Khalid performs onstage at MTV Woodies LIVE on March 16, 2017 in Austin, Texas.
Tim Mosenfelder—Getty Images
By Raisa Bruner
April 6, 2017

Where do you begin?

All of my music is based off moods and feelings. I have to put my emotions into a song. It’s a form of therapy for me. I start with melodies. I don’t necessarily start with words. Because I can hear what I felt from melody, I usually build upon that.

R&B is going in a chill, deconstructed direction. Why do you think this is happening at a time of national upheaval?

Because it’s honest. Nowadays there’s a lot of dishonesty. Trying to find yourself is the hardest thing. I think me being vulnerable about whatever I was going through, people listen to it and they hear authenticity.

What role does technology play in your process?

My best songs are written on my iPhone. I click back and forth between Voice Memos and Notes. On Voice Memos, I record all my melodies. If I’m in a session and feeling the mood, I can play a memo and we can re-create it.

What makes this wave of artists unique?

There used to be such a small space when it came to music. Now we accept the fact that we literally can do whatever we want. The box, especially in R&B, is growing, growing, growing. I’m glad to be a part of that.

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

This appears in the April 17, 2017 issue of TIME.

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