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St. Paul rapper Why Khaliq continues to cultivate his sound with 'The Mustard Seed'

Why Khaliq

Why Khaliq Samantha LeeAnn

The extent of Why Khaliq’s artistic ambitions has never been more apparent.

The 23-year-old St. Paul rapper premiered a short film called The Mustard Seed online in August, and this week he released an album of the same name. Inspired by the biblical parable of the mustard seed, both film and album center on the concept of starting small and working steadily to make a much larger impact.

Khaliq had filmmaking aspirations for years before he finally began talking to Lincoln, Nebraska-based cinematographer Brent Scott Maze on Twitter. Set in Minnesota but shot in Nebraska, the final product is a mostly autobiographical 20-minute film that features Khaliq’s manager Tezzy (who co-wrote the film with Khaliq) and his DJ CamOnClouds. Khaliq is the protagonist, and he spends the movie contemplating how he can turn his music into a career while simultaneously feeling the inevitable nerves that come with being a young man who unexpectedly learns he’ll be a father soon.

This week’s release of the Mustard Seed album was the culmination of Khaliq’s latest run of #WhyWednesday drops. The LP is full of dense, trend-dodging songs that bring to mind the conceptual odysseys of rappers like Chicago’s Mick Jenkins (who Khaliq unsurprisingly admires). As smart as it is, the album is by no means pretentious – it’s as sonically welcoming as it is lyrically insightful. With a collection of supremely chill beats from producers including Minnesotans Been Reza and Ande Mariette, it’s an instantly likable first listen that’s also rewarding to further explore as Khaliq evocatively raps about his and his team’s growth, his daughter, and more.

City Pages sat down with Khaliq at his Minneapolis studio to discuss the evolution of the Mustard Seed projects and how he intends to rep St. Paul for years to come. In addition to the album’s release this week, Khaliq will also open for Blackalicious on Saturday at the Entry.

City Pages: Do you consider The Mustard Seed a concept album?

Why Khaliq: Yeah. I feel like all of my bodies of work are like concepts. That’s just my style of music. I like to really think about and be intricate with my music and how I make it.

CP: Your first couple projects were relatively raw. Then it seemed like you really came into your own around the time of TheOtherSide: TheSix5 in 2015. Did something happen around that time that made you rethink how you want to make music?

WK: It just came with time and me finding myself. At first, early on, I had music about everything -- stuff I wasn’t doing, talking about anything that any rapper would talk about just because it would sound trendy. That never felt comfortable. It never felt like me; it never felt like I was actually expressing myself. When I’m expressing myself in a creative way, some people say it’s metaphoric or poetic or whatever the case may be. I just like to be vivid and be able to create that image for you.

CP: How early did you know you wanted to release a short film and an album connectedly?

WK: I’ve always wanted to do something like that. Do you remember when I did No Title, the bunch of untitled #WhyWednesday releases I was doing? We took a lot of the songs from there and created The Mustard Seed [film] from it. Once we finished that film, I knew I had to create the [album] with it just because of the story it told and how much it related to the music I was making at the time.

CP: It’s not totally clear -- do you consider your previous full-length projects albums or mixtapes?

WK: I won’t say The Mustard Seed is my debut album or nothing like that. I like to call my projects albums because the body of work cohesively sounds like an album. Technically, [the previous projects] are all considered mixtapes, but in my eyes, they’re all albums. That’s what I like to treat ‘em like. Sometimes “mixtape” gets confused with just putting a bunch of songs on there and maybe having a DJ or something. I just don’t want that feeling attached to it.

CP: How did you meet the director of the Mustard Seed film, Brent Scott Maze?

WK: I shot “Knew the Half” and Elevator premiered it on their YouTube channel. The director happened to be a big fan of Elevator, so he seen my video. He hit me up on Twitter like, “Yo, you’re dope.” He didn’t say nothing about videography. We just started choppin’ it up and then he started telling me how he’s doing cinematography. Basically, I told him I had this idea: I want to shoot this short film. He was like, “Yo, I’ve never heard no artist wanna do something like this.” He was totally stoked about it, so we planned it and went and shot like five days straight, eight-hour days, 10-hour days. It was our first time doing something like that, so it’s dope to see it manifest.

CP: Are you a big fan of movies?

WK: Yeah, I am. We be watching that shit all the time. We’ll see movies and get inspiration, or watch a TV show and we’ll talk about it. We just like to have our videos be cinematic as possible and tell a story and express the music that we’re creating. Sometimes a normal music video won’t do the music justice, and you need something more. I feel like people appreciate the music more in The Mustard Seed seeing the film, rather than when I dropped it. Most people thought all the music was my album, and that’s from No Title. After seeing the visual, people obviously attached to the music more, like, “Yo, this song’s dope.” I’m like, “But I dropped this 10 months ago.”

CP: Lelan Foley produced the Under the Perspective Tree EP and Been Reza produced all the No Title tracks, but The Mustard Seed has various producers. What did you like about working with different producers for this album?

WK: What I like about it is they’re all cool as shit, and they all got dope-ass fuckin’ production. It’s just dope because this the first time I’ve used this many people on one project, but all of the beats sound so good together that I had to. Actually, I do have a beat on there I made [“There She Goes”]. This is my first project that I have my own beat that I made. I’m proud of that shit, ‘cause that shit bang.

CP: Did you make all the songs at this studio?

WK: I made them all here. They all came at different times, but once I started writing, they all came fast. They all was written right away, that same day, within a couple hours. I would go back and fix it a couple days later and shit like that, but most of that shit came from just vibin’, man, real-life experiences. I wanted to basically take this growth that I’ve been through and put it in this audio form so people can listen to it from the beginning to the end and see this growth that I’ve had with me having a kid, with me growing more exposure, everything like that.

CP: The album is being released under “Six5 Records.” Is that an actual label, or is it just how you’re stamping your music at this time?

WK: It’s just, like, a collective. It’s a lot to it, and it’s going to be more announced later on, but right now, we just buildin’. That’s our foundation, Six5 Records. It’s going to be a creative house for a bunch of creatives to come and be able to produce. Hopefully, yeah, one day it’ll become a label at some point, ‘cause I want all of us to be able to help other people be successful once we become successful. We know how to become successful, and we can teach that and bring in young talent and help talent grow.

CP: With the name Six5 Records, it puts the pressure on to always represent 651 to the fullest.

WK: [laughs] We always represent 651. I feel like that’s the only thing you can get from us. We so St. Paul.

Why Khaliq
With: Blackalicious and Spellbound
Where: 7th Street Entry
When: 9 p.m. Sat. Oct. 28
Tickets: 18+. $25/$28; more info here