Khalid's 'Location': Producer Syk Sense Tells the Story Behind the Texas Teen's Breakout Hit
“That record… My goodness.”
That’s how producer Josh Scruggs, better known by his production moniker Syk Sense, describes the breakout success of “Location.” Crafted by Scruggs alongside credited co-producers Tunji Ige, Smash David, and Taz Taylor, “Location” has rocketed Texas teen Khalid Robinson from obscurity to national acclaim thanks to the strength of the sensual and R&B ode that centers around the romance behind the iPhone’s GPS location feature. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to see someone realize to their full potential,” says Scruggs during a rare off-moment in Nashville, where he is currently based. “We could always hear that Khalid was talented and amazing, but to see him maneuver in the industry and react....” Again, he’s at a loss for words. “I don’t know man, I can’t really explain that feeling.”
Perhaps the reason for Scruggs' speechlessness is the fact that “Location” is a most unlikely success: Not many hits are crafted by 17-year-olds while their high school is on spring break. Scruggs, meanwhile, was freshly 30 at the time with already more than a decade of music-making under his belt. “As a kid I’d make loops on my grandfather’s keyboard,” Scruggs remembers of his earliest forays into production and beatmaking. “He used to hate it. He’d lock his keyboard in his room and I’d break in there if he went out of town and make loops. I’ve always been captivated by the beat of every song. The beat touches me in a certain way, long before I even knew what lyrics were.”
His mother eventually bought him a Casio keyboard of his own and Scruggs honed his craft, which lead him to a beat battle in Nashville. Boi-1da, one of Drake’s collaborators, happened to be one of the judges. “I ended up losing the battle, but that relationship won me everything. 1-da’s a great guy. He stayed in my ear and encouraged me and pushed me. What started happening after was out of this world.” Scruggs is referring to his initial breakout tracks, whether “Draft Day” and “Know Yourself” for Drake or placements for Travis Scott and Bryson Tiller. His relationship with Khalid happened organically. “I have a homie I talk about music a lot to, and whatever he thinks is amazing he’ll send my way. He came across Khalid, hit him up, talked to him, and connected us. He wound up coming to Atlanta and we sat in a room and just worked.”
Scruggs and the then-17 year-old collaborated during multiple sessions over the course of a few months before they crafted the track that became “Location.” “We made a lot of different things during that time which we liked, but they just weren’t what we were looking for,” Scruggs explains of those initial sessions. “I guess we were just creating this vibe and getting to know each other. With Khalid, I like to work with him by starting with a melody and then building a beat onto his hook or whatever he caught onto. It wasn’t until this one time when we were sitting in my little personal home studio when I played the ‘Location’ melody and was just about to pass by it. He was like, ‘Wait, I got something for that!’ and started singing the hook as you hear it now. Once he finished and wrapped it around, even with no drums on the beat I knew it was different. It gave us that feeling in our hearts like, ‘Oh, this is special. Goosebumps!’"
It wasn’t until another session in Texas that the song began to take shape. “We waited about two weeks and planned this big session in El Paso (where Khalid lived). I didn’t want to mess it up, so I treaded very lightly at first.” Once they hit the studio, the crew worked on a few other tracks first, including what became album cuts for his eventual debut album American Teen before they went back to “Location” at Khalid’s request. “What’s crazy is if Khalid didn’t say ‘Do you want to work on ‘Location?’ it’d sound totally different from how it sounds today. Everybody that wound up being a part of the record that was there that day.” Alfredo Gonzalez, originally an engineer who said he could play keys, hopped on the track. “As I’m building the beat, Tunji and Alfredo were bouncing ideas off each other. Meanwhile, Khalid is writing on the other side of the room. One thing I do remember is that it came together really quickly -- like four or five hours, if that.”
Now, the hit that the unlikely crew helped nurture is rising week-to-week on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 32 for the period ending April 8, 2017), landed Khalid his television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this month, and even helped sell out a 21-city nationwide tour. “I couldn’t have asked for a better record or better placement,” says Scruggs. “He didn’t even have a deal at that point (when we were working together). We knew what we were aiming for, but we didn’t know how it would pop off. Now I’ve seen him live and when he’s on stage he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. I’m just glad I have a part in helping him get there.”