Why Khaliq is just a kid from the 'Sota on the come up

Why Khaliq
St. Paul-based hip-hop artist Why Khaliq (courtesy the artist)

I had the opportunity to sit down with St. Paul's Why Khaliq in his studio, where we discussed his most recent project, Clearwater, his growth as an artist, remaining humble despite growing popularity, his growing love for acting, and fatherhood. Here is a transcript of our interview.

JEFFREY BISSOY: I'm here in Minneapolis with Why Khaliq. You're just coming off doing Clearwater, a five-track EP you released a few months back. What was the inspiration for the project?

WHY KHALIQ: I did The Mustard Seed, and that was a time where it was a matter of fate or that period of transition; becoming a father and realizing that I have to give it my all. Clearwater was like hitting rock bottom, hitting a place of uncertainty … For a few months, my mind was cloudy … it was so much stuff going on … Clearwater is not depressing music … it's just that music.

I got to that point because I had to look at myself in the mirror and just ask myself and get to know who I am as a person and have those conversations, have those midnight cries to myself to realize who I was. After that, [there was this] refreshing feeling … I let some of that stuff go. That's what Clearwater is, like that recharge. It's not necessarily the dark time but it came from that … it's not really aggressive, but its more fierce and calming.

What has been the process been like for you going from The Mustard Seed to accepting fatherhood, and ultimately, Clearwater? Do you feel like you've grown as a person and artist?

I didn't want people to compare Clearwater to The Mustard Seed … I didn't want them to be like, "This is a sequel to The Mustard Seed." Clearwater is its own thing. Musically, I feel like I'm just writing songs. Getting better at making a topic, rapping about the topic and appealing to audiences and all that. The Mustard Seed, most of it was conscious, but some of it would still go over people's heads; whereas Clearwater, that has been my easiest project to listen to.


When I look at the components that make up a top-flight artist, I always say there's lyricism, there's the vibe and energy, but also effective storytelling. How challenging is it to became a master orator?

For me, it's kind of never been hard to story-tell; that's always just been me. Before rapping, I was good in English class. When we did essays, teachers would be like, "This is really intricate." I would go to dictionaries and find words to describe it really well, to the point that you felt that you were there. When it comes to rapping, yes, l always wanted to describe something in the most descriptive way and paint that picture. It's been my thing. It's harder for me to rap about something that's not real in my life.

In your own words, how would you describe Clearwater?

Clearwater was growth for me as an individual man … each song was a part of the ego in a sense. It had to do with something I battled. [The song] "Opening Act" was me boasting, bragging and stuff, whereas "Money and Celebrate" was a part of me that was like, "What do I do if I do get money?" The whole play on that for me was like, "Yeah, we get money and celebrate, but that's what they want us to do is to get it and blow it" instead of getting the money and saving it or investing and buying real estate, businesses, or land, or investing in your communities.

"Fancy" was just a battle with me and a girl. She sees that I'm rising in music, her perception is that I'm above myself. I had to look at myself in the mirror in real life with this. "Eavesdrop" was me having to battle the fact that I'm at a place in the family where a lot of people are looking up to me, but there's also [non-family members or friends] that say they support it but also want to see me not make it.

"Fountain of Youth" was me having that conversation with everybody. Like, I lived in this studio for a year, dawg, because I was like, "If I'm gonna make it, I really have to put the time in." And with everything I was going through, I was spending nights in here. Using the microwave to heat up little meals, go to the little gas station across the street, Papa John's, whatever it was.

For folks that aren't in the studio with us there's a fridge, there's a microwave in the corner, there's an Ethiopian flag on the wall behind me, a piano, the snazzy set-up with the laptop and the TV for the grind and the kickback … As you've ascended as one of the rising talents in Minnesota, a proud son of the 651, you've noticed significant changes in your character and life around you. With all these transitions, how do you keep yourself humble?

I haven't even gotten to the magnitude where its overwhelming, but just imagine what it does to the ego when everybody tells you that what you're doing is good. I'm saying this from a small perspective compared to a bigger artist. As humans, that does something to our ego. It's to the point where I've never been the cocky person, but I will find myself being selfish. I would only care about myself, caring about being in the studio and working … sometimes I be so into it [that] I can be somewhere and not be into it because my mind is on music.

One thing I notice is that people are like yes men. Not that they give you want you want, but it's like privilege in a sense. I could walk in somewhere, for instance, and somebody might be like here's this or they do something for me, and they'll go do it for me, and that creates habits of you expecting people to do stuff for you.

How do you humble yourself amidst all this attention and privilege surrounding you?

I got to humble myself by taking the trash out and doing that stuff that I wouldn't normally do. A lot of times I just be a normal person. I've never really been into going out, because I always feel that whenever I go out, I have to act like another person and put on a mask.

My daughter, she hangs out with me — she's the only person that doesn't know me as Why Khaliq. She knows me as just Dad. Yes, she knows that I do music and all that, but that's not an expectation for her. She just turned three. When I'm with her I'm just Dad, I get to be goofy, I get to play around, and play toys and have that imagination that she does. If anybody sees that they'd be like, is that Why Khaliq?

On the mic, you're a smooth assassin, but who is Why Khaliq off the mic?

I play video games (laughs). I was never a video gamer, but this one game, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds — Fortnite copied their concept — it's Battle Royale to the end, but way more realistic. Like Call of Duty just copied them. I'm also getting into producing. I'm trying to learn how to play the piano. I'm trying to get into the acting thing, trying to see where that might lead me. Doing it my videos is kind of becoming a little passion for me.

You recently released a music video for "Money and Celebrate," and I felt like you were looking to display your acting chops in the video in a different manner than your previous projects.

"Money and Celebrate" was dope, just to be able to shoot it and stuff. That was my second or third time that I was kind of acting where there was dialogue. The first one we did, The Mustard Seed short film, that was like my first time acting. What I found interesting in it was that you could be yourself — or you can channel somebody else. You know how we just be at home and we just goofing around and you just might act something? It's that same feeling and just being able to act something out and then giving it that emotion on a go and then stopping.

What was filming the interrogation scene in the "Money and Celebrate" music video like?

With "Money and Celebrate," it was cool to do the whole interrogation scene, because the guy I was working with, he was a stunt creator. He was teaching me some pointers and stuff like that. It's just fun to be out there and just to try in front of the camera and see what happens. Whatever happens, it's all fun.

At first, I might be nervous, like I might mess up and people might look at me funny. It's the same thing with recording: everybody knows you're about to act and put on this role. Once I got it like that, it just let me calm down and it's not as nerve-wracking as it seems. You're with other actors and you bounce off their energy, and then you make the scene.

There's always a message in your music videos. When you're working on visuals for a music video, how are you thinking about translating the message of the song through the video?

That's real key to coming up with the process of music videos. We've always wanted to: one, be out of the box and do something we haven't done before; two, try to relay the message that we're trying to portray, regardless of if it's within our values or morals.

I've always wanted my videos to feel like movies. I feel like my music is cinematic, and sometimes you can't visually always get it through the music. Like, you might need a video to understand it. Because sometimes, we be thinking outside the box to the point that it'll still go over some people's heads and stuff.

Can we expect another music video from Clearwater coming soon?

Yeah! We shot "Money and Celebrate" down in Nebraska. The people that we shoot with, they're from out there and they got a team of people that work with cameras, the lighting people, and the microphones … I'm trying to get a couple more videos off the project. I wanna do a video to "Fountain of Youth."

Who are some of your biggest influences?

I got like Kendrick Lamar, I rock with J. Cole … I like Anderson.Paak, I like Isaiah Rashad, I like Mick Jenkins, Chance, I like J.I.D., I like Roddy Rich. I like so many people. I rock with Quentin Miller too, and Russ. There's so many people that I rock with that I salute what they got going on.

If you could pick two artists from any era, dead or alive, to join you on a four- to five-minute track, who would they be?

Damn … that's kinda hard, G. A Kendrick and Biggie feature would be hard. It would be crazy.

What type of beat are you rocking with?

I don't know. Like some Dilla.

That would be wavey. I would probably go with some OG Rick Ross Godfather beat.

Yeah, I feel that. I would also want to work with Michael Jackson. That's the greatest. That would be tight, man.

On your single "Mustard Seed," on your last album you said, "These days, I'm just a kid from the 'Sota, we on the market to blow up lately." Do you still think that Minnesota is a place where hip-hop artists can flourish and make a name for themselves?

I feel like it's going to be. I feel like over time, we're going to get more and more outlets to expose our music. I don't feel like it's just going to stay dead. At some point in time, with technology, with social media, the way that we can transfer and post videos in seconds across the world, there's room for anybody to be known anywhere, and I feel like we've got a melting pot of talent here. It's just once the right resources come and find out and then they make that bright, or open that door, then everybody else is going to see.

Jeffrey Bissoy is an assistant producer at MPR News. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and raised in The Twin Cities, Jeffrey has grown a passion for representation and identity, Hip-Hop, and the impact of sports on society. He's also the host of two podcasts — Maintainin' and The Come-Up — the former examines the nuances of the young adult experience, and the latter stays current with the weekly drama of the NBA.

External Link

Why Khaliq - official site

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