It’s been established that I’m a Super Saiyan-level hater (h/t Panama), especially when it comes to contemporary mainstream hip-hop.
Let’s keep it a buck, though – there’s a lot to hate on in hip-hop right now: We have a XXL Freshman Issue with 10 rappers whose combined bars couldn’t get a cell signal from a rooftop in Manhattan. We have the presumed “queen” of hip-hop taking the Mother Superior of Ls in a battle by insisting that sales trump verses. I’d rather hear just about anyone else spit over the best beat of the year to date other than the dude who actually owns it. And we have young niggas literally (literally, literally) letting themselves be hurled into metal gates during concert performances. I could go on.
But if there’s one entity in the genre who should be completely impervious to critique or admonition, it’s Khaled Mohamed Khaled, otherwise known as DJ Khaled. It matters not if you’re young enough to think Lil’ Boat’s Teenage Emotions album is the Illmatic of our time or if you’re that dusty backpacker who can name the mixer of track 13 on Kool G Rap’s second album – if you love hip-hop, you should automatically love Khaled.
Though he’s been involved in the industry since the late 1990s, Khaled’s profile started rising near the end of the last decade when an ever-increasing number of mainstream rap stars started appearing on his compilation albums. Dude has an even deeper Rolodex than The Game; each of you reading this has had at least one member of your Top Five pop up on a Khaled track.
I didn’t really catch wind of Khaled until his 2012 album, Kiss the Ring. I mostly hated on him for that risible album cover (same with the cover of 2013’s Suffering from Success), but that album’s “Hip-Hop”, featuring Scarface and Nas, was one of my year’s favorite cuts.
A half-decade later, I have nothing bad to say about DJ Khaled. If any one grown man brings me a steady stream of joy, it’s him. If I wake up in the morning wanting to drown a bag of kittens because I have a crick in my neck from sleeping funny, I just think “WWKD?” and I’m once again a ray of fucking sunshine. All of this is probably why I’m very excited to jump into his new album, Grateful, in a way that I seldom am about any artist in 2017.
Here’s why DJ Khaled has our sorry asses only aspiring to his degree of awesomeness:
The Music: I’ll admit that Khaled’s oeuvre is loaded with filler from marginally talented artists that my stuck-in-the-90’s ass hates on as a matter of routine, which is why it took me a while to give his stuff a serious listen. But just about each of his 10 albums contains something, or someone, for us old heads. For example, “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” from his Major Key album evokes the New York posse cuts of yore like “Banned from TV” and “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad.” Plus, Khaled has a borderline Rick Ross-esque ear for beats that even makes tracks with Ace Hood listenable.
I realize that Khaled wouldn’t be KHALED if his whole album was full of Jadakiss and Scarface features (I’m pretty sure he owes Drake his next, unborn child for his successes). But dude is on the wrong side of 40, and I get the impression that he loves that real hip-hop shit in his nether regions. That he can, in one album, connect with the Jadens (and Braidens and Kaidens) of Menlo Park, Calif. as well as outer-borough New York niggas is a testament to his reach. Hell, he can even get away with doing what we wanted to murder DJ Clue for in the 1990s: yelling his name over every goddamn track.
Social media wins: Not one rapper has as engaging a social media presence as DJ Khaled. His Instagram and Snapchat feeds are wildly popular because they’re updated extremely frequently and showcase him doing wildly disparate shit, from quotidian mundanity to hobnobbing with every manner of celebrity.
When he got lost at sea on his jet ski at night in the end of 2015, Khaled Snapchatted the whole affair while maintaining an unrelenting optimism in the face of what would’ve had the jet ski rental company charging me extra for a soiled seat. Watching the whole Snapchat story, you don’t think, “Oh, I wish this stupid fat rich bastard would’ve made a whole shark family’s day.” You think, “Awe, I’m really glad Khaled made it out safe! Bless up!” You might’ve even thought, “Damn, I wish I was out there in the dark with Khaled. I would’ve brought Coronas and snacks!” He’s sort of the anti-Kanye West in this way.
His physical appearance: Khaled’s portly figure – which includes a Tony-Soprano-in-season-6 belly that he has no compunction about displaying to the world – gives him that this-celebrity-is-all-of-us quality that someone like the newly-chiseled Drake lacks. And we all have an affinity for avuncular, rotund dudes who look like they’ll sneak us that extra slice of pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving that our parents don’t want us to have.
His son: Ever since Asahd Khaled blessed the world with his arrival last October (captured on Snapchat, of course), little man has been a mainstay in his father’s world. Any rap dude can pull together matching outfits, executive producer credits and an album cover, but Asahd’s omnipresence in his dad’s social media feeds and as a topic in interviews indicates that Khaled is an active parent despite his hyper-busy schedule.
Chris Rock once said that a nigga shouldn’t be celebrated for taking care of his kids, but I’m not gonna front like hip-hop is a genre that routinely and openly celebrates hands-on fatherhood. I also won’t front: whatever the male equivalent to a biological clock is pops off in me from time to time and makes me really moved by seeing Khaled dote on his son – before I remember that actually I love my own money and come back down to Earth.
Straight positivity: Hip-hop, on a genetic level, thrives off of war, competition and general negativity. Though much of his music reflects that, Khaled himself possesses a totally bearable lightness of being that resonates in everything he does and says. He warns against the anonymous “They” but refuses to take sides in rap beef and always seems to stop short of attacking his known opponents. He keeps with the times – doing away with his original sobriquet “Arab Attack” following the September 11 attacks and no longer saying “nigga” like he did in his early records.
He’s always dropping inspirational (if sometimes trite) quotes and his reflection on his success doesn’t resemble the usual tired rodomontade we hear from most rappers, but often involves naked gratitude. If you hate Khaled, you probably also hate puppies, sunshine and Harold’s Chicken. And you should maybe check your pulse to see if you’re not the walking fucking undead. Is there a better way to kick off summer ’17 than being Grateful about some shit? Methinks not.