A viral moment forever stamped into my mind is DJ Khaled’s 2015 Jet Ski incident. Using his then-ascendant Snapchat account, Khaled documented a quick jaunt from his Miami beachfront mansion to his buddy Rick Ross’s nearby beachfront mansion. As millions of people watched in real-time, Khaled found himself in the dark unable to navigate home. He grew increasingly panicked, all while keeping his phone’s camera pointed at his face. “The key is to make it,” he chanted, turning to his signature catchphrase in a time of crisis. This was before it was normal for wealthy celebrities to live broadcast every moment of their expensive lives to the rest of us ad nauseum. It sticks with me now because Khaled, the pop-cultural soothsayer that he is, managed to tap into a nascent zeitgeist. Instagram wouldn’t launch its Snapchat clone Stories until August of the following year.
Khaled’s cultural prowess is indeed undeniable. Whether or not you find his antics grating is irrelevant. He’s the perfect blend of shameless and savvy — an archetype for celebrities in the social media age. He’s also a useful cultural barometer. DJ Khaled’s music has a way of soundtracking everyday life so subtly that you may very well belt out one of his signature catchphrases without thinking. His slogan, “Another One” is on par with Nike’s “Just Do it” in terms of ubiquity. It’s why, after a year of global shutdowns, his new album Khaled Khaled, which contains a handful of serviceable radio hits, is oddly comforting. A new DJ Khaled album in these times signals a return to normal. Nature is healing etc. Despite the Justin Timberlake track that I’d rather forget that I heard, Khaled Khaled means it’s finally safe to go outside.
And the music isn’t half bad either. Khaled Khaled leans into the current mood of late-nineties and early aughts nostalgia. Several beats are re-interpretations of famous samples in hip-hop. Hoping to emulate the success of songs like Khaled and Rihanna’s Santana-sampling “Wild Thoughts,” Khaled Khaled has the feeling of pop culture trivia, with mixed results. The H.E.R. and Migos collaboration “We Goin Crazy” samples Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know” and sounds like the only song you’ll hear on the radio this summer. H.E.R. and Migos prove to be a compelling pairing even if the track falls short of its source material’s impact. And then there’s that Justin Timberlake moment. “Just Be” flips a sample of Ghostface Killah’s “All That I Got is You,” and is easily one of the most bewildering moments in the last decade of popular music. So, there’s also that.
DJ Khaled’s biggest asset remains his Rolodex and on Khaled Khaled, the collaborations reach mad scientist levels. There’s the much-discussed Jay-Z and Nas feature, on “Sorry Not Sorry,” which includes the first of what is sure to be a maddening trend of cryptocurrency raps. Beyoncé also shows up, for a split second, to say “hey,” which was nice. And then there’s the 21 Savage and Justin Bieber collaboration “Let It Go,” which defies all logic but is somehow the perfect song. The production is bouncy and ebullient, like all of Bieber’s best songs, and 21’s staccato cadence fits right at home. The pair’s divergent vocal registers also make for something kind of magical. Who knew all Bieber needed was 21 Savage’s ad-libs? Apparently DJ Khaled.
The album’s shining moments come in back-to-back tracks from Lil Baby & Lil Durk and Cardi B, all of whom seem to be jockeying for rap supremacy. On “Every Chance I Get,” we get a taste of the mythological Durk and Baby tape and it sounds exquisite. Both are operating at a new peak, and listening to them trade explosive bars about how much they want to stunt on their enemies is the type of experience we were accustomed to in “before times,” and it feels good to be back. Cardi B’s “Big Paper,” which apparently arrived at the last minute, feels menacing. Like the rapper responsible for the past year’s biggest hits is only getting warmed up. If I were a competing MC I’d be concerned.
With Khaled Khaled, DJ Khaled is counting on a population ready to get back to mundane everyday activities. Uber rides from the bar, walks around the block, and parties that aren’t public health crises. It’s an album for regular life and it’s a reminder of the world we can look forward to soon, eventually, hopefully.