DJ Khaled is many things. For over a decade, DJ Khaled was the go-to man for the biggest and most bombastic posse cuts. From “Grammy Family” and “I’m So Hood” to “All I Do Is Win” and “Take It To Head,” DJ Khaled has delivered countless classics for the club, for the car rides, for the kickbacks, and more. His catalog of these kinds of hits runs deep, but in recent years his output has been listenable at best. The record exec and producer’s new album, Khaled Khaled, is perhaps his worst offering yet. Easily one of the worst albums of 2021 so far, Khaled Khaled begs the question: what exactly is the point of a DJ Khaled album in this day and age?
Khaled’s approach to music has always been centered around the art of the posse cut. Nevertheless, the posse cut can’t be blamed for the drop in quality of Khaled’s musical output. From Dreamville’s “Costa Rica” and “Down Bad” to Big Sean’s “Friday Night Cypher,” posse cuts in hip-hop have been thriving. These posse cuts are great because they prioritize great verses and hooks over the weight of the celebrities involved. Take “Down Bad” for example: there are five rappers on the track, but every artist delivers an excellent verse, and the hook is undeniable. The songs on Khaled Khaled are the inevitable endpoint of a trajectory that can be categorized as both predictable and unfortunate. As DJ Khaled began to gain more traction and notoriety as a brand, the music took a backseat to whatever would help boost that brand. The draw for Khaled became “who are the biggest artists Khaled can get on a song together” instead of “who are the artists that work best on a song together.” Khaled Khaled is the greatest example of this. The album’s packed roster stars Jay-Z, Nas, Cardi B, Bryson Tiller, Megan Thee Stallion, H.E.R., Migos, Roddy Ricch, Lil Baby, DaBaby, Big Sean, Puff Daddy, Post Malone, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Jeremih, Lil Wayne, James Fauntleroy, Justin Bieber, 21 Savage, Meek Mill, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Buju Banton, Lil Durk, Capleton, Bounty Killer, and Barrington Levy. Oh yeah, Khaled even got Beyoncé on backing vocals credited as Harmonies By The Hive. Khaled Khaled features the biggest and brightest stars across pop, R&B, reggae, and hip-hop and literally none of the songs do any of the aforementioned artists any justice. Of course, DJ Khaled is no stranger to packed rosters, but at least the artists worked well together on the songs. The sheer energy and effervescence of the artists on “All I Do Is Win” had the track bursting at the seams with power. On 2016’s “Do You Mind,” August Alsina and Chris Brown’s suaveness were the perfect choices to draw out the more tender notes of Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, and Future’s artistries. In the promotional campaign leading up to Khaled Khaled, there wasn’t much focus on the music. Khaled would instead tweet things like “the [Megan] Thee Stallion vocals are in,” and he even pulled stunts like missing the “legendary FaceTime of the ICONS [Justin Bieber] and [Justin Timberlake].” The fact of the matter is, clout is not enough to carry an album, especially when every song on album is dependent on the magnitude of its corresponding celebrity. Sure, you get A Boogie, Big Sean, Rick Ross, and Puff Daddy on one song (“This Is My Year”), but what good is it if the song isn’t enjoyable? You get Roddy Ricch, Bryson Tiller, and Lil Baby, on the same song for the first time ever and the result is a track that’s so boring that counting the remaining seconds is more interesting than anything that’s happening sonically.
DJ Khaled has become so hyper-fixated on securing the biggest names for his songs that he’s forgotten that the songs have to be good for any of that to matter. Khaled Khaled opens with “Thankful,” a song that is ironically representative of one of the major issues that plague the majority of the album. A lot of these songs are simply too busy. When it comes to DJ Khaled, opulence is the name of the game. The guy does everything on the largest scale possible because he is under the mistaken impression that bigger is always better. “Thankful” already had a lot going on just based on the artists on the track. Featuring Jeremih and Lil Wayne, the song immediately held more weight considering Jeremih’s personal and near fatal battle with COVID-19. This emotional burden could have carried the song by itself, but Khaled decided to throw in a sample of Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” as well as a choir. There’s just far too much going on for the song to ever settle into a proper groove. There’s a similar problem with “We Going Crazy” which features H.E.R. and Migos. This track, despite its many flaws, is ultimately a vehicle to showcase H.E.R.’s versatility. With hits like “Focus,” Damage,” and “Best Part,” H.E.R. has certainly carved out a space for herself in the midtempo lane. On this track, she flexes her rap-singing ability as she winds herself around the beat with multiple flows and cadences. With that being said, H.E.R. is the only bright spot on this cacophony of sheer noise. Migos’ contributions aren’t terrible, but their ad-libs get grating very quickly when paired against the blaring horns that terrorize the nearest pair of ears for the entire song. The horns could have been a nice touch, but between their constant presence and constant loudness, they do more to irritate than impress. In general on Khaled Khaled, the beats are either uninteresting or plain bad. Furthermore, half the album sounds like its mixing process was rushed and the other half sounds like it wasn’t mixed at all. It truly is a marvel that artists like Lil Baby, Megan, and H.E.R. were able to deliver anything worthwhile because these beats literally bring nothing to the table.
In addition to all of this, perhaps the biggest reason Khaled Khaled is so utterly abysmal is that we’ve moved past the content of these songs. In most cases, these songs feel completely tone-deaf given the current state of the world. This isn’t to say that we need DJ Khaled’s version of To Pimp a Butterfly (God knows we don’t need that, nor do we want it), but is it to say that Khaled would have been better off taking a different approach to themes that have characterized his music for over a decade. Love, family, friendship, and success have always been central themes in Khaled’s work. He’s a celebratory guy that loves to elevate wins over losses. In that vein, Khaled, and by extension, his collaborators, have approached these themes from a standpoint of materialism and Black capitalism that simply falls flat in 2021. We are still in the middle of the deadliest global pandemic of the modern era, there are multiple human rights crises happening across the world, and life as we know it has generally been turned on its head. 53 minutes of celebrities flaunting their most expensive watches and cars, boasting about their wealth, and promoting an insidious brand of Black capitalism is pretty much the last thing anyone wants to hear right now. There’s a way to sing and rap about love, family, friendship, and success without it being contingent upon material wealth. Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to DJ Khaled or the Khaled Khaled album, but the issue is especially glaring here because there really aren’t any other redeeming qualities.
This all begs the question, what exactly is the point of a DJ Khaled album in 2021? Is it to give a home to one or two routine smash hits for the summer? If that’s the case, then where are the hits? Khaled has already used up the Drake effect when he dropped “Greece” and “Popstar” last year and both tracks hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the upcoming Billboard Music Awards, Khaled will link up with H.E.R. and Migos to perform “We Going Crazy,” but, let’s be honest, that song isn’t going anywhere as much as I’d love to see H.E.R. have a major crossover hit. “Every Chance I Get” is gaining the most traction on streaming services as it is the current single, so we’ll see if the combined magic of Lil Baby and Lil Durk can truly bring the song to new heights. “I Did It” probably has the best shot of being hit on paper (Megan + Lil Baby + DaBaby + Post Malone), but the song still needs more time to reach its full potential. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that there’s no “Wild Thoughts” or “For Free” on this album. If the point of a DJ Khaled album is to get the biggest names on the industry on one record at the same time, is it worth it if the music isn’t good and half of the guest verses sound like throwaways? If the point of a DJ Khaled album is to flex his skills as a producer and curator, then he’s garnered a failing grade on both fronts. If Khaled Khaled proves anything: it’s the limit of celebrity. The magnitude and clout of collaborators can only carry you so far. At a certain point, the focus will be put on the actual music and when that doesn’t hold up, everything falls apart. The great thing about the position that DJ Khaled is in, is that none of this actually matters for him. He’s not a traditional artist in the way that a couple of dud singles and bad album reviews will have any notable impact on his career. Given that his albums are really just compilations of songs and one-off singles, he can afford to do this. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see what was once a hallmark of the beginning of summer devolve into an absolute waste of an hour.