Commerce Trumps Art on DJ Khaled's 'Khaled Khaled'
Published May 04, 2021DJ Khaled albums are like Michael Bay movies, as many have noted over the years. Familiar and fun. Loud and glossy. Predictable in their relentless attempts to astonish with explosives and draw a wide-net audience with expensive star power. And they always drop just in time for summer. Blockbuster status.
Days are growing longer. Windows are rolling down. And barbecue season is nigh. So, it's only a semi-surprise that hip-hop's most gregarious and connected DJ-slash-producer-slash-adlibber-slash-hypeman-slash-proud daddy-slash-Instagram beacon has walloped us with another one.
Exchanging concepts for collabs, statements for stunt shows, Khaled has adopted the mixtape-style LP format popularized by New York tastemakers like Funkmaster Flex and Kid Capri in the '90s and aimed squarely for the pop charts. Armed with the most enviable Rolodex in the biz, the 45-year-old matchmaker isn't so much interested in putting on a region (early Khaled LPs helped put Florida rap acts on the map) or breaking new voices as he is curating sonic events.
The formula is a simple one: artists you know and love + samples you know and love = no-brainer hits tugged from the roots of nostalgia. Literally any one of the 14 tracks on Khaled Khaled, the DJ's 12th album, could spring up on your FM dial with ease. Khaled's procession of anthems kicks off with "Thankful," featuring Jeremih and Lil Wayne. The warm, soulful opener borrows Bobby Bland's 1974 cut "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City," which was famously sampled on Jay-Z's 2001 Blueprint burner "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)."
Another Blueprint favourite, "Song Cry," forms the foundation of lead event/video "Sorry Not Sorry," the first link-up between enemies-turned-titans JAY-Z and Nas in 13 years. Here we're treated to light Beyoncé harmonies and two measured doses of grown-man investment raps. "Winner in life, fuck a coin toss / I'm coin-based, basically cryptocurrency Scarface," Nas boasts. It's not so much about what's said as who's saying it.
The repurposing of past hits from the late '90s and early '00s doesn't stop there. H.E.R. and Migos' "We Going Crazy" updates Shawty Lo's "Dey Know"; "This Is My Year," with A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Big Sean, Rick Ross and Puff Daddy, snatches Biggie's "Long Kiss Goodnight"; and the Justin Timberlake solo "Just Be" pales in comparison to Ghostface Killah's "All That I Got is You," which siphons leagues more emotion from the Jackson 5's "Maybe Tomorrow" loop. None surpass their predecessors.
More compelling is "I Did It," in which zeitgeist superstars Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby and DaBaby take turns splashing quick, personality-drenched verses over Derek and the Dominoes' rocking sample. Post Malone holds the thing together with a very Posty hook. The highest peaks are reached by Canadian contributors. Drake's "Popstar" and "Greece" — which teased this album some nine months ago — remain two of the more unique offerings in terms of composition and flow. And the unlikely Justin Bieber–21 Savage duet "Let It Go" get addictive as screen time. Another standout is dancehall closer "Where You Come From," featuring Jamaican hall of famers Buju Banton, Capleton and Bounty Killer.
Of course, the whole experience is extravagant and indulgent. Commerce is pulling more gears than art here. Simply skip the lows and ride the highs. Because when Khaled does hit, it can still be fun as hell, like gorging on popcorn and 'splosions. (We the Best/Epic/Sony)