In the language of love, “you deserve better than me” is one of the cruellest lines there is. It’s a soul-crushing form of rejection – but in rare instances, it’s irreducibly, unignorably honest. When those word are uttered then, there’s no going back. It’s over. slodown‘s slow-burning breakup missive “Khaled” exists in that emotional orbit. As beautiful as it is devastating, it beams a magnificent sentimental veracity despite the fact its message is so cold. “Let’s have a toast for the assholes”, Kanye West once said. But slodown takes it further than that. There’s no celebration in “Khaled” – how can there be when it’s a monument of regret? In the unsparing glare of his self-scrutiny, slodown is forced to reckon with himself and what he’s done and in that process lies the drama worthy of high art.
Besides its qualitative merits, there’s another reason why “Khaled” is such a crucial artefact. It’s the work of two Singaporean sons coaxing their artistic visions into the light in the culture capital of the world, New York. The sleek, moody, velveteen slow jam is the handiwork of Yllis, who flips an Asian karaoke standard of yesteryear into a canvas for slodown to paint over with his hushed-but-powerful coo. Not all songs are created equal – and this is better than a lot of the rest out there. Today, we celebrate it with a premiere of its accompanying music video, directed by director and photographer Kao Cheng Kai. Below, slodown explains how both song and video came into the world.
Hey, slo! What’s good? How are things in New York?
Wassuppp. I’m finishing up my last semester in school right now so shit is pretty crazy. New York has been amazing when I’ve had time to enjoy it.
“Khaled” has been making the rounds in a great way – sincere congratulations. It’s beautiful. Does its momentum and success surprise you?
Thank you, man. I appreciate it. I’ll keep it real – I actually think the song should be getting more recognition and circulation. I’m saying this in comparison to my other single out: “Nomance”. “Nomance”’s been getting featured on a bunch of Spotify playlists and because of that, it’s gotten way more plays. I’m proud of “Nomance” but “Khaled” is a fucking masterpiece so I’m low-key salty that it’s getting over-looked. That’s partly what made me want to do the video.
“The situation being told in the song has happened again and again since, so at this point it just feels like: Note To Self.”
Take us back to the beginning. When did you realise you could sing?
I’ve been singing in the shower and when I take shits as far back as I can remember. I guess along the way I realized I didn’t sound too horrible.
The song is a play on DJ Khaled’s hilarious “you smart, you loyal” quip. But you’ve taken that and transformed it into something serious and entirely different from its context. Tell us more about that flip.
Firstly, shoutout to Khaled. Icon. That “you smart, you loyal” scene is legendary. I used to re-watch it all the time and crack the fuck up. I had left the browser tab there and one day it played on mute while “Wish that you were mine” by The Manhattans was playing from Spotify. Unexpectedly seeing the visuals over some emotional shit gave me the idea for the flip.
“Khaled” is one of those songs that doesn’t have a fairy tale ending but is still so relatable. And it’s great that you’re really telling it like it is. What made you want to be so honest in that way?
It’s honest because it was meant for just myself and I never expected it to go out into the world like that. Never used to think I would do music for real, but I always used to just write songs to get stuff off my chest. I didn’t share it with anyone since it was just personal shit. Thing is, this upcoming EP started out as a short film idea I began writing when I started NS. I think, along the way, I figured it would be less tedious to turn the story into songs as opposed to a script or screenplay.
Does the song – which also serves an apology to the female character in the narrative – have a cathartic effect on you?
It did when I wrote it, but the situation being told in the song has happened again and again since, so at this point it just feels like: Note To Self.
“If you’re Chinese and you’re cool with seeing a white girl in a qipao, cool, but that doesn’t mean you should expect a black person to feel the same about you rocking a dashiki.”
Since alt-R&B became mainstream, big names like The Weeknd and Drake have made it trendy to basically humble brag about sex. But with a song like “Khaled” to your name, how do you feel about contemporary R&B?
It’s the same genre but the best ones doing it right now have such different sounds from one another. As an artist, I try my best to carve out my own sound, and I’m pretty satisfied with this whole singing-over-Asian-sounds-and-samples direction. Massive shoutout to Yllis da god for crafting the sound with me.
The message of “Khaled” brings to mind another great song with a similar theme: Kanye West’s “Runaway”.
That’s crazy. I think many people would say ‘Runaway’ is a top five ‘Ye joint. No way I can be mad at that.
The video is a likewise compelling work of art. How did you link up with Kao Cheng Kai and what was your vision for the visual treatment?
Thank you man. I think, the first time we met was at Bohan Phoenix’s crib. Kai had previously done a video for Bohan, who then showed me his work when I asked about directors. Shoutout Kai for bringing the vision to life and killing it; that’s the homie. Also, big shoutout to Bohan. I knew I wanted the first part of the song to look like some Wong Kar Wai shit – that’s the god. The second part of the song sounds more contemporary and I wanted the video to reflect that too.
What can people expect from your upcoming EP Nomance?
Think of it as a 6-song short film or a book. I’m singing some real shit over Asian karaoke samples and shit. It’s subtitled “a short story by Slodown” since there’s a narrative running through it. Oh, and the story ends up looping. I’m saving the other details for when the project’s out. Next video dropping is a continuation of this “Khaled” video.
Cultural appropriation has been a hot topic for a minute now. Being right in the heart of things in New York, what’s your perspective on the whole issue?
The way I see it, if someone of colour tells you you’re appropriating their culture, just learn and don’t repeat your mistake. Even if you feel that whatever you did is not cultural appropriation, don’t argue with someone who’s accusing you of appropriating his or her culture. It’s their culture, not yours. It affects people differently. If you’re Chinese and you’re cool with seeing a white girl in a qipao, cool, but that doesn’t mean you should expect a black person to feel the same about you rocking a dashiki.
I hear people getting called out for things and I get tight when I hear them say things like “I wasn’t trying to offend them or appropriate their culture, I was just doing this because I think it’s cool.” Like, chill Becky. That’s like saying I wasn’t trying to hurt my girl’s feelings when I cheated, I just wanted to bust a nut.
We’re missing you in Singapore. When can we expect you back?
Hopefully in May after my graduation, I miss the food and the homies.