The 20-year-old rapper sat outside on the back porch of his house in Silver Spring, MD. He spins the silver ring on his right pinky finger. Eternal Khali, , often fiddles with it while he thinks of melodies. Khali is counting down the days until the release of his EP, “Uni Vs” (pronounced “you and I verse”) which drops on July 9. It’ll be his first release after changing his name to Eternal Khali.
The Maryland native has been building a growing audience in his home state with his unique blend of trap music, spoken word poetry and elements of jazz. He says he’s received comparisons to Juice Wrld and Lil Peep. Khali cites his influences as ranging from Bob Dylan to Tracy Chapman to The Weeknd.
The name change is the most visible sign of change for the artist in recent months, who says he’s outgrown the now five-year-old moniker.
The Silver Spring artist had the epiphany when leaving a studio session with producer KGo Live for the EP.
“You look at your phone, you see the words ‘Burntstar Khali,’ then you think to yourself ‘wait, that doesn’t even sound right, that’s not me right now,'” said Khali.
Like many of us, he went on a journey of self-discovery during the pandemic.
“I learned how life functions without live concerts, how I can move as an artist without connecting with my fans in person,” said Khali.
With people starting to return to their “normal” lives and reunite with others, he said it’s the perfect time to connect with listeners. Particularly, he wants to introduce his audience to the more realized version of him.
“That’s always been the goal of my music,” said Khali.
For the past few months, he’s been crafting the six-track EP in his home studio and at Blueprint Studios in Prince George’s County, MD. He’s been gathering a group of local producers and graphic designers to unveil the project.
Life Changes and a New Sound
The lockdown we went through the past year was the second journey of self-discovery Khali has ever gone through. The first took place in 2019 and led to his eventual name change.
The artist experienced a “spiritual awakening” after a near-death incident in 2019. He declined to describe the details of the event but said that it caused him to blackout and eventually wake up in the hospital. He didn’t receive any serious injuries aside from contusions to the head.
The day before the incident, a rabbi who lived in the building in which Khali did concierge work reminded him that his name meant “eternal.” The day after the incident, that same rabbi prayed for Khali’s recovery.
Nearly two years later, the name “Eternal Khali” better represents him both as a person and as an artist.
“Eternal Khali is a healer, Burntstar Khali was in need of healing,” said Khali.
Khali previously made spacy, melodic trap music and he says he’s planning to take his music in a new direction on “Uni Vs.”
The EP will feature “a lot of guitars… layered textures and melodies,” said Khali.
Silver Spring-based producer KGoLive who produced the tracks “Loose Screw” and “Primetime” off the EP backed that claim.
Working with Khali has taken KGo in a new direction with his production as well. He said he usually worked on high-energy, trap music. The producer is most well-known for working with trap artists from the DMV including Xanman and JohnnyLegg.
He describes the song “Primetime” as having a “Western sound” with energetic guitar riffs and tight drums.
The song “Loose Screw” is a track with hard-hitting drums and a “zelda-ish,” almost harp-sounding guitar loop forming the body of the instrumental.
“You’re gonna feel like you’re floating when you listen to it,” said KGo.
Despite the difference in what he usually makes, KGo said he still felt a synergy working with Khali on this EP.
“It’s like two painters painting on the same canvas,” said KGo.
The title “Uni Vs” has “nine different meanings,” according to Khali, the main one being building connections. The other eight would be left up to the listeners to find out.
The “you and I” represents the listeners and Khali and the “verses” represent conversation between the two, said Khali.
How Space Affects His Music
The theme of space, both outer space and space in relationships, has been a huge motif in Khali’s music. His latest album is titled “Starheartt.” His 2020 track “When Venus and Mars Collide” highlighted that message, particularly in the chorus (“If I came from Mars and you came from Venus and now we’re just miles away”).
The cover of “Uni Vs” embraces this theme as well. It features a ring of people circling the Earth with a U.F.O. flying a short distance away.
The message shows in his personal life, and sometimes in his fashion. He often wears a small, golden ankh necklace. The silver ring he wears is etched with stars and crescent moons.
Khali has already filmed the music video for the track “Daydreaming of Nightmares” with help from friend and videographer Mario Arnouk. They’ve previously worked together on the music video for William’s 2020 track “Die Hard.”
The pair had worked together on the visuals for Khali’s 2020 song “Die Hard.”
It was Arnouk’s first video project and their first collaboration. The visuals for the track features a lot of neutral tones and hard cuts to fit the song’s aggressive vibe.
The tone of “Daydreaming of Nightmares” differs significantly from that of “Die Hard,” according to Arnouk.
“We wanted it to be sunny, bright out and colorful,” said Arnouk.
The free flowing nature of the shoot was key to Arnouk and Khali.
“What’s the point of doing it if you’re not having fun? You might get a full product but you might as well enjoy the process and the journey as well,” said Arnouk.
He also tapped photographer Alex Nnabue II for social media promotion.
The goal of the promotion was to convey a similarly upbeat message. Nnabue said he wanted to emphasize unity and bring the album cover to life.
“It was very free-flowing, it wasn’t too strategic which was good because that’s how I prefer to shoot,” said Nnabue.
Khali hopes that the release of the EP will lead to growth for both him and his audience.
“In my community, I try to leave the right impact so that the people that know me and the people that connect with me can find the most beautiful perspectives,” said Khali.