The Chicago-based singer steps up.
Khallee Standberry-Lewis has been on our radar for a few years now, first as a part of Chicago R&B collective JODY, and then with his many collaborations along the Posture–Lo Motion axis (with Supreme Cuts, KIT, Rahel, Keiya and more). While collaborations have defined his output until now, he’s finally (and perhaps inevitably) decided to strike out on his own.
Khallee (who performs under his first name) describes his solo debut, Crying Diamonds, as an “offspring” of his experience in JODY. “It’s about recognizing my contribution to that, and putting that to the forefront, without any distortion,” he says via Facetime. “This is my range, this is what I want to talk about, this is who I am wherever I go.”
Crying Diamonds is not miles from his work in JODY, and it will probably please fans of hazy, R&B acts like The Weeknd and PartyNextDoor. The EP opens with the windswept ‘Extra Love’ before hitting the excellent, finger-snapping ‘PartOfMe’. He flashes some bars on the hypnotic, halting ‘2Layers’, and he’s joined on ‘Silverware’ by contemporary KIT. No matter the track, the EP maintains a cohesive mood, despite gestating for over a year.
The title for Crying Diamonds is even older than the music, and he’s found his own meaning in the phrase over time. “Crying is a form of detox, to keep yourself clear,” he explains, “And diamonds… you just have to glo up — keep going, keep glo’ing.” That combination of catharsis and confidence is apparent on the woozy EP, as Khallee sings and occasionally raps about life and love over atmospheric beats by Bobby Swan, erstwhile Supreme Cuts member a dog and Le1f-collaborator Boody.
He describes Crying Diamonds as driving music, whether that’s leaving the club at 4AM, or heading to a retail job you don’t care about, or a summertime ride to a family cookout. “The commute is very big in our lives,” he says of Chicago, describing the city as a collection of neighborhoods that are “little mini-worlds” unto themselves. His music is inspired not only by driving across the nebulous borders of his Chicago hometown, but also the many places where he spent “stints” during his youth: listening to classic R&B with his father on the way to El Paso, TX or being exposed to the Beatles, Enya and No Doubt when he lived with a white family in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
This ability to “swim in other cultures” has led to a “punk approach to R&B;” he enjoys upending expectations, like when JODY would start mosh pits at their shows. And while Crying Diamonds tends to be moody and atmospheric, he can be more visceral, as well. “When I was young, I wanted to be a werewolf; it seemed honest, like communicating something deeper,” he admits.
“I have a good tone when I sing,” he says, “but I want to howl.”