Don’t let the DJ title fool you. DJ Khaled has more skills than what you hear coming from his turntables – and he just may be on his way to taking over as the new Miami boss. by Kristie Bertucci Photography by Miguel Starcevich post production BY Primo Catalano
Consider DJ Khaled a master of trades: an artist, DJ, radio personality, music executive, record label owner, businessman, producer, hip-hop elite and more. But at the end of the day, it’s “mogul” that truly defines Khaled, born Khaled bin Abdul Khaled.
“I’m one of the biggest moguls in the game,” Khaled asserts. “I’m, like, the modern day Quincy Jones or Berry Gordy. DJ Khaled is just a boss, as well as an artist, CEO, brand, a collaborator with YMCMB and a top executive at Def Jam Records. My stay in the game is to be the biggest mogul, aka the biggest boss. Hip-hop is in an amazing situation where it just keeps growing and growing. It’s not just a culture anymore, but more a way of life now. It’s so big that it involves everything from TV, movies, clothing, music and more. It’s takin’ over and so am I…”
Khaled’s vision may entail taking over the hip-hop game, but when he was younger, he was more than satisfied with just opting for a career as a producer when he first fell in love with music at age 14. With a passion for making beats, he eventually became a DJ and found his niche working as a radio personality for the Miami-based WEDR station. From there, he got picked up to become Fat Joe’s Terror Squad’s DJ, which was the catalyst for Khaled’s rise to fame within hip-hop.
Despite dreams of only making beats, the DJ soon became a notable producer from 2004-2006, where he assisted in producing albums for Fabolous, Terror Squad, Fat Joe and more. It wasn’t until 2006 that Khaled felt it was his time to shine and dropped his introductory album, Listennn…the Album, on Koch Records (now E1 Music). It premiered on the Billboard 200 at No. 12 and was the beginning of several more chart-topping albums and numerous singles. That album cemented Khaled’s reputation as a hit-maker and solidified his path to the top of the ladder, as he put out album after album just about every year after.
There’s no denying that Khaled wears many hats, but his current focus is lingering on the artistic side with his fifth album, We the Best Forever, released this summer under his own We the Best Music Group, as well as Terror Squad Entertainment, Cash Money Records and Universal Motown. And like his prior efforts, the Miami-based DJ has an all-star hip-hop cast featured on the album. The first single, “Welcome to My Hood” featuring Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Plies and T-Pain, warmed the pot for “I’m on One” featuring Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. The smooth jam peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100, making it the first single of both his and Ross’ to crack the top 10. His latest single, “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” with Mary J. Blige, Fabolous and Jadakiss, is next up at bat, with even higher hopes.
“I got to work with Mary J. Blige, which was a first for me and a big thing,” he admits. “That song is great because if you love hip-hop and R&B, this one really brings together the best from both worlds.” He considers it a timeless track that “ain’t gonna be going nowhere.”
After putting in a lot of hard work into each of the tracks on the new project, Khaled couldn’t answer which one was his all-time favorite. Instead, he broke them down by personal significance. For Khaled, “Welcome to My Hood” is another enduring classic that fans will never grow tired of, given it’s “melodic, epic and cinematic” sound. “Legendary” with Chris Brown, Ne-Yo and Keyshia Cole “will touch people’s souls and hearts in a positive way. This could be my Grammy song since it’s really so inspirational and powerful,” he says.
Then there’s “I’m Thuggin’,” which he likes to call his “street” jam. “That track takes it back to that authentic street music I make naturally every day. Featuring his We the Best Music Group artist Ace Hood (who drops his album Blood, Sweat & Tears not long after Khaled’s) and Waka Flocka Flame, the track is for old school fans who began the journey with him back in 2006, when he made his debut with Listennn…the Album.
We The Best Forever also features collaborations with other hip-hop heavyweights like Drake, Nicki Minaj, Birdman, Chris Brown, Gucci Mane, Soulja Boy, B.o.B, Lupe Fiasco, Nas, Cee Lo Green, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and plenty more.
“This album is very special,” he says. “I put some of my best work into it and it also shows my growth as an artist and producer. It’s packed with a lot of superstars, as usual. It has non-stop hits on it, with every single track a smash hit that will be big in the streets.”
After dropping what he considers to be “straight No. 1 anthems” for the past seven years, he says fans will get nothing less than a 12-track LP they’ll want to play over and over again. “It’s timeless, just like all my other albums.” Khaled likes to credit his hometown of Miami for also helping inspire his unique sound that fuels the energy for each song. “Where I’m from helps give me the inspiration and vibe for all my music since Miami is a beautiful city,” he says. “We have our own hip-hop flava down here that’s distinct from the rest, and it’s what we pushin’ hard. It’s what makes us different from others.”
And to top it all off, one of the biggest traits to this full-length is that it’s his first release under Cash Money, to which he signed as an artist back in August 2010. It’s been something that has been a long time coming, he mentions, given he considers the whole YMCMB to be extended family.
“It’s gonna be great,” he says of the collaboration. “It’s two powerful brands joining forces. I’ve always respected them and they actually inspired me to create my We the Best Music Group brand, so this joint venture is gonna be beyond huge! We’ve always talked about doing it, but didn’t want to actually go through with it all until the time was right, which it is now. I’m glad it took a bit of time because I’ve been able to grow myself and my brand, which just goes to show what I can do by myself.”
Despite having just dropped an album, Khaled is already looking to his next effort and hopes to enlist some new talent he’s never worked with before like Eminem, Beyonce and Alicia Keys. If Khaled puts his mind to it, it’ll happen for the rapper/producer whose Rolodex is filled with hip-hop’s biggest names. “I have great relationships with a lot of people since I’ve been in the this game for a minute,” he says. “When I want an artist featured on one of my tracks, I go to them and give them my idea and inspiration of what I’m trying to create. I also have some reach out to me ’cause they want to be part of a winning situation, but most of the time I have in mind who I want for a track and who’ll go best with its vibe.”
Since Khaled’s hand is mixed into several things, you may wonder where he finds the time to do it all: be the creative artist coming up with content; the producer finding the right beats and making it all happen; the CEO who’s in charge of finding new talent; the Def Jam executive making moves; and just Khaled, the man whose talents are numerous. To him, none of these things are bothersome or a chore because to be No. 1, you have to do it all and then some.
“To be the best in the game, you have to work 24 hours, around the clock, non-stop. But if you don’t want to be on the very top of your game, you don’t have to wear all kinds of hats. However, I strive to be the best and that means I have to hustle and grind and work every day to bust the best job at all that I’m involved in. That hustle and drive is what is gonna make me the biggest mogul in the game and one of the biggest bosses in hip-hop music and culture there is.”
While some artists can only do the creative thing and other businessmen can only handle the behind-the-scenes action, Khaled likes to pride himself on being able to handle both mindsets as seamlessly as if they were one in the same. When he’s in artist mode, he knows what to do to make hits and when that’s done, he then goes into his business mentality and knows how to market those hits so that they’re successful. “There’s practically no transition for me since I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s second nature to me. I can never just pick one over the other because they’re both precious to me. Losing one would be like losing a part of my soul or something… Being creative is what got me here, and my business sense is what has taken me further along in my career, which is what makes me a mogul.”
Khaled may seem to boast of his mogul status a bit much, but it’s a well-earned title that he’s put in a lot of hard work to achieve – not only in his own music career, but also in those of others. When asked if he plans to take out Diddy and Jay-Z, he takes a moment to reply. “I just strive to be the No. 1 mogul in the game, and if that’s what you define that to be, then it is what it is,” he says with a slight laugh. “I’m just saying I’m out to be the biggest mogul in the game. I already consider myself one and it’s just gonna get bigger and bigger from here.” He already has multiple titles and plans to grow his We the Best brand into a clothing company, align it with larger companies for endorsements and be one of the most prevalent labels in hip-hop today and in the future.
When all’s said and done, Khaled doesn’t just represent one brand, but a multitude of entities; it just depends on what he’s doing at the time as to what he’s reppin’ more. But ultimately, Khaled wants to be recognized as a person who uplifted people and inspired them to follow their dreams, no matter how far-fetched they might be. “I have this great energy that I’m always passing along to my friends, family, fans and just people around me.” For Khaled, it’s all about going down in hip-hop history as one of the biggest kingpins “this game has ever had!”