DJ Khaled is pretty clearly only concerned with stacking bills and building brand, so it shouldn’t surprise that his music continues to suck.
There was once a time when DJ Khaled’s music was fun, when his amassed star power could reliably produce a few “anthems” — all while shamelessly cashing in on his (usually shouted) trademark catch-phrases — and where he, the entire time, was doing little to no actual work on songs with his name headlining. What exactly Khaled does on any given part of his records is up for debate, but the most accurate answer involves him being a middleman for semi-established and budding talent. So he’s a mover and shaker, and more importantly, something of a name brand unto himself, one who’s become painfully self-conscious in the process: since re-inventing himself as a Snapchat positivity guru half a decade ago — part of which included a humorous incident where he was lost at sea while on his jet ski — he’s stopped working with lesser known (read: less marketable) artists for fear of alienating the moms of America by making them listen to the likes of Ace Hood or Lil Boosie. Now when putting an album together, it’s nothing but a metrics game to Khaled; he’s not concerned with quality, but sheer quantity and bankability. Which features will garner the most engagement? Which unearthed samples will spark a viral moment? Which Drake tracks from years past can be used to artificially inflate your first week sales? These are the questions that keep Khaled awake at night, and the ones that primarily concern his latest output, KHALED KHALED, his most shameless cash-grab to date.
Granted, one could say that about any previous release under the We The Best Music brand, but the blatant transparency by which some of these songs operate strictly as high-level PR moves makes the entire endeavor feel perfunctory. Cuts like “EVERY CHANCE I GET” and “LET IT GO” are perfectly fine on their own, even somewhat catchy; but being aware that Lil Durk and Lil Baby have an upcoming collab mixtape on the way makes their inclusion feel like throw-away publicity in the form of music, and the same goes for Bieber and 21 Savage (chances that their partnership was originally cut from Justice’s Deluxe Edition and placed here as some extended favor? Quite high). “WE GOING CRAZY,” a song that’s not particularly crazy in any real respect, has the Migos collectively rapping for under a minute, all while industry plant H.E.R. makes forced references about OnlyFans over a lame sample of Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know.” In fact, laborious callbacks to yesteryear are something of a recurring motif here — one could call it a variation on a theme, if Khaled was even remotely artistic with his intentions and wasn’t simply playing into nostalgia — as Justin Timberlake delivers one of his weakest ever vocal performances over an interpolation of the Jackson 5’s “Maybe Tomorrow” (which, considering JT’s history with their sister, maybe isn’t the most appropriate call, Khaled?). And in a clear attempt to soak up radio play by throwing as many big names as possible together on one track, Post Malone, DaBaby, Lil Baby, and Megan Thee Stallion are dumped onto an overblown trap remix of dad-rock staple “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos; “I DID IT” has these four artists all crammed into a short two minutes and 40 seconds, each busting out the same exact flows and regurgitating the same exact lyrical content they’ve exhausted in the past year. It’s almost guaranteed to be a Billboard smash and prominently feature in NBA 2K22.
Even when things aren’t as overstuffed, they still fail to rise to the occasion. Cardi B sounds outright embarrassing on “BIG PAPER,” not because her pen game is off, but by virtue of her vocals barely matching the beat; she comes off confident, but also like she’s never rapped a day in her life. Aubrey Graham’s two solo appearances — as if to make up for his absence on 2019’s Father of Asahd — forms the quintessential Drizzy diptych between boss mode (“POPSTAR”) and bitch made (“GREECE”), neither of which are terribly compelling as stand-alone singles and make even less sense in the context of the album. The worst moment here, something of a perfect encapsulation of Khaled’s current methodology and ethos, comes with the old-head ode “SORRY NOT SORRY,” a track tailor-made for the type of sycophants who love the idea of both Jay-Z and Beyonce being billionaires. HOV and Nas trade cornball bars about who’s richer than who — Nas calls himself the “cryptocurrency Scarface” with a straight face; Jay brags about drinking Japanese whiskey on his mezzanine, which… cool flex, I guess? — over a compressed, schmaltzy, glistening instrumental. The track itself is so out of touch that it might as well be re-titled “SORRY NOT SORRY FOR BEING A BOURGEOIS VENTURE CAPITALIST.” It has little appeal on a musical level, made instead with maximum streaming profits and internet clicks in mind; it’s “another one” for the scoreboards, but, much like Khaled the brand over Khaled the hit-maker, has little to nothing going for it beyond superficial pleasures.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 3.