DJ Khaled's key to success is based on a formula, and it's one he seems unwilling to change.
DJ Khaled’s ascent to stardom finds him at ‘relaxed’ for the first time, if that’s even a word that could describe the frenetic energy of the DJ. The evolution from hip-hop to pop, anxiety to wellness, is reflected in each title. He’s no longer Suffering From Success but embracing it. He admitted he switched up on the subsequent album, IChanged A Lot which one could regard as a premonition for his foray into pop music. The thing is, Khaled has always been around the right people, which is why he can easily brag about having one of Lil Wayne’s best verses ever on “We Takin Over.” Or, bridging the intergenerational gap between the hedonistic God of the trap and the Almighty HOV on “Top Off” along with Beyoncé. Khaled has the reach, relationships, and resources that very few artists have and would make for an outstanding album, pop or otherwise, yet his eponymous album fails to fully utilize all three to their fullest potential.
With nearly 30 of the biggest stars in hip-hop and R&B attached to Khaled Khaled, the show’s main attraction does offer enough versatility across the tracklist to find at least one song worth returning to. The gargantuan names are met with an equally massive production that could have benefited from a bit of minimalism. Take the intro track, “THANKFUL” featuring Jeremih and Lil Wayne, for example. It meets the gospel influence with victorious flutes, sampling the melody from Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” -- the same sample Jay-Z used on The Blueprint. It does little else but offer a sense of familiarity, and when you’re referencing someone like Hov, there’s a high standard to uphold. Jeremih’s performance on “THANKFUL” lives up to the orchestral-level production, if only for the real-life inspiration gleaned from his publicized bout with COVID-19. Khaled’s problem with using and repurposing classic anthems also burdens the Migos and H.E.R.-accompanied, “WE GOING CRAZY.” Though Migos’ presence on the record seems appropriate for an ode to the late ATL legend Shawty Lo, H.E.R largely carries the reggae-tinged record. Unfortunately, not even H.E.R.’s hook is strong enough to ignore Quavo’s unruly “CRAZY” ad-libs on the hook.
Unlike previous releases from DJ Khaled, there are few references to “keys” on Khaled Khaled. His key to success is based on a formula, and it's one he seems unwilling to change at this point in his career. What’s worse about it, at this stage, is that he seems to have no need to even try go about it discreetly. “I DID IT” ft. Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, and Lil Baby attempt to recreate the victorious kick of “ALL I DO IS WIN” but instead of electrifying synth chords, it’s the shredding distorted electric guitar of Derek & The Dominos “Layla.” Even Bryson Tiller’s appearance alongside Lil Baby and Roddy Ricch on “BODY IN MOTION” sounds like it’s simultaneously trying to reproduce the fiery summer blare of “Wild Thoughts” and DaBaby’s “ROCKSTAR” -- last year’s song of the summer. It’s no coincidence that Roddy Ricch makes an appearance on “BODY IN MOTION,” either.
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There are a few highlights on the project that are worth mentioning. Out of his three features on Khaled Khaled, Lil Baby’s first appearance alongside Lil Durk remains the strongest. Perhaps, it’s because Khaled now has the official precursor to the long-awaited Voice Of The Heroes album. Tay Keith’s exhilarating production is equally muddy as it is flashy, while Baby and Durk’s collaborative streak extends further with glimpses into their rags-to-riches success. Melodies might drive their respective successes to the top of every chart imaginable, but they hone in on the thrilling production with guttural delivery.
Khaled’s affinity for Jamaica is well-documented -- sound clashes in his teen years to his brief cameo in Shottas. There’s an homage to Jamaica on each one of his albums and Khaled Khaled carries that tradition with a historical collaboration. Despite the overwhelming criticism surrounding Khaled’s A&R abilities, the marriage of reggae and the principles of hip-hop form beautifully on “WHERE YOU COME FROM” featuring. Buju Banton, Capleton, and Bounty Killer. 9th Wonder chops up Barrington Levy’s “Under Mi Sensi” into jolting vocal samples and buoyant croons for a potential song of the summer.
The intention with this album, as it perhaps is with every album in DJ Khaled’s discography, is crystal clear: dominate the airwaves with show-stopping guestlists and records that feel familiar. Jay-Z and Nas’ “SORRY NOT SORRY” led the album for this exact reason. Yet, such a pronounced desire for commercial success actually drowns out the potential for Khaled to create a classic. Khaled’s biggest disservice on this project, then, is losing sight of the culture for widespread appeal.