The prevalence of DJ Khaled in modern pop and hip-hop is perpetually puzzling. A man who doesn’t produce his own beats, and who is, to put it kindly, a limited MC and lyricist has nonetheless been heard bellowing his own name on radio hits for over a decade. By his own admission, Khaled is closer to an organiser and promoter of the music that is released in his name, generating a reputation through his bullish self-promotion and seemingly endless connections. A brief scroll through the track listing of “Grateful” will reveal endless famous names: Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rhianna, Drake, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj just to name a few.
Khaled’s status as a meme is also probably a contributing factor in his fame. His escapades, including famously getting lost on a jetski, leaking his own sex tape and live-streaming the birth of his son have all drawn bemused incredulity, as well as the easy dilution of his brand down to a handful of hollered phrases—“Another one”, “We The Best Music”, “Congratulations, you played yourself”. In this noisy and transient zeitgeist-defining, his actual music is often lost.
“Grateful” itself is primarily defined both consciously and unconsciously by excess. The record bloats horribly at 23 songs, loosely defined as a concept album about Khaled’s thankfulness for his “blessings”, namely his fame, his money and his son. An Apple interview before the album’s release provides a surprisingly insightful glimpse into his mentality in producing “Grateful”: “This is my 10th album so I’m going all out… there’s no album cuts on there, these are all anthem singles”. Indeed, tracks often seem to mirror recent rap hits: “Iced Out My Arms” bears a strong resemblance to Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” and “Good Man” sounds a bit like Desiigner’s “Panda”.
Ironically, as the album wears on, the endless guest spots that were probably intended to obscure Khaled’s lack of talent become its greatest weakness. Songs like “Whatever” are ruined simply through overcrowding, various guests virtually shouting over one another to be heard, and this is mirrored in the glossy clutter of the production. This problem is compounded by Khaled’s desire to make the album into a non-stop hit-fest, meaning that there are no subtle, reserved moments on “Grateful” in which the listener can catch their breath. Despite being 23 tracks long, the record still feels strangely truncated and rushed.
In amongst the unfocused clutter and noise there are glimmers of potential. One of the best moments on “Grateful” is the relaxed, sunny and (at least comparatively) spacious “I’m the One”, which will probably become one of the biggest songs of the summer. “Wild Thoughts” is a dreamy Spanish guitar reverie with a passable Rhianna guest spot, and “I Love You So Much” is a catchy enough to survive the typical pointless overproduction, a sweet Jackson 5 pastiche glorifying Khaled’s son with likeably ridiculous Khaled hyperbole (“you’re a mogul, you’re an icon, you’re a legend”). However, most of the rest of the album is lost in a din of headache-inducing excess, soullessly clinical production and Future’s ridiculous comatose flow. CO
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weeI1G46q0o