This week, WXPN announced the four finalists of our first ever 24 Hour Song Challenge, and as we approach the Grand Prize Winner reveal, we’ll bring you spotlights on the four artists who got this far. Today, we meet Khalil Amaru, the smooth soul singer-songwriter whose heart-on-the-sleeve song “Dear June” got us in our feelings. Hear more about it below.

WXPN Song Challenge - Khalil Amaru “Dear June”

What’s your hometown? Where are you currently based?

I was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a small township just outside Detroit. Since moving to Philadelphia for grad school in 2020, I’ve made my home in the northeast part of the city.

How long have you been performing? Are you primarily a solo artist, do you play in any bands?

I’ve been performing my entire life—literally. My first time on stage was in elementary school, where I performed at a local college for my school’s talent show. However, it’s only been a year since I started performing and releasing music as a solo artist under the stage name Khalil Amaru.

What inspired you to interpret the prompt “Summertime” the way you did?

For most of my life, summer has been the season that brings me the most joy. I was born in the summer, traveled to my favorite places during the summer, met many of my closest friends in the summer, and even got married in the summer. But then there was that one summer—the summer where the sun didn’t quite shine so bright. The summer I fell in love and then, in an instant, fell completely out of love. I experienced what they call a “summer fling,” which I thought would blossom into something beautiful but never did. This inspired my song “Dear June,” an R&B/Soul piece that uses alliteration and personification. “June,” the month we met, symbolizes our relationship—a union that was planted but never took root.

Can you tell us about your process? Are you lyrics-first, hook-first, etc?

Producing this song was the most challenging part for me, given that I’m not a producer, especially not with digital audio workstations. However, as a pianist, I started with what I know best. I built the foundation on the piano, then created the drum tracks using a MIDI machine and added various fills with my keyboard, even incorporating my voice as an instrument in the post-chorus. Once the instrumental layers were complete, I moved on to writing the lyrics, which is always the easiest part for me because I am a storyteller at heart. I crafted the song to convey the full spectrum of emotions I experienced—pain, joy, anger, and frustration—over a catchy melody and a soulful drum/piano combo. Completing this project without a band was incredibly tough, but I’m proud of what I achieved. Even after having a photo shoot and video shoot that same day. Didn’t finish until 3 a.m. and contemplated not submitting like 3 times.

Are you playing live anywhere this summer that our audience can see you?

YES! I am actually releasing my debut EP Love Pains in August and will be hosting a live recorded concert playing through the entire project on August 17. Tickets are selling fast and so I definitely want folks to RSVP and come join me as we celebrate this huge milestone. Here is the site.