It’s not like Eugene-based Khalil Romeo takes any sort of weird pride in producing his own hip-hop music. He isn’t quick to note that he makes his own flyers and album artwork, either. That’s just the way it is for an up-and-coming artist. It’s born out of necessity.
However, don’t get it twisted — the goal is to eventually make it big enough so that he could work with whomever he wants.
“I feel like that’s how a lot of things have been for me in general,” Romeo says. “And when it came to music I really had to buckle down and do it myself.”
Off the strength of 2018’s No Place Is Home EP and a string of singles released in the last year or so, Romeo has gained a local following by making music that’s both vulnerable and indulgent. He sings and he raps, often in the same song. It’s not exactly pop, but it would fit nicely on pop playlists. It’s because Romeo takes up the role of the wise young man, already comfortably on the charts, never letting his wisdom slip through the cracks of his youthful execution.
Romeo was raised by his mother and two older sisters. He says his unique perspective as an artist partially stems from his experience in a house full of women, and it shows in his music.
“It’s about realizing what makes you unique compared to other people,” Romeo says. “Figuring out how to express that is sometimes the hardest part.”
The single “Ruin Everything,” Romeo’s strongest effort to date production-wise, shows an emotional maturity that underpins an awareness of his own self-destruction. This clarity is evident in his latest single, “Perfect Timing,” as well, in an effortless tone to his voice that bodes well with the confessionalism in his lyrics.
There’s no “mask-off” moment with Romeo, because what you’re getting is him, unabridged. You hear a tinge of heartbreak in every one of his songs, something not quite being said. This mysterious air of repentance allows Romeo to escape the narcissism and opportunistic honesty that plagues a good deal of mainstream R&B today.
“I want to connect with as many people as possible,” Romeo says. “I think it’s through the process of being real with myself that I’m able to relate to so many people through my music.”
Romeo began making music in high school after seeing one of his friends upload a song to SoundCloud. He recalls almost immediately developing a passion for music on his own, in his free time. He’s since developed a small community of fellow artists in Eugene.
“I feel like there’s an energy in the Northwest that hasn’t been fully captured in hip hop or music in general,” Romeo says. “Grunge music from Seattle came close, but I think there’s room for that sound in today’s hip hop.”
In the coming months, Romeo looks to expand on his sound with the release of a few new singles and some videos to accompany them. It’s rare and electrifying to know about an artist before they’ve made it big. Some music fans attribute their entire self worth to the fact that they knew of an artist before their friends did. This is how it feels listening to Romeo as the sun sets in the Northwest.
Romeo’s music often deals with matters of the heart. An internal conflict rages in his chest; part of him remains tethered to thoughts of making it big, and ruminations of what life would be like away from home, whatever that is these days. Another part of him basks in what he’s already created and wonders if this is enough. Will it ever be enough?
Khalil Romeo’s music is available on all streaming platforms; you can view his latest single, “Priorities,” on YouTube.