When faced with the prospect of a new DJ Khaled album, one of the more interesting recurring comments online was the fact that nobody truly wants to listen to it – but as a hip-hop fan, you have an obligation to, simply because of the staggering array of talent that the media mogul is able to assemble with each outing. This is Khaled’s 13th studio album – the guy has been doing things in the same way for so long that everyone knows that with the right combination of people in the studio, a couple of bangers that will stay in rotation for years will crop up across the tracklist. They’re often found in a sea of forgettable filler, something which ebbs and flows with each Khaled release. Since the dismal Grateful and Father of Asahd projects, however, it feels like the veteran producer’s projects are taking steps forward once again. Of course, that might have absolutely nothing to do with the man himself. Your mileage will vary, but as usual – there’s some great stuff on here, and many of the features come at the top of their game. Find your favourites, and forget the rest.
After a sleepy 47-second intro from Drake that Khaled seemingly tacked on for name recognition alone – despite the man also being on his lead single – the project kicks off with the eight-and-a-half-minute title track where Khaled lets some legends introduce his project in style. With the kind of epic, important-sounding synth instrumental that sets the stage but doesn’t distract in the back, what really matters are the verses, and each one is better than the last. Rick Ross takes things into his classic opulent territory, while Lil Wayne’s internal rhyme schemes fire on all cylinders, but Jay-Z’s 4-minute verse might be the verse of the year. Loading it up with the kind of mic-drop triple entendres he’s known for, he marvels at the success of all his business ventures from before the fame until today to match the theme of Khaled’s latest titular catch phrase – it’s almost like a higher power was guiding him. The religious themes continue with a Dr. Dre remix of Kanye West’s 2019 track “Use This Gospel,” as the iconic producer reimagines it with a cascade of synths and pounding drums, bringing Eminem on board to drop a verse. The track is kind of a mess, but it’s still a treat for any hip-hop head to hear it come together. The central, hummed hook always called for a fuller backdrop, and despite an awkward dubstep outro and Eminem’s robotic voice, Marshall still fires up the track with his technical abilities. The first sign of the hit-or-miss Khaled album comes on “BIG TIME,” a collaboration between the only two artists who consistently bring tracks on this project way down. All of Future’s verses lately have been sounding like half-conscious, rambling freestyles, and Lil Baby brings an annoying sing-song flow to the table, alternating between two notes, as the two are linked by a highly repetitive hook.
Who knows how much of it is accidental based on some of his other mismatches, but Khaled is often spectacular at putting the right people in the room together, and two of the more aggressive tracks here really emphasize that. “KEEP GOING” has the hardest-hitting trap instrumental on the project, and Lil Durk matches the energy with what might be the best verse of his career, abandoning the melodies for a speedier flow delivered through gritted teeth. Despite a bit of a lacklustre chorus from Roddy Ricch, 21 Savage appears to get things back on track, keeping his trademark cold demeanour despite some of his most involved flows of the year. An even better match is Nardo Wick and Kodak Black on “IT AIN’T SAFE,” combining two rappers with unconventional voices and growling, desensitized deliveries. Nardo’s mocking, whispery taunts are an electrifying niche he’s stepped into as of late, while Kodak steps in with an almost audible sheepish shrug as the two unapologetically lay out what’s about to happen. The Tay Keith beat kicks in to make sure every whisper is felt like a knockout punch. On the other side of the coin, “PARTY” is the Migos at their most goofy and fun, complete with an Eddie Murphy sample in the back which works surprisingly against the minor-key synths in the verses. Quavo forgoes the Auto-Tune and steps up his game, while the familial chemistry is as strong as ever. Hearing Takeoff breeze through a nonsense line like “Ducati Kawasaki Harley” is as fun as day 1. Single “STAYING ALIVE” partially achieves the same thing, but Drake’s low-effort flows lately can’t match the same charisma as he sings through a Bee Gees interpolation.
Before another strong run at the end, we get the typical Khaled album filler in tracks like “BEAUTIFUL” and “LET’S PRAY.” The former sees Future linking up with SZA, who sounds as great as ever on the chorus but needed a lot more to do on the song. Future goes for a smoother approach on the more romantic-sounding track, but his awkward forcing of the “toxic” meme lately crops up on the last track it should have. Don Toliver’s chorus on the latter is the most obvious mixing issue on the project, the man known for hooks sounding incredibly tinny as he backs up a pretty standard verse from Travis Scott. Sometimes, though, it unexpectedly comes together. Two struggling artists in Roddy Ricch and Gunna connect on “FAM GOOD, WE GOOD” for a triumphant, horn-laced banger toasting to their achievements. Gunna’s hook is delivered well enough that I thought he was Roddy at first, while Roddy himself taps back into his soulful, passionate delivery that got him here, the instrumental soaring behind him at the most opportune moments. “WAY PAST LUCK” sees 21 Savage return for a brief, soulful track that makes it sound like “A Lot” part 2 – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Savage truly can’t miss this year, while “BILLS PAID” brings some much-needed female energy to the table as Latto demolishes a 70s Motown sample with her conversational and confident persona, complemented well by brief appearances by the City Girls backing her up on her list of demands.
It wouldn’t be a DJ Khaled album without a track featuring a roster of Jamaican icons, but “THESE STREETS KNOW MY NAME” is one of the weaker ones, with a subpar mix and verses that feel copy-pasted. Since they usually come at the end, it makes everything after it feel like a bonus track. But if that’s the case, “Juice WRLD DID” is a pretty good one. Making a ton of Khaled references, Juice’s fun-loving and personable demeanour is out in full force, taking listeners through another pop-rap banger in his now-legendary style. Another hip-hop titan in Jadakiss drops some great bars onto his own interlude, before Vory closes things out with “GRATEFUL,” which comes equipped with a tasteful gospel sample but doesn’t do much to leave a final stamp.
Every DJ Khaled has hits and misses, but for the second time in a row, you can chalk this one up for the “hits” column. With one of his most impressive rosters of guests ever, there will be at least a couple things for nearly every type of listener on this project – and that’s all we can really ask for.
Favourite Tracks: GOD DID, KEEP GOING, PARTY, IT AIN’T SAFE, BILLS PAID
Least Favourite Track: BIG TIME