Only 11 months removed from the release of his last album, Major Key, DJ Khaled is back with a new purpose. Clearly fully embracing his status as the biggest walking, talking meme alive, Khaled delivers a double album that takes everything about Major Key and makes it bigger, and oftentimes, a lot more ridiculous than it needs to be.
The album is 23 tracks and runs for approximately an hour and a half, as Khaled and many of his collaborators appear to phone it in and provide quite a few obvious filler tracks. Major Key saw Khaled taking full advantage of his new public profile and making a clearer, focused effort, but outside of a few appearances of Khaled’s uncanny ability to be perfectly tapped in to exactly what music purchasers didn’t know they needed, Grateful is a disorganized mixed bag.
Khaled albums have always been all about the collaborators, and Grateful boasts what might be his most impressive list yet. Despite the bigger names, Khaled still struggles with using his collaborators in the most effective way, as they are unevenly distributed across tracks and many could benefit from more recognition of what is working and what is not over each instrumental. Many of music’s biggest stars appear in the album’s early goings, including Beyonce, Rihanna, Drake and Justin Bieber, while hot rappers of the moment such as Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott, and Future appear multiple times across the album’s many, many tracks.
One interesting development on the project is Khaled stepping up more than he ever has before as a producer – Many of his contributions are rather generic takes on the popular trap sound, but he shows that he actually has some musicality and delivers some great chords on tracks like “Billy Ocean” and “Unchanging Love” as well. Still, many of the album’s best tracks were the ones he wasn’t involved in.
I might have gotten a little too excited for this album based on the two excellent singles “Wild Thoughts” and “I’m The One”, and they still stand tall on this jumbled tracklist. A flip of Santana’s “Maria Maria” with a megastar like Rihanna is something that only the culturally tuned-in mind of Khaled could come up with, and the results could not be anything other than an undeniable hit. And where is the fun-loving spirit and personality infused into every aspect of “I’m the One” on the rest of the album?
While Khaled has clearly just attempted to capitalize on his meme potential hitting the ceiling with the birth of his son, it is easy to forget how much quality music he has actually provided us with over the years, and the album actually starts picking up that energy again at the tail end of the tracklisting of all places. The run from “Iced Out My Arms” to “Unchanging Love” are some of the most melodic, creative tracks here with strong performances from everyone. I have to give out a few feature shoutouts as well – Nicki Minaj continues her hot streak and knocks her “I Can’t Even Lie” verse out of the park, Alicia Keys sounds great as always and 21 Savage and Migos bring it to “Iced Out My Arms”.
Where nearly every song on Major Key had a memorable hook, quotables for days and at least one guest making the absolute most of their appearance on the track, many of these tracks just feel like a bunch of compiled leftovers. Leftover beats, leftover verses and leftover ideas. Too often a track is built around a hook that sounds like it was improvised on the spot overtop of a trap beat that I’ve heard a hundred times before. Travi$ Scott is really not the hook man Khaled seems to think he is, and his ability to sound off-key while still using Auto-Tune ruins all 4 tracks he’s on.
Not only this, but the mixing and mastering of the album is pretty noticeably unfinished on quite a few occasions, most notably “It’s Secured” – the levels are completely unbalanced. This album was clearly rapidly thrown together without any regard for organization – I hate to think what didn’t make the cut, if anything.
There are so many unfinished and terrible ideas on this project that it’s hard to think of a few to list, but some of the most egregious things include “I Love You So Much”, a track seemingly for Khaled’s son and his son alone in which Chance the Rapper legitimately raps the alphabet amidst Khaled’s proclamations of his son’s “genius”, a track featuring Future and Yo Gotti barely paying attention to basic structures of rhythm that was so much of an afterthought they couldn’t give it a better title than “That Range Rover Came With Steps”, and the sheer idea of putting Kodak Black on anything and thinking it’ll make it better.
There really are some good or even great aspects of almost every track here, but the nature of Khaled albums, loaded with collaboration, leaves too much opportunity for some less focused part of a song to bring it way down. Grateful was “executive produced” by Khaled’s infant son, supposedly meaning that only the perceived positive reaction of Asahd allowed a track to be featured on the album. You can tell. Congratulations Khaled, you played yourself.
Favourite Tracks: Wild Thoughts, Billy Ocean, I’m The One, Unchanging Love
Least Favourite Track: That Range Rover Came With Steps