At 6'7" Tony Robbins stands head and shoulders above DJ Khaled. Robbins—if you know him from infomercials, his books, or a cameo in the movie Shallow Hal—defies Hollywood proportions. He’s taller than you’d think. Bigger. Barrel-chested, with a jawline that resembles Easter Island’s basalt stone statues. It’s not just that Robbins’ hands make an iPhone 6S Plus look like a playing card. It’s that the 56-year-old possesses the type of energy that sucks the air out of a room. You instantly want to please him. If some of us are afflicted with resting bitch face, the best-selling author and pal to Oprah and Richard Branson has resting inspirational face: wide smile, eyes lit up from the inside, a gaze that roves for the shyest person, the one most in need of self-actualization and the least likely to pipe up.
DJ Khaled, however, is not by any stretch of the imagination shy. Dubbed hip-hop’s answer to Robbins, he’s captivated his more than six million followers on Snapchat with 10-second motivational maxims on professional decorum (“Don’t ever play yourself”), avoiding negativity (the omnipresent haters he calls “They”), and self-care (“It’s simple: Give thanks and use Dove” and, “have a lot of pillows”).
At 40, the Miami-based producer behind team-up mega anthems like “We Takin’ Over” and “All I Do Is Win” is zeitgeisting with astonishing propulsion. The founder of We the Best Records, Khaled—née Khaled Mohamed Khaled—has been a hip-hop mainstay for well over 10 years with a ninth studio album, Major Key, slated for a July 29 release. Khaled is one of those rare figures in hip-hop that is near-universally, multi-generationally beloved. He can happily work with Drake and Meek Mill regardless of their beef. He’s managed by Jay Z but his music is not exclusive to the Roc Nation impresario’s content platform, Tidal; Khaled, to Jimmy Iovine and Larry Jackson’s delight, is a part of the Apple Music family.
There are words used to describe both Robbins and Khaled—passionate, charismatic, blustery. Khaled had been an admirer of Robbins, and in turn Robbins wanted to meet Khaled to see what he was about. Seated at Harmony Gold Theater on Sunset in Los Angeles, the two stare intently into each other’s eyes. They’re talking quietly—having a moment. Khaled would call it cloth talk: the tête-à-tête between two unique, powerful men or “special cloths.” To characterize their interaction as a lovefest would be an understatement; there is also a mission at hand.
“Either you grow or you die,” says Robbins in an impeccably tailored blazer, selvedge jeans, and a crisp white pocket square. Khaled, similarly dapper in a black suit, nods.
Robbins, who calls himself not a motivational speaker but rather a life and business strategist, has flown in to Los Angeles on his private jet from promoting his Netflix documentary, I Am Not Your Guru, and the paperback release of Money: Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom. In turn, Khaled is in town after traversing the U.S. on his We the Best Tour bus as part of Beyoncé’s Formation Tour. He hasn’t slept—instead spending the night in the studio—and is completing his own business book, The Keys [Ed. note: Mary H.K. Choi is co-writing The Keys with DJ Khaled]. But despite Khaled’s propensity for “new deal alerts”—social media messages about his innumberable projects—right now he’s focused. To wit: He’s not even Snapchatting.
“We’re achievers and achievers don’t suffer,” says Robbins, leaning in. “We don’t have fear. We just get stressed.”
It’s been years—he guesses it was around age eight or nine—since Khaled has been on an airplane. It’s one of the least publicized aspects of his life, though he’ll talk about it when pressed. He doesn’t like the turbulence. Loathes the anxiety. He’s got enough on his plate: A rapidly growing empire, a kid on the way with his fianceé Nicole Tuck. And though it takes three days on the road to go commune with his fan army—Fan Luv—on the West Coast from his native Florida, he vows that he’ll get on a plane only when he loses a little weight (an ongoing and thoroughly endearing saga on his snaps).
Robbins insists he can help.
Robbins: You’re the lion. And every lion has a time in their life when a thorn has got to them at one point. I’m going to invite you to an event. If you come, I’ll put you in an experience where I promise you at the end—I’ll take you and jump on my plane—we’ll take a flight together. It’s a cool plane.
Complex: Khaled, how do you feel about that?
Khaled: I’m not ashamed to say I fear something. I’ll tell you, besides me having a fear to fly, I also don’t want to scare other people. When I’m on a plane, I don’t want to freak out everyone else, too. That’s just me caring because I’ve been in that situation. I would love for you to help me.
Robbins: What’s an area in your life where you are freaking unstoppable?
Khaled: I can move any crowd.
Robbins: So how do you breathe when you are in that stadium? What’s the look on your face?
Robbins: Show me what that looks like—just for a second. Actually, pretend you are there just for a split second for me, if you would. Say something you’d say if you’re going to rip open the room.
Khaled: When I say DJ, you say Khaled! DJ! DJ! [Gestures holding a mic to the crowd with a thousand-yard stare.]
Robbins: In that state, zero to 10, how certain are you that the audience is going to respond to you? How certain do you feel about life? Zero to 10. Ten is totally certain; zero is not at all.
Khaled: It’s guaranteed.
Robbins: Yeah, brother, I know. You don’t think. You don’t hope.
Khaled: It’s guaranteed.
Robbins: So feel that. That’s the guy I need to put on the plane.
Khaled: I like that.
Robbins: That plane is a bitch.
Khaled: I like you.
Robbins: Great men do what they want. Bitches do what they can. No more “can” stuff. You do what you want. I want to make sure that if you want to take a plane, you can. Are you in?
Khaled: I’m in. I’ll tell you, not to be funny about this, but when I do overcome my fear—which we are going to do—what’s going to happen is that I’m going to want a plane. [Laughs.]
Robbins: You are going to get one. But we got to get it so we can enjoy it up there. We’ve got a 100-foot wingspan. It’s a global express. It will go from here to China nonstop.
Khaled: Everyone, this is what you call mogul talk.
Khaled: Tony, one of my keys to success is a lot of pillows. I feel like a lot of pillows is important to relax each piece of your body. Every time you turn, you respect your greatness. Do you have a lot of pillows?
Robbins: I didn’t used to but I do now because I have a wife who loves pillows. I used to be, like, “Sleep when I die.” But she gets in there and is so happy. We have more pillows. We have silk pillows. We have 20 kinds. When we get on a plane, we take the pillows. I’m with you. The key to success is having great pillows surrounding you.
Khaled: Tony, what’s the key for cloth talk with billionaires?
Robbins: Same keys as you got. Be yourself. That’s it. I got about 45 [billionaires] right now. They are all different, all unique, and they are all self-made. So, like, you’re self-made, I’m self-made—we all come in a unique package. You can be a They and be a billionaire. Not all billionaires are happy and fulfilled. My whole thing is, add value to whoever you meet. Sometimes, the value is just being happy and loving, giving an extra couple of moments to look someone in the eye. Nothing replaces authentic feeling and emotion.
Complex: Tony, what’s your strategy for commanding a crowd?
Robbins: Get out of your head. I’m in the audience. I’m feeling what they are feeling. I might have a game plan of what I’m going to go for, but that game plan disappears the minute I feel the audience. Whenever people have trouble public speaking, it’s because they are just thinking about themselves. I don’t give a shit how I’m coming across. All I give a shit about is if I can produce the result. Stay in the moment and fully associate it to who you are trying to serve.
Complex: Khaled, you DJ for arenas…
Khaled: Yes, stadiums.
Complex: [Laughs.] My mistake, stadiums.... And we’re talking about packed venues and private jets, but you both once lived in your cars. What advice do you have for someone in a similar situation?
Robbins: I learned to park outside of Denny’s because it’s 24 hours. I made a deal at a 7-Eleven with a mailman so I could get my mail delivered there. The biggest thing I did was that I used to go to the library. I fed my mind every day. I was like, “If I don’t change my mind, if I don’t change my heart, if I don’t develop some skill, I’m always going to be sleeping in my car.”
Khaled: God has blessed me to see the luxury side of things. I’ve seen my family work so hard and come up, and I’ve seen it all get taken away. I had to man up, and part of that was sleeping in my car, getting an apartment for a month, and getting evicted the next month. Staying in the $25–$35 hotels. I just never panicked. I stayed focused and I never surrendered. Now I take care of my mother, my father, and my entire family, as well as myself, my woman, and my team that I consider family.
Robbins: Baby on the way.
Khaled: And a beautiful baby on the way.
Complex: Tony, do you have any parenting advice you could share with Khaled?
Robbins: I’ll say—I have four kids! I married a woman when I was 24 years old. She was 13 years my senior. She had been married twice before. I adopted them. I was 24 and had a 17-year-old son instantly, an 11-year-old daughter, a 5-year-old, and a child on the way. So I had to learn how to become a parent very quickly.
The most important thing is what you already do. It’s being authentic. It’s being curious, trying to discover their gifts. Then being there like the rock that I know you are. It’s not playing a perfect life where there are no mistakes, no challenges. That makes people grow up and think that they are not going to have any. They are not prepared.
I love my kids. But I don’t give them the burden of being the source of my love. I think you got to put your intimate relationship first. If you can keep your woman first and still love your children, you are going to create the healthiest environment.
Complex: You both tour extensively. What are your travel essentials?
Khaled: My tour essential is basically my spirit. The reason why I praise the lion is because the lion is the king of the jungle. The minute I leave my house—that is where I feel safe—I’m immediately in the jungle. The key is to survive through the cold world. But also, of course, I need my Dove soap. Of course I need my cocoa butter. I need my Listerine. I need the white Jockey tees. They are really soft and comfortable.
Robbins: For me, it’s having my family there. I don’t feel like I’m leaving home. I still love coming home, but home is where the heart is. I take those whom I love most with me. That’s my number one. My number two is being ready.
Complex: What’s the secret to being ready at all times?
Robbins: I prime my mind. I wake up every morning and say, “Look, if you don’t have 10 minutes for yourself, you don’t have a life.” I take 10 minutes. I focus on what I’m most grateful for. Then I do a little prayer for three minutes, a blessing within myself through God, and then out to my family and friends and all those I serve. Then my last three minutes are the three things I want to achieve most. At the end of 10 minutes, you are wired. Everything in your life gets filtered through that.
Khaled: The key is definitely prayer. When I wake up, I immediately pray. When I go to sleep, I pray. Honestly, a prayer every second, in every breath. I suggest the whole world to do it. Prayer is amazing.
Robbins: My favorite prayer is thank you. Most people are asking for things and not doing their part.
Khaled: And what you said about being grateful, it’s a major key. When I say “major key,” I think being grateful is actually respecting yourself. Grateful will take you so far. I know this for a fact.
Robbins: It’s so simple that people don’t realize how powerful it is. It sounds so stupid, so basic, but when you are really in a grateful state, you are like a magnet for joy.
Khaled: If you think of something negative and you keep it in your head, you are going to actually live that. Now, if you think of something great and positive and joyful, you’re going to actually live that. You’ve got to be careful what you put in your head. Basically, I’ll call that: “Don’t ever play yourself.”
Robbins: The vast majority of people play themselves. People think I’m into positive thinking. I’m not a positive thinking guy. I’m into the truth. I’m a hunter of human excellence.
Complex: Jesus, “a hunter of human excellence”?
Khaled: Me too! I’m telling you. I’ve been trying to tell people this in a different language.
Robbins: We’ve got the same message.
Khaled: It’s a real message. Snapchat has put an antenna [on me] and the whole world has got to see me. You either like it or you don’t. I’ve been blessed with people that like it. Again, I’m just being me. The key is to always be you. That’s the key.
Robbins: How do you keep a woman happy when you’re always going in her private life like that?
Khaled: Let me tell you. That is a different key.
Robbins: [Laughs.] You better give me that one.
Khaled: I love my privacy too, but at the end of the day, when it comes down to it with my woman, I call her a “special cloth alert.” She’s a rare breed and I love her and I don’t ever want her to change because I think that’s the balance of my relationship. I know there are certain things that I just can’t win. And you know what? I give in to her because I love her. It’s a balance.
Robbins: The question is, do you want to be right or do you want to be in love?
Khaled: I want to be loved. I’m gonna call her up and be like, “I love you.” I don’t want no problems. I don’t want to know problems. I’m bugged out right now, but it’s amazing. But you know what is so beautiful about this, too? The message is every genre, every person, is the real message. Some people just say it in different ways. What I learned today is that not only do I respect you and always have, but I’m also so inspired. I’m so motivated. I really appreciate it.
Complex: Tony, you make millions advising moguls. Khaled, you give a lot of advice away for free. Tony, could you consult Khaled on how to monetize that?
Robbins: [Laughs.] I think he’s doing quite fine. Listen, I’ve done what I do now—this is my 39th year. I’ve done it when I’m broke. I’ve done it when I wasn’t. I’ve never done it for the money. But, if you are abundant, you can do a lot more. I think about what’s the best way to serve people. In business, if you do more for others than anybody else does, you dominate. That’s the bottom line. And on Snapchat you are doing that in a beautiful, beautiful way. I’m a fan. That’s why I’m here.
Khaled: Thank you. I think the key is—other icons told me this—you don’t have to chase the money. The money is going to chase you. That’s part of success. That’s part of the blessings.
Complex: What’s the single most important lesson you’ve learned?
Khaled: We all fall. The only difference is that I get up. The message I’m trying to say is that I’m tough because of life experience. I can’t make this up. This is something I’m talking about from my life. You know what? I’m sure we could all relate because we’ve all got life. Some people ain’t got it. When you wake up and you complain and you’re stressed out—you’ve ever seen them graveyards? We not there. We blessed, man. We got life.
Robbins: The most important decision is the one you’ve already made, brother. It’s the decision that you’re going to be happy no matter what.
Complex: What would you say is the quickest way to play yourself after you’ve had a little bit of success?
Robbins: To think you’ve arrived, to stop growing, to let your ego take over, to think it’s about the money, to put yourself in a place where you stop. I always tell people happiness comes in one word: progress. I don’t care what you achieve. Most people achieve their goals and are like, “Is this all there is?” We are supposed to keep growing so we have something to get. What we get never makes us happy. You play yourself when you forget that.
Khaled: One of my favorite songs is by Mavado. The song is called “Progress.” It’s something that I work out to every day. Progress is definitely the answer. Once you start losing reality, when you start losing reality with yourself, sometimes people just get dizzy. For instance, I’m in Beverly Hills right now at a hotel. I told myself, “Man, it’s so beautiful out here. If I ever moved to L.A., I would probably want to buy a house in Beverly Hills.” The thing is, once I leave Beverly Hills, [I realize] there’s no bodegas in Beverly Hills. Once I leave L.A. and go back to Miami or if I go visit New York, it’s like, “Oh man, there’s the bodega.” What I’m saying is that you can’t forget the reality. Sometimes people take success and forget about reality.
Robbins: People forget their roots.
Khaled: Their roots, but not only just that. Anything can happen. You’ve got to know reality.
Complex: What do you guys say to detractors who say you’re famous for fame’s sake?
Khaled: They play themselves. I don’t give them the energy. I make sure they know I don’t give them the energy. I have a shield. It’s the most amazing shield ever. I don’t see them. I don’t feel them. If anything, “Hey come over, let me touch you so I can heal you.” You get what I’m saying?
Robbins: I’m not here for that. I don’t have the delusion that I’m the best or have the right answer. Whenever someone is out there pissed at you or me, they don’t even know you or I. What they are really pissed at is themselves. You might have total respect for them but they don’t respect themselves.
Complex: So you stay away from They.
Khaled: The key is, stay away from They.
Robbins: And the best way to stay away from They is really simple. Stay with the people who have some passion. Stay with the people who know the truth. I like to find the They and turn them into We. I like to take the Theys and herd them. People that are skeptical, the Theys, I can bring them to We as much as I can.
Khaled: The thing about that is that sometimes there is They that we love.
Robbins: Totally true.
Khaled: It could be a friend of yours, your lover, or whoever. They are starting to get the They vibe.
Complex: What do you do in those situations?
Khaled: Me, personally, when I want to make sure they don’t become They, I ask them to come to Miami, jump into the ocean, cleanse off, pray, and go take a nice shower. Go get a haircut and hopefully the They is out of there. I experience They around people I love. I want to stop They before They get in them.
Robbins: The only way to convert They into Us or We is through love. I think that’s your secret. It’s certainly mine. You could penetrate anybody if you consistently put out love. Some people can’t handle it. They think it’s false and fake but when you do what you do and you give and give, you can get through to almost everybody.
Khaled: We the best.
Robbins: We the best.