He’s the music megastar who never sings a note or raps a bar. Luke Morgan Britton meets the happiest man in music to find out how he does it.
‘Grateful’, DJ Khaled’s 10th album in 11 years, finds the larger-than-life Miami DJ, in his own words, “at the mountaintop”. Over the past decade, the Palestinian-American artist has gained the respect of his peers with record after record of posse-filled club rap, but it wasn’t until 2016’s more pop-focused ‘Major Key’ that the world fully took notice.
The Grammy-nominated record, Khaled’s first US Number One, also coincided with a newfound internet stardom, one based around his phenomenally popular Snapchat account and an endless supply of motivational catchphrases. On any given day, you can witness Khaled offering his “keys” to success, which include everything from simply believing in yourself to the understated importance of soft pillows.
The person least surprised by this latter-day boom is probably Khaled himself. He’s never been short of self-esteem, as he tells us: “I never doubt myself… If you know Khaled, you know he represents being great.” Now, with access to higher profile collaborators and a swelling fanbase, Khaled’s sense of grandeur has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To mark the release of his new record ‘Grateful’, which he says people are “gonna talk about forever”, Khaled spoke to NME about how to follow in his footsteps.
Having become a dad last October, the star counts his blessings. “I didn’t even have to think about it,” Khaled says of his album’s name. “I’ve always been grateful for life, but now it’s something even more special. I thought I knew what love and joy was and then I met my son.” As well as being thankful for what he has, ‘Grateful’, Khaled says, is also “my thank-you to everyone” else. It’s a sort of victory lap for his fans, he explains. He also predicts that it’s “going to win awards and take home trophies”.
Understand you’re never too young to be a mogul
Khaled’s first child, his eight-month-old son Asahd, is a real-life Truman Show baby. His birth was documented on Snapchat, he has a million followers on Instagram and if you scroll through his feed you’ll find photos of him with everyone from Rihanna to Zac Efron. Asahd even gets an executive producer credit on his dad’s new record, having been present at many of the recording sessions. It’s a sort of rap equivalent of setting up a trust fund.
“Asahd brought inspiration and drive to this album,” says Khaled. “Not just to me but to all the other artists too. This is my 10th album, but it’s his first. When Asahd grows up, he’s going to say, ‘Hey, I accomplished this as a young mogul at seven months old.’ He’s the youngest, biggest mogul out there right now.”
Party like Diddy
Khaled represents lavishness and excess in an almost cartoonish way. The video for his Bieber, Chance and Quavo collaboration ‘I’m The One’ sees the stars stunting against a backdrop of palm trees, infinity pools and scantily clad women on horses. There’s even, quite inexplicably, a game of croquet going on. But he reckons there’s someone else who can compete with his hedonistic soirées. “Puff Daddy is probably the most extravagant person who can throw a party besides myself,” Khaled says. “You know there’s gonna be good energy and he’s gonna go all-out. My advice for going to a Diddy party: stay fly at all times. Be fly and be great.”
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Don’t undersell yourself
We’ve all met someone for the first time and struggled to explain what we actually do for a living. Khaled doesn’t sing or rap, so it can be difficult to work out what role he plays in his music, other than shouting his own name like an audio watermark. But he has a neat way of explaining it. “When I work with artists, I try to bring the greatness out of them,” Khaled says. “They’re already great, but I want the greatest… I’m in Quincy Jones mode.”
Embrace your inner meme
Since live-broadcasting himself lost at sea on a jet ski, Khaled’s internet fame has threatened to overshadow his music. Not that he’s at all worried. “I’m special,” he tells us. “If I walk in a room and the room is dark, I’m the light bulb.” Asked whether he takes offence at being described as a “living meme”, he shakes his head firmly and says, “I’m just being great. Whether it’s my music, or a book, or my Snapchat, it’s going to be the greatest thing. I’ve been blessed to be who I am. I be myself and people embrace it.”
Respect the boss
Khaled’s new album reads like a Grammys after-party guest list: Jay Z, Beyoncé, Drake, Rihanna, Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris. It’d probably be easier to name people who aren’t on the record. In spite of this, Khaled reckons he still gets nervous around one big name. “I’m always starstruck around Beyoncé,” Khaled admits. “I have so much respect for her as a mother and as an artist. I watched her and Jay raise their beautiful daughter while on tour and still be a real family. I’m always quiet, shy and try not to do or say too much around her – because she’s the boss.”