Release Date: Apr 5, 2019
Record label: RCA
Twoyears since his debut album American Teen, Khalid is back with a sophomore record that has a few more big names on the production credits but otherwise sticks to his formula. He is a naturally lowkey performer, which has previously resulted in both the sublime ("Eastside") and the monotone ("Young Dumb & Broke"), and this balance continues on Free Spirit. Better immediately stands out as a highlight, a rolling 808 beat bringing to mind Tyga and Offset's "Taste" as each line of Khalid's verse comes back to him in a spectral echo, before a talkbox-led outro provides an ingenious twist to the track.
The Lowdown: At the ridiculous age of 19, Khalid released a nearly great record. In 2017, American Teen brought fresh life to R&B. Songs like "Location" and "Young Dumb & Broke" sounded like the first anthems for Generation Z. Khalid captured the restless energy of high school, mixing conversational mumblings with a piercing, soulful baritone.
"Everybody wants a favor, everybody needs me," Khalid exhaustedly grumbles on "Hundred," a dispirited soft pop ballad placed in the middle of Free Spirit. Going by the unrelenting campaign to keep him in the spotlight since he hit with "Location," the statement doesn't seem all that hyperbolic. During the two years that passed between American Teen and Free Spirit, he took part in a decade's worth of collaborations and stylistic crossovers, plus frequent touring amid nonstop promotional duties, all while earning five Grammy nominations and accumulating a stack of platinum certifications.
At a middle school dance somewhere in America, hundreds of students are getting rowdy to "Thotiana" while the chaperone tells the DJ to spin something else, something less vulgar, something inoffensive. Something like Khalid. He mainly sings about love, never too deep or personal, like he got inspiration from a Netflix original movie starring Noah Centineo.
The R&B star's second album is glued up with a contrived sense of seriousness. He might be a more mature songwriter now, but that doesn't mean he's a whole lot of fun Words: Alex Spencer Khalid wants you know that he’s a mature songwriter, though that’s come at the price of a turgid second album. Speaking to Zane Lowe on Beats 1, the 21-year-old R&B star labelled his debut, 2017’s ‘American Teen’, a "very safe" project, citing his youth and inexperience.
Khalid's 2017 debut, American Teen, was a pop-R&B album that reverberated with a polished, 80s-inspired haze that felt a little inaccessible to those of us no longer in adolescence - which, admittedly, was probably the point. Free Spirit, the 21-year-old Texas singer's follow-up, is more universally resonant. Full of Robin Schulz-esque sweet guitar licks, warm synths and exquisite, powerful vocals, it sits somewhere between early Frank Ocean, Miguel and even the better parts of Zayn Malik's recent work.