In the ’90s, everyone had their favorite “tape.” Cobbled together from random albums or recorded straight from the radio, this mythical music collection could control the vibe of any moment – whether its purpose was to cold rock a party or set the mood for a car ride with your boo thang. Khalid, who is both a ’90s R&B enthusiast and lover of late-night drives, tries to channel that energy on his latest release, Scenic Drive (The Tape).
The nine-song collection begins with a nod to Khalid’s greatest hits on “Intro.” After we hear a car door slam, we hear his past jams playing on different channels being tuned on an old-school car radio. Finally, we arrive at the right station, with Alicia Keys welcoming us to the Scenic Drive complete with an outro featuring her harmonies over a sound bed of violins. Hearing Keys’ vocals and not Khalid’s is a surprising yet beautiful start to the project, which really gets going with the first official track, the single “Present.” Against guitar licks and thumping percussion, Khalid croons about how important it is for him to be in the moment with his girl. With so many distractions vying for our attention nowadays, it’s a timely message that we all can heed.
Khalid invites us to the “Backseat” next. The title conjures up ideas of swinging an episode in the backseat of a Jeep, but instead of getting busy, Khalid just wants to smoke a little Mary Jane and chill. He glides over the laid-back groove and shares both everyday and existential thoughts. “Oh, it’s been a stressful week, I could use the company / Searching for some inner peace, you still feel incomplete / You start yo question s**t like what’s the point in anything,” he sings.
Alicia Keys isn’t the only artist riding shotgun on the feature-heavy Scenic Drive. 6LACK and Lucky Daye join Khalid on “Retrograde.” The fellas take turns singing about life and love after the fame and how hard it is to find a real one much less the right one. “My personal and business lives are separate / They’re only f**king with you for your benefits,” they lament together on the chorus before sharing ways they dull the pain. Next, Khalid teams up with 6LACK’s real-life girlfriend QUIÑ on the playful track “Brand New.” Taking the throwback phrase describing someone trying to act coy, the duet partners let each other know that there’s no future in their fronting and to get to the loving over a sultry sound bed of synths and stuttering drums.
That lovey-dovey feeling is lost on “All I Feel Is Rain” where Khalid sings about a partner who isn’t keeping up on their end of the relationship. The whole time, he remains faithful for reasons even he doesn’t understand, as he sings, “All I feel is rain when you creep out in the night / And you caused me so much pain but I still stand by your side.” JID makes it rain with some choice words for old girl on his verse. He quips, “So many good girls but I tend to love on the troubled type /But I draw a line if I’m thinkin’ you live a double life.”
Kiana Ledé is in the passenger seat on “Voicemail,” which finds Khalid pouring his heart out in hopes that his lover will get the message and respond post haste. “Don’t leave me waitin’, waitin’, waitin’,” the duo sings on the chorus. “Open” featuring Majid Jordan sounds mysteriously like a sequel to their previous collaboration, “Caught Up.” The fellas are caught up and wide open alright and want to move to the next logical step with the object of their desire.
Scenic Drive closes with the title track featuring Ari Lennox and Smino. Ending things out on a high note, “Scenic Drive” is a mid-tempo track that sounds different from most of the throwback-inspired sound of the album that starts to feel a little monotonous. Keeping with the project’s theme, the song finds Khalid and Ari using car metaphors to describe making love. Smino’s unique rap style is perfect for the butter smooth track, switching between vocal styles but lacing the tune with style and grace that still feels romantic.
As a concept EP, Scenic Drive (The Tape) is well executed; it fully captures the feel of driving around with bae and listening to the radio, lost in the music and each other. Sure, Khalid may lean a little too much into his fondness for ‘90s R&B and repeated guitar licks, but the “tape” still manages to sound fresh and is a good look for the 23-year-old singer who is still growing into his sound and is free to take as many detours as he pleases.