Twenty-One Weeks of Khallil
Written By Ashton Mullinax
Do you remember the last time you forced yourself to do something habitually? New Years resolutions come to mind, always beginning strong and full of our best intentions, which then seem to consistently simmer and fade come March. There’s something distinctly human in our trouble with setting good habits—we know what we want, we know how to get there, but damn it’s going to take a lot of work. Khallil Stewart, an Atlanta native who’s wound up in the midst of Charleston’s rap scene, knows how easy it is to conceive a good habit, and how utterly hard it is to stick to it. He’s challenged himself, setting a goal over the course of twenty-one weeks. I’m not talking about going to the gym or cutting down on booze. Rather, he decided to spend twenty-one consecutive weeks producing, writing, and releasing singles, exploring his sonic flexibility and seemingly endless variance over diverse tracks, culminating in immense growth as an individual and artist throughout this process.
Stewart envisioned his adult life taking place under fluorescent stadium lights and on sturdy turf fields, soccer ball in tow. He did not assume that he’d be spending his time behind mics in bedroom studios, but that’s where I met him when he showed me his seventh release, “Ease My Mind.” After pursuing an impressive career in soccer, playing for the Jamaican national team, George Washington University, and then the College of Charleston, Stewart was met with untimely injuries that forced his energy in another direction, which happened to be music.
“My lease was about to be up, I couldn’t play soccer, and I had no idea what to do. I thought about going back home to Atlanta at first, but decided to stay here and figure everything out with my music. I just asked myself, ‘What am I going to do? What will help me grow as an artist?’ So I decided to do a twenty-one week release and now I’m a few weeks into it. It’s kind of scary because anything could happen. I could wake up one day and decide to not do it anymore, but I refuse to do that because I’ve committed and it would hurt if I didn’t go through with it.”
The format of weekly releases every Wednesday requires Stewart to go beyond his prior conceptions of boundaries within his music. He exists in liminal space—constantly adapting and readapting his sound, inconsistent modes of transition from one release to the next. We meet a relieved version of Stewart on, “Need You,” where he addresses how suffering has allowed for realizations about himself, rapping, “Look it all changing now / found myself in the mirror / rearranging how…” This parallels the idea that underlies the twenty-one week challenge, illustrating how Stewart must confront varying levels of introspection in order to produce each varied song.
“Cash Out” diverges from “Need You” entirely in its production alone, harking back to Stewart’s roots in Atlanta. Mixed and mastered by Shelby Keith, the song features a simple-yet-polished beat you’d expect the likes of Thugger to hop on, especially over the light chord progression that is additionally nuanced by reeling percussion and steady bass. Instead, Stewart’s pronounced vocals give the song a distinct edge, emphasizing his lyrics that orbit more ominous subject matter, evidenced when he raps, “rock star / bad mind / I guess this is what it came to… I’m sleeping with demons / they’re all in my room…”
Stewart further develops this voice on “Ease My Mind.” He showcases his vocal flexibility, moving outside a strict adherence to rapping alone, singing throughout the chorus and other moments of the song. The lyrics here juxtapose that of “Need You” and “Cash Out,” where he speaks from a place of longing when he sings, “Don’t press rewind / I’m pressed for time / to know you…” Stewart isn’t afraid to explore all dimensions of the self, whether it is examining the individual power found following suffering, tendencies toward melancholy, or desires to be with a significant other.
The process as a whole has proven very effective in assisting Stewart to digest his day-to-day life and all of the chaos that might accompany it. He explains, “It can be therapeutic, dealing with my injuries and love life, that's what a lot of my writing is about. Sometimes it’s just channeling the really dark stuff. It’s easy to get caught up in that, so I’ve learned over time to use music as a channel and to help me understand things I go through. You do want to let it out, you don’t want to ball that up.”
I have to thank Stewart for undertaking such a daunting task. With each release, we are given a glimpse into the person that is Khallil Stewart, evolving in all aspects every day, captured in sound. We also can perceive ourselves in these tracks, as he encompasses several subjects and experiences throughout the course of this challenge. He’s ultimately proven that one good habit can take a little introspection a very long way.