Healing Arts with Rae Khalil

by Isaiah Shaw

After the societal tumults of 2020, performing arts organizations are taking Black History Month to another level this year. In February 2021, National Public Radio’s (NPR) Tiny Desk Concert series featured Black artistry from emerging voices to established artists across various genres and generations. On February 18, NPR released a recording of Rae Khalil’s performance from her home in South Los Angeles. Appearing with her band, The Ill, the singer-songwriter and rapper shared a dynamic performance that healed and uplifted those affected by racism in America.

After gaining national recognition on Netflix’s competition series, Rhythm + Flow, Khalil hit the radars of major platforms in the industry. During the performance, she proved to be a versatile and talented performer with a colorful set of hip hop fusion songs. A unique emcee, she blended striking musical enunciations with an impressive vocal range. Her performance and style of delivery is similar to Ty Dolla Sign, Erykah Badu, Tank and the Bangas, 6LACK, and Masego.

The performance began with Way Down, a relaxed song with a descending bass line similar to the soul classic, Feeling Good, which was covered by Nina Simone in 1965. Khalil was rapping but she was also singing the chorus and some of the verses. Although her pitch was sometimes questionable, her musicality and the vulnerability of her singing was enjoyable. And while the lyricism of her rapping was difficult to understand at times, her delivery and cadences were executed convincingly. Her band’s orchestrations also enhanced the overall performance. An all-black ensemble during Black History Month would have been preferable, but The Ill kept the groove alive while authentically communicating with each other.

FATHER, definitely more of an R&B ballad, began with a lovely piano prelude followed by an invigorating downbeat reminiscent of the soulful Erykah Badu. Immediately afterward, Khalil read poetry aimed at healing the traumas caused by American racism.

The concert concluded with Up late and Maria, upbeat and funk-derived songs that left audiences with a confident feeling in themselves. Rae Khalil’s Tiny Desk performance was carefully curated to honor and uplift marginalized voices. It was nice to see a young emerging hip-hop artist expressing an authentic truth that didn’t involve sex, money, status, or drugs. Rae Khalil is a thoughtful artist who uses her talent to heal those who listen.

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