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What's The Point Of A DJ Khaled Album?

Backseat Freestyle
What's The Point Of A DJ Khaled Album?
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #18 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter that I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….

DJ Khaled // Credit: AGT (NBC)
DJ Khaled // Credit: AGT (NBC)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
A DJ KHALED ALBUM is a very particular thing. It’s an assemblage of hip-hop’s biggest talent, for sure. But it’s also a testament to Khaled’s dogged determination to bring a high-wattage group together for his interests. Now, that last part hasn’t changed over the years as he’s moved from eOne to Cash Money to Epic Records. But what’s changed in some ways are the boundaries of success. The value of a number one album some weeks can be as hollow as the jewelry that was once sold in the back pages of The Source. Cumulative streams feel like scrounging for loose change to say you have a buck in hand but your palm is holding lint and change to make it happen. Artistic achievement, genre influence and trend-setting, not to mention the amorphous vibes, have risen in currency. At this fork in the road lies Khaled and his big tent ambitions.
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
LIKE A MARVEL MOVIE, there’s DJ Khaled before the Snap and after the Snap. Prior to his life-altering Jet-Ski ride that he documented on Snapchat, DJ Khaled was a man of many hats. A key figure on Miami’s radio airwaves, a respected producer under the Beat Novacane moniker and a burgeoning impresario who would go on to work as an executive at Def Jam. 
His discography back then was held tight by a purpose to bring respect to the talent from The 305. His debut, 2006’s Listennn…The Album, was anchored by “Born-N-Raised” featuring Pitbull, Trick Daddy and Rick Ross. The following year he returned with We The Best and upped the ante while still holding firm. That project’s “We Takin’ Over” dripped with Florida pride: Rick Ross was featured as were Miami residents Fat Joe and Baby and Lil Wayne. We Global and Victory would follow suit, sticking to the same script. Even his Cash Money albums, from We The Best Forever to Suffering From Success balanced a desire to grow while putting on his artist Ace Hood and pairing Miami talent with superstar talent. 
As his profile grew and his singles became more star-studded, a cheap criticism of Khaled took root: that he just grabs the hottest stars at the moment and cobbles them together on a random assortment of songs. 
There’s not an artistic bridge that Khaled crosses with each endeavor. 
That broadside is as uninteresting to me as the shots once directed at T-Pain that alleged AutoTune is the sole reason behind his success. T-Pain deaded that charge. As did Khaled and the gripe directed at him. 
A brief word. I’m fond of sharing the story of a conversation with Sha Money XL I had and his framing of Khaled’s work in its proper context. The crux of his argument goes like this: There’s only a finite amount of points/budget available to make an album, so Khaled has to negotiate (or motivate) artists to take less than their usual rates to serve his purpose toward a larger vision, i.e. an album. It’s a financial and creative puzzle that is constantly changing as he makes more songs and the challenge becomes increasingly more difficult the closer he gets to turning in a project. Think of Khaled as Sandra Bullock’s character in “Speed.” It’s no easy ride. 
Once Khaled became a social media sensation, he inked with Roc Nation for management and signed a new recording contract with Epic Records. From there, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. 
With his ninth album, Major Key, though, Khaled proved his new star turn was no fluke. The LP was certified platinum, a first for him, as he managed to rope in contributions from Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Jeezy, Future and a host of other heavy hitters. It was less Miami and more….well, just more. And his decade-plus transformation from satellite radio DJ to hip-hop’s PT Barnum was complete. 
Then he gave us another one
Grateful was his Magnum Opus. A blockbuster single featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller powered by a Carlos Santana sample in “Wild Thoughts.” And after a tenure of convincing, Khaled finally brought Justin Bieber to his circus for “I’m The One,” which also featured Chance The Rapper, Quavo and Lil Wayne. It was a reflection of Khaled’s creative instincts and his shrewd determination to make relationships old and new coalesce into product form. 
Which brings us to the point of a DJ Khaled album….
Khaled isn’t an artist. He’s a DJ. Back around 2006 maybe, MTV hired him for a party (I think it was a moral boosting effort) and he killed it. He had me and timmhotep aku doing the Soula Boy dance tipsy out of our minds. Fun times. 
I say that to say, there’s not an artistic bridge that Khaled crosses with each endeavor. 
So the means to judge his success are standard metrics: radio play and albums sold. 
And the manner to achieve that quickest is through anthems. The kind of which Khaled was a specialist at delivering. There’s “I’m So Hood” and “All I Do Is Win” and “Take it To The Head” and “Hold You Down.” 
Everything was working great this way until Khaled collided with Tyler, The Creator and his Igor album. 
But the costs have been going up. So Khaled pivoted. Gone are the long lineup of stars on one track. In their place is something different; punchier groupings. 
For “Wild Thoughts,” he put Rihanna in a different bag alongside Bryson Tiller, ushering her to the forefront with a vocal performance that was more rap and with a spunky flow. For Drake, Khaled provides fertile ground to reinforce his rap bonafides while he experiments with other sounds on his own projects. Same for Jay-Z and Beyonce. Meanwhile a record like “You Say” serves as a platform for Lil Baby to catapult from and it gives J Balvin more U.S. appeal. (Meek and Jeremih are always with the shits.)
It’s the high fashion version of his tried and true formula.
Everything was working great this way until Khaled’s Father of Asahd LP collided with Tyler, The Creator and his Igor album. 
Father of Asahd was Khaled’s formula redux at a time when streaming platforms were changing what was once quantified as a hit (See Carl Chery’s excellent 2019 piece, “The Formula Is Dying.”) He swapped out Rihanna and a Santana sample for SZA and an OutKast jack. More Justin Bieber. Jay and Bey again. 
Then the Odd Future founder’s quirky R&B album topped the charts over Khaled in a surprising outcome (to some). Tyler didn’t chase radio, he built his connection to his fan base by way of connections outside traditional means (his own festival, creative extensives in television, etc.). Plus his album received the type of critical acclaim that rendered him in a new light. Khaled couldn’t match that acclaim with sheer star power like the old days. 
And you know what they say about the old days. They the old days, to quote Slim Charles
Now, DJ Khaled returns with Khaled Khaled. He’s keen on his place in the celebrity landscape. Which requires more work and the demands are much harder. To bolster the job he recruited Drake for two singles (which are still the best songs on the album). His staff is stacked with veteran label folks and Lenny S. has his A&R hat back on again. 
The album is laced with familiar strategy albeit with different names and tones. This time instead of the Drake vocals coming in, it’s the Cardi B vocals. Bardi talks tough on “Big Paper,” one of the better cuts that finds the Bronx bomber spitting over a darker sound than her post-fame tracks usually possess. With a dialed back flip of Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know” on “We Going Crazy,” H.E.R. lets her Yay Area pride bloom. This album’s unicorn is Justin Timberlake singing over the Jackson 5’s “Maybe Tomorrow” in a nod to Ghostface’s “All That I Got Is You.” Nas and Jay sound downright giddy (for them, at least) as they recount their earned wins on the melancholy chords of “Sorry Not Sorry.” 
The point of a DJ Khaled album remains steadfastly the same: a platform to showcase Khaled’s unique construct and also a playground for artists to stretch beyond their usual confines. 
How long can it last?
We’ll find out one day, just not today.
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
Summer isn’t about to get hot with Guwop. (Incidentally, that would be a fire album title.). Gucci Mane announced his next album, Ice Daddy, would arrive June 18 and he let loose “Shit Crazy” as a warm up. Hip-hop’s best A&R doesn’t miss. [Listen]
Baby Keem revisits his “Orange Soda” flow on “durag activity.” [Listen]
Burna Boy is wasting no time reloading. After dropping Twice As Tall just this past August, the Grammy-winner is already back with a new single, “Kilometre,” from a forthcoming album. More please. Related: He’s gracing the cover of British GQ. [Listen] [Read]
Stove God Cooks connects with French Montana for “Dope.” Inevitably, imo, French will soon return to the indie landscape and if this is what we can expect from him, I’m all ear. [Listen]
After your Khaled Khaled listen, the next project to press play on this weekend should be Morray‘s Street Sermons. His register doesn’t hit as high as Cee-Lo but there’s some shared DNA there and a tone that’s distant cousins with Rod Wave. “That’s On God,”“ Can’t Use Me” and “Facade” are early favs.  [Listen]
And Don’t forget about The Alchemist’s This Thing Of Ours EP. “Loose Change” is a winner. [Listen]
Jay-Z spoke to The Times across the pond about Pumas and quarantining at home with his kids during the panini. It’s behind a paywall, but my former MTV News colleague Gil Kaufman pulls together a nice summary of the article for Billboard. [Read]
It’s rare we get a Ghostface Killah interview these days, but when he speaks it’s well worth it. Check out this chat Pretty Toney had with Vulture’s Craig Jenkins. [Read]
Billboard Music Award nominations were announced and DaBaby is hip-hop’s leading man with 11 noms. [Read]
Young Thug and Gunna posted bail for low-level offenders in Atlanta who couldn’t afford to pay for their release. [Read]
Bloomberg pulls the curtain back on the Wizard of TikTok by showing the mobile app’s heavy hand in making hits by working in tandem with artist camps and labels. [Read]
This is a good Funkmaster Flex profile that would have been a great Funkmaster Flex Q&A. [Read]
Next season’s “Power Book II: Ghost” will see Redman playing Method Man’s character Davis Mclean’s older brother. [Read]
Speaking from personal experience, Young Dolph isn’t an easy interview. He keeps things close to the chest. But the Memphis underboss opened up during an enjoyable chat with the Million Dollaz Worth of Game podcast. [Listen]
Black Rob’s going home service were live-streamed on Revolt’s YouTube earlier today. Related: I forgot to include this read last week, but the great Miles Marshall Lewis poetically put some words together on BR’s life and career for GQ. I got to meet Rob myself when I worked on the “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story” doc a few years ago and he shared some tales that were too hot for TV but he was a character that was custom-made for New York and we’re all worse off for his life ending too soon. [Watch] [Read]
All these year later and Soulja Boy is still an internet icon. Check out his latest vid “She Make It Clap.” [Watch]
Nas x Hov courtesy of Khaled. [Watch]
Cordae goes 16mm for his latest vid, “Dream In Color.” I missed his “More Life” visual last week.  [Watch] [Watch]
DaBaby, Lil Baby, any baby with works with Megan Thee Stallion. Peep her and LB in his “On Me” remix vid. [Watch]
I like Bobby Sessions a lot. I got to talk to him quite a bit last year and he’s an impressive young artist with a sharp mind. This video for “Cog In The Machine” captures a lot of what he’s about and I wish the visual dropped at the same time as the song’s release in March. [Watch]
NPR really could have flipped the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert name to Tiny Church this week because Rod Wave did that. [Watch]
Vox explored the root of Black radio’s Quiet Storm format in a more informative than entertaining doc short. [Watch]
A match made in Ratchet Heaven, if there was ever were such a place, the City Girls were guests on Justin LaBoy’s “Respectfully Justin.” [Watch]
The good brother D-Nice sat down with The Breakfast Club to talk all things quarantine, from CQ to his latest level up. Shouts to The Bronx for naming March 19 Club Quarantine Day. Related New York’s State Senate declared December 18 DMX Day. [Watch]
A good dead: Shanti Das’ Silence The Shame group presents their annual A Brilliant Mind Gala to bring awareness to mental health matters. [Info]
Shameless plug: I was a guest on the Studio Talk podcast recently talking about unsigned artist strategy, the media game and this newsletter. [Listen]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
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Jayson Rodriguez

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