DJ Khaled's name has been attached to some of rap's biggest hits. But really, what role does he play?
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
DJ Khaled's sixth album, Kiss the Ring, is out today, which means that rap fans can expect to hear one message repeated over and over for the foreseeable future: We The Best. There's no arguing with success. DJ Khaled is the best—at something. The question is: exactly what is it that he does?
I'm here and I ain't going nowhere.
This week Khaled has not one but two tracks in the Top 50 of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. “Take It to the Head” with Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown is No. 8. and “I Wish You Would” featuring Kanye West and Rick Ross rests at No. 48. The Runners produced the former, while Hit-Boy handled the beat for the latter.
Khaled is credited on both songs as an artist, even though—aside from some introductory ad-libs, delivered at top volume—Khaled Bin Abdul Khaled's voice does not appear on either of these records. The formula has been the same on all of his hit bass-rattling, hood-galvanizing bangers, starting with "Holla At Me" in 2006. The trend continued with “We Takin’ Over” in 2007 and that same year's “I’m So Hood,” later followed by 2010’s “All I Do is Win,” and last summer’s “I’m On One.” The bulk of those became platinum singles. But with no production credits and minimal vocal appearances on any of those records, the question remains: What does DJ Khaled actually do?
If not for the constant respect he gets from elites like Rick Ross and Jay-Z (who recently shouted him out on Ross’s “3 Kings” single), uninformed listeners might mistake him for some sort of mascot, cheering rappers on at the beginning and end of huge songs. There must be more to it than that.
“People still don’t know,” says Khaled, calling in from his tour bus, as it rolled from Baltimore to Philadelphia. He’s a relentless promoter, getting the word out about the album, but also eager to set the record straight. “I’m glad we’re doing this interview," he says. "I’m a real boss.” Khaled then runs through a series of anecdotes about funding his dreams through his first hustle, DJing. The New Orleans native moved to Miami and as he built relationships with artists through various radio gigs, he began to think bigger. Independent record label Koch approached him with the idea of putting together a compilation album.
“When I did that album I was putting my own money up,” Khaled says of his 2006 debut, Listennn… the Album, which boasted guest appearances like Lil Wayne on “Holla At Me” and stars like Kanye West on “Grammy Family.”
“Every dollar I made from DJing, I put into my videos, promotion—everything," he explains. "I’ve been a mogul and executive since the beginning of my career. People are just born with that skill.” So far we’ve established the fact that Khaled grinds—“Hard.”
“Listennn was me saying, ‘I’m here and I ain’t going nowhere,’” he says. “’And you’re going to know about me.’” Since then he’s released a new album yearly, all pretty much sticking to the same script. These albums are not particularly cohesive—cluttered as they are with a bunch of rhymers, all trying to outshine one another—and they have sold pretty modestly (none have reached gold status), but they’re always good for a big single or two. Nevertheless, the album titles have grown more grandiose over time, from asking people to pay attention to declaring his team the best, to demanding that those who “aren’t down with the program and what we do to bow down and Kiss the Ring.”
Khaled’s bravado, his work ethic, and his evident knack for orchestrating hit records has taken him far. He’s been appointed President of Def Jam South, A&Ring Rick Ross’ albums and handling acts like Ace Hood and reggae star Mavado, both signed to his We The Best Music Group label. He’s also a solo artist on Cash Money Records, distributing his latest album through Universal Republic.