If you have listened to DJ Khaled before and have never asked this question, you better check yourself – you are becoming too complacent. This question pops up every time I find myself alone in my car *embarrassed face* singing along to a Khaled hit, windows open, goofy smile on face. To find out what DJ Khaled does, first we must investigate the meaning of the title DJ.
The term “DJ” or “dee jay”, short for disc jockey, can mean many things these days. The most basic meaning is a title for someone who selects and plays music for an audience. But over the years the role of the DJ has split into different functions and continued to live, like some worms do when you cut them into pieces (Next blog post: How the fuck do worms do that?)
There are producer DJ’s like A-Trak, Premier, Shadow, Mix Master Mike, and Babu (who coined the term turntablist to distinguish himself and others like him from the rest), who use samples, scratching, and manual production techniques to manipulate records and provide beats to back an emcee. These days, there are less and less DJ’s of this sort and more producers who use computers instead of turntables. But Khaled definitely doesn’t fall into this category. According to sources, Khaled once approached a turntable and it inexplicably burst into flames. Some say the rising smoke spelled out the letters “F-M-L”. He does not produce the songs that are listed as DJ Khaled songs.
More recently you’ve got popular mixtape DJ’s who don’t always necessarily “produce”, but put in a lot of work piecing together cohesive mixtapes and transitioning from beat to beat and song to song to allow the emcee to showcase skills over a plethora of backdrops in one smooth run. You know the type, Drama probably being the most notable. These guys love, like Khaled, to yell in threatening tones over the music to ensure you know they are a part of what’s going on. Think sirens, gunshots, and airhorns. We all know Khaled loves to yell over tracks, but to call Khaled a mixtape DJ is like calling Lil Wayne a guitar player. We all heard Rebirth, right?
The new remix DJ’s deserve a category to themselves, although there is some overlapping here with the first group I mentioned. These are the guys responsible for those insane remixes that make everyone want to take drugs and put their hands in the air. They use computers, samples, and effects that make brains expand to sizes larger than skulls. They turn clubs into sweatboxes. This group includes remix masters like Steve Aoki and producers like Diplo, but also branches off into weird electronic genres like bloghaus and shit that people with neon piercings in JNCO sized pants and fishnet tanktops still listen to. DJ Khaled definitely doesn’t fit in with this crowd.
In Jamaica, the dee jay is the guy who raps, chats or “toasts” over rhythms provided by the selector. (Yeah, I’ll admit it, I jacked this straight from Wikipedia). This started back in the 60’s, and often includes boastful, sometimes melodic, sometimes humorous talking or ranting over prerecorded beats. This may have been an influence that led to rapping and dancehall. Was Khaled part of this movement? No. He was not. Khaled is of Palestinian descent, and was born in ’75, making him an unlikely candidate for involvement in a Jamaican movement that began in the 60’s and 70’s.
Moving on, we’ve got the familiar radio DJ. You know, like Casey Kasem. These are the familiar voices that, simply put, play songs on the radio. They introduce artists, break records, and usually have nothing to do with the production of music. Not to say that they don’t have talent – they’ve got to know the music, be aware of up and coming artists, and form connections with musicians to help promote and push new music. Most people don’t realize it, but this is role that Khaled played to get that “DJ” title added before his name.
Khaled’s career began as a DJ for WEDR, a Miami radio station. He hosted a radio show, played records, acted as a hype man for Florida rappers, and aided by his energetic personality he quickly developed relationships with industry folks. This is what eventually led to him bringing together some of the biggest names in hip-hop for some of the biggest hits in recent history. Playing no part in the production or vocals (other than screaming over intros), I’m still dumfounded that he has the audacity to call these “DJ Khaled tracks” when they feature other artists that really do all the work, but I guess bringing a bunch of famous people together counts for a lot more than one might think. According to some sources, Khaled “assists” with production on some pieces. I’m pretty sure this means he proclaims “This is what we do! We da best!” when he hears a beat he likes.
Khaled is now the president of Def Jam South, and also founded the label We The Best Records under Def Jam. Looks like the quiet, talented guys take another loss. Moral of the story – try to climb your way up to a tall platform and just fucking yell until your voice goes.