Khalil Vegas Talks Upbringing, Creative Outlets and Giving Back

Khalil Vegas was born with a vision. One could pin him as an overachiever for a number of reasons—the 20-year-old Baton Rouge native graduated high school at age 16 and quickly showcased his vast skillset. Church choir and winning talent shows turned into working with Disney Channel and rapid musical popularity.

Records like “Beast Mode” are clear examples of Vegas’ infectious, quickly realized sound. His style was remixed, edited, and mastered over time after discovering—through his brother—a cracked version of FL Studio. The Lafayette artist’s success has nowhere to go but up. Vegas has a pocket full of tracks and a unique, layered approach to his music—an approach that feels destined for plaques and packed venues.

We sat down with Khalil to discuss in detail his many creative outlets, investing back into his city, and diving deeper into some of his music in an exclusive interview with Burbs Entertainment.

How did you get your start in the music world?

I just turned 20 a couple months ago. I grew up in Baton Rouge, but I was moving around a lot because of unstable housing. It was fun—from my viewpoint—but the city is horrible. I wouldn’t recommend going in even if you’re into the LSU Tigers. It's not worth it; it's just a horrible city—no tourist attractions whatsoever unless you want your car broken into. I got started on music early. I wasn't actually the musical one in my family, either; that was my brother. But my brother is my producer and engineer right now. My mom used to play a bunch of old CDs of rap and country music and she used to watch anime, so she would play Japanese stuff, too. I grew up listening to a lot of different things. I was about five when I got put into the gifted program, and they were like, “Oh, you can talk good, so join the church choir.” I was in that. My school had the same stuff, so I was in the choir for school. I was on a couple dance teams, too—that was awkward. I won a lot of talent shows and poetry slam competitions because I used to write a lot.

I was more on the artistic side of things like painting, drawing—everything like that. But my brother got a cracked version of FL Studio. He started producing and I started writing to the beats that he was making. He was remaking Kevin Gates type things; YouTube type beats. It was horrible, but it was fun. At the time, I couldn’t rap, but it was a side hobby. It was horrible, but it was fine. I was just always writing and writing and writing. Whenever I started taking it seriously—right around like my junior year of high school—I started focusing on the sound, and it started going up from there on out.

How is the scene in Baton Rouge?

There’s a big music scene. My cousin’s name is Bad Nooze; he was known out there when I was growing up, but he just dialed it back. But, there's this gangster rap scene that’s huge out there—Boosie, Kevin Gates, Youngboy, Fredo Bang, and all that type of scenery. They just took the sound of gangster rap and all the attention got directed towards it, but it's hard to blow up because almost everybody is pitted against each other with needless violence. It's like you can get up, but your city won't support you until you already made it—otherwise they still will see you as a local rapper; you're not from the city if you don't know these people. If you’re not hanging with these people who are on the majors, it’s weird.

They got other scenes in Louisiana. I came to Lafayette; even though I'm from Baton Rouge, I associate a lot more with Lafayette artists like the collective Never Die. We’re not on the tide of gangster rap. Some of the members of the collective can make it, but it's not strictly focused on that—it’s more about the art itself as opposed to the, “Let's just sound like everybody else “entrapment. There are music scenes everywhere, but I can't associate with my own city’s scene because they don't support me. I get more support from literally everywhere else than I do Baton Rouge because I don't rap about guns.

Tell us more about Neverdie USA

That's my boy Kendrick, and his collective is Neverdie USA. He started it around last year, and he's been hosting shows ever since. He was one of the first people to give me a shot at performing when everybody else was like, “His sound is weird; we can't see you perform it.” I fuck with him heavy because he’s just art, in a sense. The group that he formed includes a bunch of the artists throughout the city and I'm an affiliate of it, but it’s just a talented group. They’re willing to push people to do better and everything like that. They just strive. They’re an art group; they do more than just music. They do fashion, designing, pretty much everything. It's just a mix of things that they do.

How is that dynamic with your brother being your producer and engineer?

Interesting—we're blood brothers, even though we look nothing alike. I got dreads and I’m lighter in complexion, and he's dark with an afro the size of a basketball. We push each other more than anything. He was one of the first people that actually pushed me, in a sense—he made sure that I was doing the right things that I needed to do with the music. He knew how to engineer. He knew how to mix. I know how to rap. I knew how to record. We didn't know how to do any of the other things, and vice versa.

He’ll get off of work and mix my stuff whenever I'll be annoying like, “Yo, I got this song; I think it’ll do good.” He's just like, “I don't care; just let me mix it,” because he hated how I mixed it at the time; I didn’t know how to mix, and it was trash. It sounded like the SoundCloud rappers that sound like they record through a phone. His main goal was basically just telling me to not be trash. He made me stop recording the way that I did and he’s been upping my production to go further and further.

How did you get the name Khalil Vegas?

From my friend Chad when we were in sixth or seventh grade. I was supposed to be named Khalil when I was born, but my brother's dad—we don’t have the same dad—showed up to the hospital. Since his dad and my mom were close friends, he was just like, “Hey, let me name your son.” My mom was like, “Alright.” So, my name just got derailed and hijacked to whatever his dad wanted it to be, but I always liked the name Khalil—especially because my favorite movie was Bébé's Kids. There was this bad ass kid who always wore hoodies named Khalil, and I was like, “I like this kid; I'm going to go by that.”

My friend Chad came up with Khalil Vega and I was like, “That does not roll off the tongue whatsoever.” You know the guy from Street Fighter with the mask? He said Khalil Vagabond; I told him that was horrible, why the fuck would I go by that name? Finally, he said Khalil Vegas, and it actually rolled off the tongue and sounded like a real name, so I just went with that. I just tell people it’s my government name and nobody questions it. People that knew me started to think I changed my name.

How did you graduate at 16? What was the transition of going to LSU for college like being so young?

I hated it. It was hell. I graduated early because I found a loophole in the school system. They had a lot of extracurricular activities—like PE and art—where I already ran around my house and I always drew. I was like, “I don't need to take this.” So, my junior classes were nothing but math, English, social studies, and science, and nobody questioned it—you can do that; it's just not normal. Afterwards, I had enough credits to graduate, but I didn't think I was actually going to graduate. It just happened. I don't even have the graduation pictures in my yearbook because I wasn't expecting any of it.

I was like, “Damn, I really graduated.” Then the transition to college—I always be cutting my dreads; I had long dreads, but then I shaved them off because I was like, “You know what? I'm going to be normal. I'm going to go to college and I’m going to be normal.” I was in film and acting classes for a couple of semesters, and then I got into a car crash. I had memory loss, but when I came back to reality, I was like, “I'm not about to die and the last thing they say is that he was a good student.” So, I just decided to do whatever the hell I wanted to do.

You and your brothers used to remake rap music videos that were popular at the time. What were some of the videos that you guys remade?

It was skits, and we would do parodies. I have a friend named Cam and another friend named Chino, and they remade “Old Town Road,” but they made it before the music video had dropped when it was just starting to trend, and it got like two million views. They made another video “If Rod Wave and Youngboy made a song” and it got a couple million. We were just doing a bunch of skits and parodies of rappers or TV shows at the time, and that's how I got a little bit of the buzz that I got at first. X had a challenge called the X Challenge where you just make a video for “Look at Me.” A lot of my early fan base came from that; I was making a bunch of stupid videos to the song and it was just entertaining. I was like, “Okay, they love this; let's just use the comedy and drag the attention towards the music,” and it worked.

Is acting something you want to pursue further in the future?

For sure. I’ve always wanted to be a film director. The music was a transition from my poetry, the same way that film and directing would be a transition from my skits. I was going to use one as a step for the other, and then another. I used to look up to Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright—there's a lot of film directors that led me to what I wanted to do. Because I don't want to just get pigeonholed as like, “Oh, he makes scream music,” or, “He only makes soft music,” I want to do what makes me feel something, because I don't want to do something that I can't feel. Because then, it feels ingenuine; I'm just copying everybody else.

With your tracks “Hollaback IDGAF” and re-imagining the banana line in the “Banana Freestyle,” does Gwen Stefani have some type of influence on you?

Oh, fuck yeah. The Neptunes, Gwen Stefani—when I was growing up, all I listened to was that type of pop music. I was always listening to rap because of my cousins and my brothers, but it's like pop had an influence on me that I couldn't describe. I didn't know how to emulate the sound, so I did it in my own way. But especially, Pharrell Williams is just a cool dude. I used to have my head shaved like him; he was wearing rings and shorts and nobody is making fun of his tall ass cowboy hat—this guy is amazing.

Who are some of your favorite people that you've worked with in the past?

Generally, everybody. I don't usually work with people if I don't like them. Working with Disney Channel was fun. I was editing a couple of videos for them; it was a lot of work because they wanted it a particular way, but I'd rather have set guideline for projects for somebody else, as opposed to mine where it's all over the place. I would also say my brother, too, because he's on every single thing that I do. Its always fun whenever he's involved, because whenever he's not, there's no actual push. My brother would make me re-write the same song about 10 times if he feels like it isn't there. There's been so many songs that I've written and he's just deleted; he'll look at it and then just delete it, keep nothing of it—he’ll just say it isn’t good and we’ll redo it over and over. I like being challenged, because without a challenge, it's not anything.

What was it like to see “Beastmode” start to blow up?

The actual video was test footage; we were not expecting it to blow up in any way, shape, or form. The song right now is about to be three years old, and it just blew up last year, so it was kind of like, “What the hell?” We found the video—it was me and ShotbyDeMarcus. We had filmed because he had just got a MOZA and he was testing out how to use the camera because he didn’t know how to use the gimbal and the motors and everything like that. We were just filming and dancing and I was like, “Well, this actually kind of looks cool.” So, I just chopped it up.

He was like, “You want to put it on my page and see how it does?” I was like, “Cool,” because at the time, I was only getting 10,000 views and around that mark, but then it just blew up. People were like, “Whoa, you do this.” I was like, “Okay, cool.” I had a little acting gig; it brought a lot of attention to it. In the acting gig I was shy and quiet, so I didn't really do anything. I was just standing in the corner smiling most of the time, and then the song came out and they were like, “He’s loud. That's crazy, I wouldn't believe this.”

What is Bail.exe?

That was my old group. I had started it in 2015 with a couple of my friends, and it was mainly just whoever rapped with me at the time. I was like, “You want to be part of the group?” I never went forward with the actual group, but it was just a cool placeholder for a name until I actually came up with one.

Your song “distance/heartbroken (love me)” is kind of a change of pace from the rest of your music. Is that more of the direction you want to head?

No, I don't have a particular direction I want to head with the music, because I only can make the music whenever I'm in that state emotionally. At that time, I was just very heartbroken. The sound overall is something that I kind of do want to go more towards. I would like to push the R&B/pop-type sound a little bit more for rap, and I like to see if I could blend all of those together. I don’t want to do just one genre; I want to do a genre blend.

Do you have plans for a project in the near future?

I have a couple of them finished; I just never released them—I’m waiting for the right time. My support base is scattered throughout numerous social media platforms. I have some people on certain platforms that don’t know me on others, j