The Ruminations Of APESHIT



The Ruminations Of APESHIT Artist Rae Khalil 

words by India Espy-Jones
images by U Music

“My family inspired me to be excited about music,” Rae Khalil says over a Zoom call, with her cold-recovering voice full of rasp. Cameras off, I completely zoned into the low-pitched, friendly tone reverberating from her approachable disposition. 

30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, 27-year-old Khalil’s burnished vocals were born and raised in the South Bay. “Since I was really little, music was always heavily integrated into the household,” Khalil says. Her mother, a  San Jose State graduate and signer with a musical theater background, set the tone for Khalil growing up. “I was obsessed with my mom and wanted to be like her,” she says. “Anything she listened to I loved.” But despite the constant sound of Luther Vandross and bands like The Clash and Parliament narrating throughout her childhood, she still shied away from making music for a while. 

I was a very late bloomer,” she says, only experimenting with music at 18. “I wanted to be an EGOT like Whoopi Goldberg and Rita Marino, but I was very shy.” While her friends were developing their sound by the age of 13, it wasn’t until high school that Khalil started listening to more rap and ‘90s hip-hop, like Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, to get her music career started. “[It] kind of ignited something in me and I wanted to try it.” Back then, the artist’s basement boom-bap, drum-heavy noise was housed on SoundCloud, where she recorded experimental raps over knowledge beats. But not long after, Khalil fell into a rut after dropping out of college, with her newfound career stuck behind the “shady” side jobs she often picked up. 

Since then, Khalil has gone on to work with Benny Sings, Anderson .Paak, and her longtime collaborator, Jared Rubens, plus being featured on the Netflix music reality series Rhythm + Flow in 2019. Which, at first, Khalil wasn’t even interested in auditioning for. “[My mom] had a friend who was scouting for the show, and asked the friend if she knew anyone that rapped, and she referred me,” she says. “I was so busy working on my first album Girlfriend that I was not really worried about auditioning.” The 12-song 44-minute album released in 2018 features 10 one-word song titles – like “Warm” and “Jaded” – to describe the intermingling of an intimate relationship.

“I feel like songs are just snapshots of moments in time, like photographs put into song form.”

“Then, my mom just kept insisting,” she says, giving in despite her busy recording schedule. And, luckily so. During the show, judged by Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I., the artist earned co-signs from Queen Latifah and Common, as well as .Paak’s backing band, Free Nationals, who played on her second album ForTheWorld. “I’m so grateful I did it because I feel like it opened like a million doors for me,” she exclaims. A year after her two-episode run, Khalil’s relationship with .Paak ended up being a match made in Heaven. Her songwriting and vocals on his song “Lockdown” was an unexpected turning point in her developing career. 

“I was just listening to the beat that Jay [Rock] was working on and just sang the first thing that came out of my head,” Khalil says. “I think I ended up writing some words here or there. But really, it was the melody that I incorporated for that song.” The song she casually chats about landed her one step closer to her childhood EGOT dream, winning Best Melodic Rap Performance at the 63rd Grammy Awards in 2021. Between Rhythm + Flow and her first Grammy award, Khalil finds her focus is sharper than before. 

Even then, when .Paak asked her to sign to his record label APESHIT Inc. under Def Jams in 2023, she didn’t see it coming. “I’m such a big fan of his and I just enjoyed spending time with him and his crew and just to be around,” she says. “It never crossed my mind that we would be in such a serious business relationship.” Joining artists DOMi & JD Beck and The Free Nationals, Rae Khalil is the third and latest artist to sign with the label. After a four-year pause since her last album – although distant rumination is a part of her creative process – Khalil has turned her attention to getting back on stage, but not without questioning the workings of her personal life. 

As the title to her latest single, the conscious lyricism in “Is It Worth It?” acts as a thought-provoking teaser to her upcoming album Crybaby. “I’ve heard from a couple different sources and people that I played the album for, that it runs like a movie or script,” she says. Just off the first song, “I’ve just gotten this little bit of a buzz in LA,” she says, so the album is expected to have the world moving with her. “I think the message is really just being intentional. Is it worth it to share space with people who don’t have my best interests? Is it worth it to waste my time when time is so important? She asks, trying to make sense of the answers that dance inside her melodic head. Just as she tries to make sense of what’s unfolding before her eyes, she remembers, “If I knew everything, I’d be dead.”



Load More (66)