For years, Miami producer DJ Khaled was best known for shouting a triumphal three-word phrase – “We the best!” – over amped-up hip-hop tracks featuring friends like Jay Z, T.I. and Future. Over the past year, though, Khaled has transformed into a star in his own right. His latest album, Major Key, hit Number One, but his surging fame is thanks largely to his Snapchat account, where he combines glimpses of the hip-hop high life (there are many jet-ski rides) with weirdly compelling quotidian scenes like Khaled watering a garden full of flowers he refers to as “angels.” Khaled has in turn become an unlikely digital-age motivational speaker, encouraging followers to absorb his “keys” to success. This month, he’ll release The Keys, a memoir that bundles life lessons into colorful self-help mantras. “When you read the book, you’ll see the whole process of my keys,” says Khaled, from his tour bus in Colorado. “The process to progress.”
Last month, you went so far as to stream the birth of your first child on Snapchat, although you ultimately kept him offscreen. Why did you draw the line there?
He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I want to get with my queen and put him in his nice Air Jordans and be properly dressed before I send a picture out to the world. I can’t wait for you to see him – to show you an icon. Right now, I’m on tour, and he’s in a secret location – an iconic secret location. He’s real cool. He’s a young don.
Was your fiancée always on board with you broadcasting her labor?
I always said that if the doctor says it’s OK to Snapchat the birth, I’m gonna do it. I wanted to do it in a respectful manner. My whole thing was to put love out through the universe. It’s hard times in the world right now: Sometimes you need to be touched by blessings like that.
Did you play your son music while he was in the womb?
All the time. I would play him Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, my album Major Key – beautiful music that’s timeless. I even played some music during the birth. That’s when he really started coming out!
You use the word “they” to describe negative, success-sabotaging people. What makes someone a “they”?
“They” is an energy that I suggest nobody ever entertain. One thing I’ve learned about success and being a great man is that people will try to tear you down. “They” don’t want us to love. “They” don’t want me to have a jet ski. Even little things: “They” don’t want you to have a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with almond milk!
What will people get out of your book that they won’t get from following you on Snapchat?
They’re gonna get to know my story, going through trials and tribulations, weathering storms. I’ve always been the guy who can walk into a dark room and be the lightbulb. I bring joy and light. Now, I’m a father. If you thought I was going hard before, now I’m going super hard.
“I’ve always been the guy who can walk into a dark room and be the lightbulb.”
You’ve done more work to promote Snapchat than anybody. Have they cut you a check?
Nah. I met the CEO, and he showed me love. But I was just being myself on Snapchat, and it ended up connecting. That’s beautiful, because people used to only know me for putting out hot records.
You write in the book about stiffing landlords on rent during hard times. Were you a “they” to them?
Not at all. Because I never dissed nobody. If I couldn’t pay my rent or I got kicked out, all I did was move forward. That’s not being a “they.” That’s actually being great.
You also talk a lot about chasing bigger things constantly. But can’t endlessly chasing success become its own prison?
Success is not just money. It’s giving thanks every day. You could have the worst day ever and you could go, “Let me chill and say, ‘What am I tripping about? I have life! Everything’s gonna be all right!'” That’s why, on Snapchat, I show myself watering my grass so it goes from brown to green, caring for it. I’ve been caring for myself a lot lately: I meditate, I pray, I’m in the jacuzzi.
How does your Muslim faith guide your daily life?
It would take me 40 years to tell you everything I pray about because I pray almost every second of the day. It’s the way I was brought up, and it keeps a shield around me.
Your parents are Palestinian immigrants. This year, anti-Muslim racism in the U.S. has gotten seemingly worse than ever. Do you have fears about raising a Muslim-American child in this climate?
We’re good people, and we don’t entertain ignorance. It’s the same as staying away from “they” – stay away from that ignorance. Love is the most powerful thing in the world.