Hanni El Khatib is a budding artist and avid skateboarder from the San Francisco area whose debut album, Will the Guns Come Out, comes out this month. If El Khatib's name sounds familiar, it's probably because his song "I Got a Thing" is being used in one of Nike's global ad campaigns as kind of a modern surf, skate and all-around shredding anthem.
Though El Khatib writes his own songs, "I Got a Thing" is a re-imagining of an old Funkadelic tune. Will The Guns Come Out features a handful of covers, including "You Rascal You," a song most famously performed by Louis Armstrong. El Khatib tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that he wanted to be cautious in interpreting old classics.
"Some songs seem kind of untouchable in a weird way," El Khatib says. "And so my approach was, 'Why don't I just take the lyrics and kind stay in the family of the same key, and then just turn it into a new song completely?' "
A recent review in the Los Angeles Times described El Khatib's sound as "the sort of music you'd expect to have soundtracked West Side Story, had the songs been written by the Sharks and the Jets instead of Sondheim and Bernstein." A first-generation American of Palestinian and Filipino descent, El Khatib was raised in San Francisco during the emergence of skateboard culture. Despite his international background, he says he grew up listening to classic Americana music, '60s soul, surf, doo-wop and British Invasion rock.
"My mom actually was a huge fan of The Beatles and The Zombies, and that's kind of what was playing in the house. And my dad is kind of one of those people where, if it sounds good, he likes it," El Khatib says. "I grew up with this weird culture-clash kind of thing: My mother speaks Tagalog, my father speaks Arabic, but to speak together they have to speak English. So I grew up speaking English, basically being raised as an American, in order to assimilate to the surroundings. And I think that kind of stuck with me."