Hot Take
Khalid's album cover for "Scenic Drive"

I’ll Never Forgive Y’all For Sleeping On Khalid’s Scenic Drive

Let’s open his most cohesive love letter to R&B.

Elite Daily

In Elite Daily’s I’ll Never Forgive Y’all, editors explain why underrated albums of the last decade deserved better. Here, Adrianne Reece ponders over the momentum of Khalid’s career, which has taken a noticeable back seat in the last four years. However, in that odd calmness came the singer’s most stunning and arguably understated project, 2021’s Scenic Drive (The Tape).

Khalid’s music comes to life when on a late-night drive. It’s fitting, considering he’s a character best served in the after-hours: an emotive, raspy-toned romantic who doesn’t mind going the distance to find love — even if it’s short-lived. That whimsy is what made 2016’s “Location,” his debut hit that sees him roaming around his hometown of El Paso to meet his crush, such a treasure. That wasn’t the R&B-pop singer’s final road trip; it was the beginning of him musing over intimate relationships while behind the wheel. And on 2021’s Scenic Drive, he leaned into that ritual with a rhythmic charm that wasn’t appreciated enough.

Scenic Drive was an unexpected gift from Khalid. As he told Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe in October 2021, he slowly detached himself from music after the release of his second album, 2019’s Free Spirit. He hit a creative dead end; a slump riddled with pressure to maintain a certain level of success, even when that wasn’t his vision as an artist. After a year of self-healing and working through that writer’s block, he moved to Malibu and began building the framework of what was supposed to be his third album, Everything Is Changing.

Within that process, he switched gears to record Scenic Drive a nod to the winding road that oversees the skyline of El Paso and Juarez. “I refocused and said: ‘Before I give people this album that’s almost a new reintroduction to who I am as a creative, I want to go back to my basics and make an R&B tape,’” Khalid said of the nine-track EP at the time. “EPs give me the ability to make different decisions, choices, be experimental and on task, to having a vision and executing it.”

That vision blooms in the project’s intro, where a radio dial spins between snippets of Khalid’s older hits. A piano spurs in, and Alicia Keys — lifted by her own gauzy harmonies and the low hums of a car engine — makes the mission statement clear: “We’re here tonight to provide the vibes. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.” And what a delectable cruise it is.

Cooper Neill/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Scenic Drive was destined to be a tasteful gem, and it still is. In fact, it’s Khalid’s best work to date. After years of teetering between pop and R&B, he fully committed to making a record of the latter sound. It’s a stunning left turn, a detour that I’ve — as someone who’s gravitated more towards his soul-infused records — been eager for him to explore. The EP settles in the air, wisping with a comforting rhythm of an artist who freed himself of restraints. He found his footing after a period of being lost, and he embraced that recovery alongside R&B’s silkiest acts.

Khalid wrestles through the many shades of romance on Scenic Drive. There’s burning crimson on “Retrograde,” where he curtly dismisses a lover for “only f*ckin’ with him for the benefits” that come with being famous. He’s not alone; Lucky Daye and 6lack also chime in with tales of being used, their voices buoyed with self-reflective grit.

That hue softens to gold on “Open,” a buttery number that sees Khalid and Toronto’s own, Majid Jordan, trading flirty compliments about their new partners. Still awash in awe, he and Ari Lennox lead with honeyed melodies on the title track “Scenic Drive,” and Smino elevates the mood with his sultry hybrid of rap singing.

There’s no release in Khalid’s catalogue that’s woken me more than Scenic Drive. However, it seemed to fall under listeners’ radars. The one-off singles that followed the EP’s release — think of the blissful sighs of “Skyline,” “Satellite,” and “Softest Touch” — also went largely unrecognized. That’s what puzzled me. After the release of 2017’s American Teen, he’d been hailed as a songbird of a new generation. He was sonically untouchable, reverberating on the top of the charts with an allure that he’d be dominating those spaces for years to come. Then, it slowed down.

At one point, I would’ve scoffed seeing “underrated” and Khalid in the same sentence. But in recent years, he and that term have become closely intertwined, leaving listeners like me to curiously wonder where the disconnect happened. Even he has noticed the discourse surrounding his placement in the industry, but he seems comfortable in that space.


On Scenic Drive, Khalid reminded listeners that he’s still a powerhouse without straining his creativity. There’s a drowsiness to his vocals that’s almost tranquil, similar to unwinding to the shuffled noise of an hours-long rain ASMR. Yet, he also sounds renewed and lush with clarity that when not subdued by artistic pressures, he can execute greatness. That precision has carried over to “Please Don’t Fall In Love With Me,” his most recent offering of Everything Is Changing. He’s still neatly tucked into his R&B bubble, and he later tapped Sinead Harnett — another gem from the genre — for the track’s live performance.

It’s unfortunate Scenic Drive didn’t receive its rightful flowers. However, as he’s settling into a new dawn of his career with his upcoming album, it’s the perfect time to revisit this EP.