listing. This is because unlike most of ‘Scenic Drive’, ‘Retrograde’ aims for a raw, rougher and more organic down-home vibe.

Towards the end of the song ‘All I Feel Is Rain’, its instrumental switches to a different, shorter passage of dreamy, blissed-out R&B. This injects ‘Scenic Drive’ with an element of surprise, which admittedly the entire mixtape would’ve benefited from a little more of.

Drive It Forward

For highlight tune ‘Backseat, ‘Scenic Drive’ indulges in a less-is-more approach to R&B. It’s satisfying to hear the song’s lighter, melodic ideas drive the track forward comfortably.

Earthy and unrushed, ‘Retrograde’ boasts guest appearances from Baltimore singer/rapper 6lack, and New Orleans singer/songwriter Lucky Daye. Because of the way the tune’s featured artists perform their parts, they inject the mixtape with a rugged hip-hop swagger.

Highlight song ‘Brand New’ features Los Angeles-born soul singer/songwriter QUIN, who purrs her way through the slinky, effortless R&B number. Khalid and QUIN sound great together on ‘Brand New’. Side by side, the two artists quickly whip up a sense of intimacy. This tune’s hook is one of the mixtape’s most immediate.

Atlanta, Georgia-born rapper/singer JID joins forces with Khalid for mid-tempo R&B bop ‘All I Feel Is Rain’. ‘All I Feel Is Rain’ finds Khalid in a deeply emotional space. The star sings about being negatively affected by the moves his lover is making outside of their relationship.

Another Relationship Conundrum

American singer and actress Kiana Ledé bags a guest spot on ‘Voicemail’, which focuses on another relationship conundrum. While the tuneful R&B track is cute, it’s overshadowed by the songs surrounding it.

Neither Khalid or Ledé sound particularly challenged on ‘Voicemail’. It covers creative ground that both artists have explored separately and extensively before.

The mixtape’s title track is another highlight. It features contributions from Washington D.C. R&B vocalist Ari Lennox, and St. Louis, Missouri-born rapper/singer Smino.

‘Scenic Drive’ is built upon foreboding and deep-cutting R&B production. Despite a short verse from Smino that sounds distractingly like Kendrick Lamar, the track ‘Scenic Drive’ is well executed production-wise. It’s hard to resist.

Khalid uses the song ‘Scenic Drive’ to show off his lower singing register and his falsetto. The track ‘Scenic Drive’ swims in an ocean of Khalid’s milky smooth and layered harmonies. They dance in and out of focus throughout the track’s runtime.

‘Open’ is a romantic, candlelit R&B cut featuring Canadian singing/production duo Majid Jordan. The tune’s hook is built upon phrased, eager vocals from Khalid and Majid Jordan.

‘Open’ channels the unabashed, inner excitement of being totally entranced and enraptured with a new lover. It’s the secret to the tune’s charm. ‘Open’ ends in a tantalising mashup of stacked harmonies, seductive guitar licks and feminine cooing.

Picks: ‘Backseat’, ‘Brand New’ + ‘Scenic Drive’

Verdict: 8********/10

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