GOD DID: HOW DJ KHALED ROSE TO PROMINENCE AND BUILT A HIP-HOP LEGACY
DJ Khaled is one of the most misunderstood figures in hip-hop. Period. Known largely by today’s generation for his relentless catchphrase cries both on record and across social media, his role is somewhat obscure. But the presence and legacy of the man are far more important than you may think. A name synonymous with countless radio and club hits including ‘I Got The Keys’, ‘Popstar’, ‘I’m The One’, over the course of a decade, DJ Khaled has carved out a unique lane for himself, building a global audience that transcends age, gender, and genre.
Throughout the early 2010s, Khaled first rose to fame via breakout anthems ‘All I Do Is Win’, ‘Welcome To My Hood’, and ‘No New Friends’. Each release possessed an All-Star lineup with the biggest names at the time including T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne all proudly collaborating with Khaled and sending the tracks into festival folklore. It was this period that built the confidence we see today, with each project becoming that little bit bigger and little bit more flamboyant; each with a new tagline summarises his mantras of winning, success and belief.
DJ Khaled is far from an overnight success – he’s been around the block. Born in New Orleans in the 1970s to Palestinian immigrants, hustling was a sentiment instilled in him early on. His parents moved to the United States and worked 7 days a week, selling clothes out of the boot of their car where Khaled Mohammed would hold the money bag at just five years of age. Throughout his youth, Khaled and his family would bounce between Miami and New Orleans due to financial issues, but the majority of his time was spent in Florida, thus often citing the ‘Sunshine State’ as where he grew up. There, his engrossment in rap music would intensify.
His love for hip-hop would blossom as his teenage years arrived, sprouting into a passion for the turntables at 13. Alongside DJing, Khaled indulged in production and sampling, using drum machines and keyboards. By 14, music was his only option. He would make cash to invest in his dreams by selling clothes out of his car, carrying forth the torch lit by his mother and father. He began throwing parties as his own promoter and DJ at an extremely young age.
At some point, while bouncing back and forth between Florida and Louisiana, Khaled started working at Odyssey Records as a DJ in New Orleans. At the time, Birdman, one of the most prolific hip-hop moguls in rap history, was running the city. Odyssey Records would be home to a defining moment in his career as he witnessed Birdman and his protege, Lil Wayne, meet for the first time. Khaled became acquainted as he worked behind the counter, watching the formation of Cash Money Records unfold in front of his very eyes.
Before long, he took on a full-time role at popular radio station 99Jamz in Miami, where he would host his own show. Due to his robust connections, he became Miami’s default tastemaker, introducing the city to every hot new song – famously playing Rick Ross’s ‘Hustlin’ for over an hour straight. His eccentricity ensured that by the late 90s, his status as a hip-hop radio personality was global.
“Who would’ve thought that DJ that was on 6 to 10– Big Sean, ‘Thank You’, Father of Asahd.
Right there on 99 Jamz, screamin’, “We The Best”
Would’ve had all the execs eatin’ right out of his hands?
Showed us all the keys to success from doors being slammed.
Look, I gotta thank Khaled who back in 2010
Convinced Ye, Sean should drop ‘My Last’ shit. It’s a smash hit.”
Khaled’s early artistry saw him serve as a member of the notorious NYC hip-hop collective Terror Squad alongside Fat Joe, the late Big Pun, and Remy Ma who picked up a Gold record in 2004 for ‘Lean Back’. During his time as an executive and A&R, DJ Khaled observed an inexplicable amount of great beats get passed on by rappers daily. His entrepreneurial brain and ability to see sonic potential inspired him to forge closer connections with producers, inevitably leading to the debut project ‘Listennn… the Album’ in 2006, with one of his first major hits being ‘Grammy Family’, placed on Consequence‘s debut album.
He recalls that at the time Kanye West paid for the video out of his own pocket as Khaled couldn’t afford to. This song would mark the start of what the majority associate Khaled with today, as he calls it, ‘anthematic music’; featuring Kanye, Common, Consequence, and John Legend, with the braggadocios title, it was the perfect career conception. It sparked the beginning of a formula that Khaled would follow for the rest of his career: unquestionable star power blended with endless motivation.
To the untrained eye, DJ Khaled is merely the face of a wider operation. Often criticized and trivialized, the respect he garners from his esteemed peers should be evidence enough of his contribution to the art under his name. He is listed as the executive producer on every song he releases and while he may not play the instruments, DJ Khaled is the conductor of the orchestra. He has a vision, and executes it. Time and time again. Combining his knowledge with his experience and utilizing his connections, DJ Khaled manages to bring together elite artists from different corners of their industry, and provide the canvas on which they can paint a masterpiece. From J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar on 2013’s ‘They Ready’, Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean on 2016’s ‘Holy Key’, or more recently, JAY-Z and Nas on last year’s ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ he continually unites the biggest names in ways most people could never imagine.
“Back in the days when I used to work with Akon, you have to have that AC off. If that room ain’t 120 degrees, you’re not getting no vocals out of Akon. I’ll put the thing at 120 degrees. I would bring heaters in. If you walk in there – you couldn’t even be in the room. You couldn’t take it.”– DJ Khaled on Complex‘s ‘360 with Speedy Morman‘
Stories like this illustrate the attention to detail and care for his craft that has enabled DJ Khaled to build a catalogue of hits spanning a decade. His magnetic energy and lust for life make him one of the most popular figures amongst his peers. Without his touch, a lot of magic simply wouldn’t happen.
It’s also not surprising that the general public may not understand why he’s so big, or what he actually does. The building blocks for his empire were laid over the course of the last 3 decades, notably being appointed as Def Jam South’s President in 2009 and starting his own We The Best label. His ability to adapt to the social media age and becoming the face of numerous viral moments further heightened his celebrity, but also gave insight into his genius. The DJ Khaled Snapchat era was iconic; documenting everything, relentlessly promoting, and always introducing a new catchphrase. He’s managed to move, stay relevant, and build longevity, unlike many others.
Nearly all of Khaled’s albums are slogans, ranging from We The Best Forever (2011), Suffering From Success (2013), all the way to Major Key (2016), which was released during his peak viral era. Songs like ‘Shining’ with JAY-Z and Beyonce, and ‘Wild Thoughts’ with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller were two of the biggest hits of the decade, both featuring on his 2017-project entitled Grateful.
Khaled has always had a positive aura, extreme to the point that it can divide fans. But as he became a father, the inspiration was only heightened. He became openly more spiritual and family was soon the focus; placing his first son Asahd on the cover of Grateful, following suit with the latest addition to the family on Khaled Khaled (2021). He even named his 11th studio album Father Of Asahd (2019), listing his child as the youngest ever executive producer; ensuring he earns royalties for the rest of his life. Oh yeah, he also snap-chatted the live birth of his son too, if you needed a further example of how serious Khaled is about his social media content.
Last Friday, DJ Khaled released his highly-anticipated 13th album GOD DID. The lead single for the project came a few weeks earlier with ‘Staying Alive’ featuring Drake & Lil Baby, a commercially successful yet frustratingly on-brand tacky leader. As the release date grew closer, rumors swirled about a potential GOAT tier Jay-Z feature verse, building hype to a tipping point at the tracklist reveal. 18 tracks, stacked full of features, and a promise of his best work to date.
The Jay rumours were confirmed on ‘God Did’, the title song and the second on the project. While Rick Ross and Lil Wayne contributed some of their very best work, as were the vocal additions from John Legend and newcomer Fridayy, Jigga stole the show in a verse that exceeded not only expectations, but three minutes in length. Rap fans were eating GOOD. Honestly; it’s arguably the song of the year and an example of the very best of what Khaled is capable of as an executive. Kanye’s highly craved Dr Dre remix of ‘Use This Gospel’ featuring Eminem also found itself on the project as a personal gift. A record that had been teased for over 2 years, with significant doubts that it would ever be released, was brought to life by way of DJ Khaled.
‘Let’s Pray’ with Don Toliver and Travis Scott is an impressive moment, as is the Kodak Black verse on ‘It Ain’t Safe’; meanwhile SZA and Future combine with TM88 on ‘Beautiful’ for one of the smoothest songs of 2022. Khaled showed love to New York with ‘Jadakiss Interlude’, featuring snippets of the iconic Versuz between The Lox and Dipset last year, a James Brown sample and then into a gritty Jadakiss doing what he does best. Unlike many other posthumous drops, ‘Juice Wrld Did’ was fitting, and one of the best tracks on the album. It was a song Juice Wrld made before his passing, frequently mentioning Khaled and his catchphrases throughout. Khaled was given the track as he started making ‘God Did’, and felt it was only fitting for a project with God at the centre.
God Did is a true representation of Khaled’s capabilities. With a catalogue of highs and lows (critically speaking) over the last decade, his formula feels like it has clicked for the entirety of a full-length project for potentially the first time (at least in the modern era of rap). The record possesses a good mix of different genres, impeccable feature artists – of which were a diverse mix of icons, freshmen and everything in between – and enough Khaled ad-libs to satisfy your hunger. It’s projected to possibly be Khaled’s fourth Number 1 album, moving over 100 thousand units in its’ first week.
DJ Khaled cannot, and will not be denied the success, discography, and reputation he has crafted in his longstanding career. Recognized with a recently added star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, his contribution to global entertainment culture may not be fully understood while he remains active. Possessing Grammy Awards, numerous era-defining records, and the respect of his peers the child of Palestinian immigrants has stayed true to his positive outlook since day one, achieving far more than anyone could have imagined. Long after he has left the studio for full-time family life; the catchphrases will continue to echo and the anthems will continue to circulate. A testament to what DJ Khaled did. Or better still, what God Did.