Like his other albums, Ring is star-studded. Lil Wayne makes a couple of cameos—on “Bitches & Bottles (Let's Get It Started)" and most notably on the single “Take It to the Head.” Khaled’s relationship with Wayne goes way back to his days in New Orleans when he first became cool with Weezy’s father figure, Bryan “Baby” Williams. “I knew Baby and [Cash Money partner] Slim when they were selling tapes out of their trunks to mom and pop joints,” Khaled says. By 2005 Wayne was multi-platinum artist and enlisted Khaled to host his mixtape, The Suffix.
There are beat-makers and there are producers. I’m a producer. I put together amazing records.
Kanye West, an old bud Khaled met “when he was just producing through some friends of mine in Chicago” features on “I Wish You Would.” That connection dates back to “before his rap career blew up,” Khaled says. “I was one of the DJs that supported him before cats even knew he was nice. Our relationship was stamped then. When I started doing my thing and reached out, he showed love back. And at the same time, he recognizes my talent, skills, and growth.”
Similar stories apply to his connection with Fat Joe (who Khaled stands next to in the video for R. Kelly’s 2000 hit “Feelin’ on Yo’ Booty”) and Miami “bawse” Rick Ross. One thing Khaled does very well is network and build alliances with the right friends. But what other skills does he bring to the table?
The story behind the making of Khaled’s 2011 smash “I’m On One” helps shed light on how he does what he does. “Me and Drake had been going back and forth for a year and a half,” Khaled explains. “Drake said, ‘When we do something, we should do something that’s what you do anthem-wise, but with a different feel.’ He finally sent me a hook and a verse for the T-Minus track and it was super amazing. Then I reached out to Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. Then I got with Drake on iChat to make sure every little ad-lib was right. Then I had [Drake’s engineer and producer Noah] 40 [Shebib] add a little production to the T-Minus track. We filtered my voice so it could sound like a sample. It’s all about perfection at the final stages. I have to make sure it’s right.”
Next Khaled gets to talking about conceptualizing records with Ross. “I’m coaching. Him and me talk about what we’d like to do. Then he goes and writes the most phenomenal shit ever. But you have to understand, I give him the biggest speech ever before I give him the record. And I always have a hook on the record already, so when guys hear it they’re like, ‘Wow.’” It’s just a vibe. But if I’m in the studio with Ross, I never have a problem with his verses.”
See, Khaled’s not just some loudmouth yapping over the hottest record in the club. He’s the reason the record exists. If music were sports, he’d be a general manager, coach, and player all in one.
“There are beat-makers and there are producers,” Khaled continues. “I’m a producer. I put together amazing records, whether that’s finding the beat or putting the right hook on there, and picking the right artists on the record. That’s me being an A&R. And I’m making sure that they give me their best. A Khaled record is always the best.”
DJ Khaled is a testament to what hard work, networking, and, yes, skills can bring to fruition. In that sense, he’s a gift to hip-hop. But just so everyone is clear—once and for all—what exactly does he do?
“That’s like saying, ‘What does Puff Daddy or Jay-Z do?’” he snaps back coolly. “It’s 2012. People have got to get in tune a little better.” Then finally he gives in. “I make hits,” he says after a sigh. “I find hits. And I put hits out. That’s what I do.” Understood.