The walking, talking meme and motivational speaker with the keys to success is back with what is surprisingly his twelfth studio album – the man has been making hits since 2007 and shows no signs of slowing down, online derision aside. Once again hilariously “executive produced” by not only his two infant sons, but also Allah, taking time out from his busy day to offer his input on a DJ Khaled album, it’s just about exactly what you’d expect. Khaled genuinely does know a lot about hitmaking and bringing the right people together, and still strikes gold every so often. The rest of the project is an overblown and self-serious mixed bag that can easily fall apart into a complete mess. It’s certainly better than his last two projects, with most of the features (save for the ones you’d most expect the opposite from) bringing something decent to the table. It’s a Khaled album – pick and choose your favourites, and delete the rest.
It wouldn’t be a DJ Khaled album if it didn’t kick off with something overly cinematic and melodramatic toasting to all of his successes. It also wouldn’t be a DJ Khaled album if there weren’t multiple songs that heavily sample other classic hip-hop tracks. In this one we get Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City,” or should I say “THANKFUL,” which recruits Jeremih and Lil Wayne. There are noticeably muddy and otherwise awful mixing issues all over the project, but its opening track is easily the worst offender – Jeremih’s vocals sound like they were recorded on an iPhone and are buried completely by the constantly echoing gospel choir vocals in the background. The 5-and-a-half-minute track goes on for about 3 minutes too long with repetitive and lengthy choruses and refrains and a Lil Wayne verse that feels oddly short for such an odyssey of a track – making a reference to Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE,” it’s clearly an ancient verse as well. The track “EVERY CHANCE I GET” is getting quite a bit of attention with its ominous Tay Keith beat and features from public favourites Lil Durk and Lil Baby, but Baby’s warbling Auto-Tuned flow and nasal cadence gets extremely grating on a lengthier Khaled cut, though Lil Durk certainly surprises with an uncharacteristically energetic triplet flow. Things pick up for the first time with “BIG PAPER,” essentially a Cardi B solo track that Khaled gets to stick his name on. Bringing her undeniable charisma and some knockout punchlines, Cardi delivers a state of the union address to her detractors – she’s got a few extra now, after sending half of the USA into an uproar. A line like “I got five number ones, you got five number nones” isn’t even that clever, but when Cardi says it with such conviction, it’s a mic-drop moment.
Most of Khaled’s biggest plays at another smash hit single are loaded up in the album’s first half, and the collaborations he brings together exhibit some great chemistry. The track “WE GOING CRAZY” unites awards darling H.E.R. with the long-dormant Migos trio over another great sample from Shawty Lo, creating an unexpectedly bombastic atmosphere for the more subdued R&B princess to break out of her shell. Channelling her inner Rihanna, H.E.R. sounds great using her silky-smooth vocals to flex all over the track, calling herself “the Don with the face of a model.” Migos are always at their most enjoyable when they Voltron-fuse into a single rapper and rapidly trade bars, and that’s exactly what happens here – I honestly thought it was a full verse from Takeoff alone upon first listen. “I DID IT” brings together four of hip-hop’s biggest stars over the roaring guitars of a rock-inspired instrumental that borrows from the opening guitar solo of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” Post Malone sings a quick but confident and undeniably catchy hook before Megan Thee Stallion and Babies both Lil and Da drop their own sets of 16 bars. You’d think the sheer star power on display might intrude on each others’ spaces, but all four genuinely deliver great performances here. It’s the album’s biggest shot of adrenaline. “LET IT GO” brings together unlikely duo Justin Bieber and 21 Savage, and wouldn’t you know it – Khaled knew what he was doing. Hearing the typically murderous 21 on a bright and breezy pop-rap track is strangely endearing, especially as he offers ad-libs to Bieber’s calming vocal about not dwelling on your problems. And of course, that Drake track “POPSTAR” still holds up, the 6 God with an audible smug grin on his face as he runs through his most charismatic performance in years.
Things rapidly begin to careen off the rails as the album moves into its second half, heralded by the arrival of the incredibly catchy but inconsistent track “BODY IN MOTION.” The track boasts an endlessly quotable and memorable hook from Bryson Tiller, but as usual with a Khaled track it goes on for far too long as the mounting annoyance from the repetition combines with some substandard or low-energy guest verses that throw the entire song into question – in this case from Roddy Ricch, who drops some of the most laughably confusing bars of the year, and the perennially lacklustre Lil Baby, who appears once more. A Boogie wit da Hoodie offers the most phoned-in performance on the entire album on the track “THIS IS MY YEAR,” a regal-sounding track that none of the rappers on it sound worthy of. Big Sean reverts to his worst techniques with some truly questionable bars, and the awkwardly stuttered flow colouring the track’s main hook holds even Rick Ross back. At the end of the track, Diddy appears to loudly proclaim that he “put this thing together,” which begs the question: what did Khaled do?? “SORRY NOT SORRY” should have been a momentous event – not only is it Khaled’s reunion with Jay-Z and Beyonce, but he also brings longtime rival Nas on board! Nas drops in with some great energy, but quickly loses it somewhere around the point where he dubs himself “cryptocurrency Scarface,” while Jay sounds like he’s there out of obligation. James Fauntleroy’s hook is sluggish and off-beat, and the only great parts of the track, unsurprisingly, are Beyonce’s harmonies and vocalizations that fade it out.
The project concludes with some of its most obnoxious and baffling tracks of all. “JUST BE,” for some reason, is a solo Justin Timberlake track. It sees him continue his recent pivot from unpalatable country-pop star to walking cheesy motivational poster – his cliches and platitudes are probably what drew Khaled to him in the first place, as he bellows “ALWAYS BE YOU” as the track fades out. “I CAN HAVE IT ALL” is one of those tracks where you wonder if Khaled just does this by accident due to the strength of his connections, bringing together H.E.R. and Meek Mill on another of his self-serious and contemplative beats that plays to neither of their strengths. Meek especially sounds completely out of place with his naturally raucous yelp of a voice. The other Drake track, “GREECE,” in which he weakly attempts an impression of The Weeknd, is tacked on here as well, before the obligatory Jamaican track “WHERE YOU COME FROM” closes it all out, as it does on every Khaled album in recent memory. With an array of legends on board, it honestly continues to be a fun way for Khaled to ride off into the sunset.
If you never go into a DJ Khaled project with any expectations, you’re likely going to enjoy it more than you’d think and come away with a couple new tracks to throw on whenever you need a confidence-booster or a shot of energy. They’re always an overloaded mess, but hearing all of the biggest stars of whatever moment he’s releasing an album in come together is a lot of fun.
Favourite Tracks: I DID IT, POPSTAR, BIG PAPER, LET IT GO
Least Favourite Track: GREECE