DJ Khaled and the Art of Connection

DJ Khaled's new album, 'Grateful', is a compilation of hits from today's best artists. It's good. How?


Khaled himself isn't musically skilled in the traditional sense. Other than his iconic shouts of "Deejay Khaleddd" and "Another one" (I know you read that in his voice), he doesn't really do anything on the songs. He's a producer, sure, but there are multiple other producers listed for each song, including Khaled's baby son Asahd. It's also doubtful that Khaled is the source of the instrumentals that carry the album through.

Nevertheless, the album is a hitmaker's fantasy; a dream Khaled has finally realized. DJ Khaled, as much as it pains elitist music critics to admit it, is an artist. And a very successful one at that. But Khaled's art comes not from our traditional understanding of musical artistry. His art is the art of connections. 

In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin writes about the new connection economy and the way that it revolutionizes an artist's life. Art can be found in the power of connection -- quite frequently, this collaboration produces content and ideas that impact the world in a positive way. It's a good theoretical book, and it appears that Khaled is a manifestation of Godin's ideals. 

In the past few years, we've seen musicians discover how to wrest control of their success via social media. I'm talking about Soundcloud rappers, independent artists like Chance, and of course, DJ Khaled. It's no secret that Khaled's public snapchat stories were both highly irritating and creatively iconic. He almost single handedly revolutionized the way artists could connect with audiences -- in today's largely meme-based culture, his beautiful Snapchat content captured the attention of hundreds of thousands. Khaled, either expertly or accidentally, built his social presence into that of an icon. And for what? His music is entirely based upon collaborations and features of relatively well known artists. With 'Grateful', I believe he's finally reached his potential.

The album is star studded. But unlike 2016's 'Major Key', the new album is a major hit. Sure, 'Major Key' had a few well known songs (For Free with Drake and I Got the Keys with Future and Jay-Z), but overall, I regarded 'Major Key' as a colossal disappointment after seeing such a prominent social presence from Khaled. It felt like seeing a film with all of your favorite actors, only to realize almost immediately that both the screenplay and the director were sub-par. 

On 'Grateful', though, Khaled succeeds magnificently. To continue with the movie analogy, it's wonderful to see Khaled come in to his own as a director, and this time with an even better cast. 

As we speak, "I'm the One (featuring Quavo, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne)" and "Wild Thoughts (with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)" both reign in the Top 5 songs in the United States on Spotify. That is a FEAT, my friends.

 Rihanna and DJ Khaled in the "Wild Thoughts" music video. Image courtesy of Billboard. 

Rihanna and DJ Khaled in the "Wild Thoughts" music video. Image courtesy of Billboard. 

I appreciate both of those tracks, but my favorite is "Nobody" with Nicki Minaj and Alicia Keys. I'm a sucker for any Nicki and Alicia collaboration, but this one is also fundamentally excellent. The production is tight, the mixing is good, and Nicklicia's performances elegantly blend together. 

On 'Major Key', Khaled tries to force the collaborations into what he thinks will sound good, but on 'Grateful', he steps back and allows them to display their own voices. It makes all the difference. As much as I despise Kodak Black as a person, when Khaled lets him sing the chorus on "Pull a Caper" in his own style, I will admit that it produces a nice result.

Other favorites from the album are "On Everything" -- it's an insanely catchy anthem -- and "Major Bag Alert" which is basically a Migos song transplanted into a DJ Khaled album. But in a good way?

I used to be hung up on the fact that Khaled doesn't *really* make his own music. But why should that matter, if his art is the art of connecting musical powerhouses, and the result is fun to listen to? After this album, I'm not too concerned with Khaled's process, and I'm ready to call him a powerful artist. 

By far the best album of his career, 'Grateful' is the result of Khaled's masterful ability (Seth Godin would say it's his art) to connect musicians together, step back, and let them do their thing. The result? A batch of powerful anthems. 

 Gucci Mane and Asahd Khaled matching at the 2017 BET Awards. Asahd has been a new pillar of DJ Khaled's social presence. The world loves Asahd. Image courtesy of Essence. 

Gucci Mane and Asahd Khaled matching at the 2017 BET Awards. Asahd has been a new pillar of DJ Khaled's social presence. The world loves Asahd. Image courtesy of Essence.