Meet Khamari — The R&B talent being compared to Frank Ocean and Mac Miller

Mixing catchy grooves and lyrical vulnerability with startling ease, Khamari is one of the fiercest talents to hit the R&B scene in recent years.

Khamari tells me he has been searching for perspective. Having recently moved from Boston to Los Angeles, he was trying to make sense of his timing; what was moving too fast, and what wasn’t moving fast enough in his relationships and career. The result is a beautifully introspective, albeit existential track, ‘Doctor, My Eyes’. 

Over the melodic grooves, his lyrics are confessional, like: “Most the time I feel too much so I try not to feel at all”. It’s something that the Dorchester native has become known for, and his silky, effortless sounding vocals heighten this sense of intimacy; further eroding the barriers between musician and listener. 

Khamari’s command of his genre, within only five years of pursuing music full time, is hardly unsurprising. He is skilled as a pianist and guitarist, having grown up playing everything from the French horn to the violin, before he went to study at the Berklee School of Music. 

He’s since been compared to the likes of Frank Ocean and Mac Miller, it’s high praise, and not entirely unwarranted. A listen to his 2019 debut EP, Eldorado, is reminiscent of Miller’s fifth album, Swimming. The five tracks lay bare Khamari’s often fraught thought processes, but infectious pop melodies inject them with a prevailing sense of optimism about the future. It’s relatable; something that listeners can project their own anxieties onto. That is the marker of good songwriting after all. 

HUNGER caught up with Khamari about his latest track, his processes, and his next moves…

You left the Berklee School of Music to pursue being a full-time musician in 2017. Was it a tough decision? It can be risky, this business…

Leaving Berklee to step into music was probably the easiest decision I’ve had to make. For the longest time, I knew what I wanted to do, and just had to make sure my family understood it. 

What inspired ‘Doctor, My Eyes’? 

 When I wrote ‘Doctor, My Eyes’ I was searching for perspective. I had just moved from Boston to Los Angeles, and was still learning to make sense of my life. It felt that everything I knew was shifting too fast, and the things I thought would change stayed the same. When I first moved out here, I thought my life was going to change really drastically but I still felt like I wasn’t really living.

What does your songwriting process look like? Are there any themes you keep coming back to? 

 My process looks different depending on how I’m feeling, and whether I’m collaborating or working by myself. Usually, though, I start with the music, then try throwing words around until something feels good. Sometimes I have thoughts and phrases written down that have crossed my mind, which I find a way to build around. Ultimately it’s just finding the best way to take a snapshot of how I feel in that moment.

Is songwriting therapeutic for you? Does being so candid and honest come naturally? 

Yes. [But] I think some of my favourite art says things you may not be comfortable saying in a conversation. So, no, I don’t think it comes naturally, but I think it’s an important part of the process. 

Men can feel the pressure to hide their emotions and project a more “masculine” vibe. Have you ever felt pressured to hold stuff back? 

I mean honestly, it’s 2022, nobody worth making music for thinks about that shit anymore. I just make what I feel. 

Your songs are also really catchy – is it important for you to keep things upbeat, despite dealing with often heavy subject matters? 

In my opinion, the most important thing is for the emotion of the music to reflect whatever it is you’re talking about. I don’t necessarily worry about songs being catchy, but I do try and keep things simple to get the point across. 

Who are your biggest influences and inspirations when it comes to songwriting? 

Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, and Bill Withers are some artists whose songwriting has really inspired me. 

You’ve also been compared to Frank Ocean and Leon Bridges. How do you feel about that? 

As you mentioned, Frank has been a big influence on my music, so I can appreciate getting that comparison. That being said, I’m excited to prove my own artistic identity with the music over the next few years. 

What do you do when you’re stuck in a songwriting rut? 

Normally when I’m stuck, it means I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. If I get to the point where I’m at the mic for an hour and not getting anywhere, I’ll usually take a step back and think about what I want to write about for a while. 

What artist had the biggest effect on you as a teen? 

Usher easily had the biggest effect on me as a teen. Confessions is one of my most played albums of all time. 

If you could only list three artists for the rest of your life who would they be?

This is impossible, but If I had to pick for the rest of my life, it would have to be Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar, and Ye. 

What’s a song/artist that you can’t get enough of right now?

Lately, I’ve had “Song Cry,” by Jay-Z and “Love’s in Need of Love Today” by Stevie Wonder on repeat. 

Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with? 

2022 I’m trying to get that Tyler, The Creator feature. 

Top three musical genres? 

R&B, Soul, Hip Hop. 

What’s been the most surreal moment of your career so far? 

The most surreal moment of my career so far has to be playing my first show at Day N Vegas. Getting to do my first set, and seeing people in the crowd singing the lyrics from songs off my first EP Eldorado was a crazy feeling. 

How will you know if you’ve made it? 

Every step reveals more steps, so I won’t.

And finally, do you want to be seen as a musician?

Hopefully thoughtful, and intentional.

‘Doctor, My Eyes’ is available to stream now.

WriterNessa Humayun
PhotographerShamaal Bloodman