DJ Khaled is an award winning disc jockey, A&R, record producer, tastemaker, and meme-smith who has taken the internet by storm. His internet stardom might be attributed to his optimistic, highly-quotable Snapchat pep-talks and his discography of notable features and collaborations, but while DJ Khaled has rapidly ascended to household name, his newest release, Major Key, is his first musical attempt at making good on his viral success. With Major Key, Khaled attempts to prove to his audience that, despite the palpable hilarity of his internet presence, he is first and foremost a tastemaker and a DJ: a binding glue that brings together unexpected collaborations which yield catchy, sometimes epic, sonic results.
The first song, a collaborative production by G Koop, Jake One, and Southside, is a prime example of a signature DJ Khaled track. By combining the repetitive ambience of Future’s wheezy, Auto-tuned hooks with Jigga Man’s bar for bar brilliance, Khaled sets his listeners up for a knockout hit. While the beat utilizes slapping, electronic percussion and radioactive, reverberated synths, Future’s hook is unexciting, unoriginal, and exceedingly repetitive, even by Future standards. Jay Z also stays in his lane, rapping again and again about how he separates himself from all of his contemporaries. While it is true that no one in the rap game can spit like Jay Z, especially on legendary albums such as The Blueprint, Hov refuses to step out of his lyrical comfort zone for this track, with bars like: “My swag different, that bag different/ My wife Beyonce, I brag different.” While Jay continues to establish himself as a rap icon — spitting game in his verses for the young entrepreneur, on lines such as “Niggas always asking me the key / ‘Til you own your own you can’t be free / ‘Til you’re on your own you can’t be me / How we still slaves in 2016?” — the whole of the track never left me slack jawed. While the song captures the energy of two of the hottest artists in hip-hop, it delivered none of the force.
On the track, “Nas Album Done”, Khaled organizes a track with Nas that is exactly what Khaled sets it out to be: “Classic shit, timeless, forever, iconic.” Utilizing a vocal sample from the Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La”, Khaled constructs a memorable, East Coast style track. The beat, produced by Cool & Dre and 808-Ray, is echoic of New York 90’s rap, harnessing the vocal sample as centerpiece to the lyrical spread. On this track, Khaled promotes Nas’ upcoming album better than any radio personality by displaying Nas’ lyrical skill to his listener, generating both lyrical supply and aural demand. Nas starts out his verse with fire, flexing on his listener by showing how he got his riches: “A divine lead, shine brighter / Bonita mami, meet a line sniffer / Never, poetic rhyme writer, chiefer / Ebony empress getter.” Nas backs up his claim to poetic prowess with double-entendre: “Hennessy, margarita, venison eater / So dear, spread ‘em here, don’t be actin’ innocent either.” At the end of the first verse, Nas draws upon his topical roots, touching on racial economic disparity: “We need balance / So we can lease and own deeds in our projects / So I’m askin’ Gs to go in their pockets / The racial economic inequality, let’s try to solve it.” Khaled gets major points for giving Nas the space to do what he does best, and, as a result, this is one of the most memorable cuts from the album.
“Holy Key” is the most significant, enthralling track on this album. While Anthony Fantano of the Needle Drop claimed that Kendrick Lamar “bodied” Big Sean on this cut, both rappers play a role in making this one of the most iconic hip-hop songs of the last five years. Featuring a soulful, resonant, and tumultuous hook by R&B star Betty Wright, Sean and Lamar demolish the track with two epic verses. Sean divines truth through poetic exploration, jumping from success stories to racial alienation: “We been all in the Hollywood Hills, and never been acting / Detroit gave me an accent and Christ gave me his passion / Father help us, police doing target practice with real bodies / Mommas in the street, crying, standing over a still body.” While the Detroit rapper uses his tongue to paint the grotesque picture of police brutality, Kendrick uses his verse to display a rapid flow and a passionate diction. Kendrick questions the substance of hip-hop dialect, asking: “So what do you look up to? / Fame fortune, bitches, Porsches / Sources with designer things / Brand endorsements joining forces with sorcerers signing me.” Kendrick and Sean pair well on this track, as both artists use poetics to challenge the violence and derision of their respective communities. Between the two voracious verses and the undeniably euphonic hook, this cut is one of the songs that saves this album.
After an introspective interlude by J. Cole, the rest of the album goes into a hardcore slump. While “Do You Mind” caters to a mass appeal, the homogeneity of the R&B vocal aesthetic makes for a saccharine, sappy five minutes and 26 seconds. While I’m a fan of the Pompano Beach rapper, Kodak Black flops hard with his hook on “Pick These Hoes Apart”, yet another strip club anthem. “Tourist” had the potential to be another Travis Scott classic, yet the Lil Wayne verse is excessively Auto-tuned and without any special flare. While the second half of the album is mostly disposable, “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” drew me back in for the length of the song. Busta Rhymes spits as well as ever, and Jadakiss delivers a smart verse to the drug dealer’s delight. Kent Jones, a recent signee to We the Best Music Group, is a standout feature on this cut, even amongst some of the biggest names on this album.
While Major Key proves that DJ Khaled is not simply a meme, Khaled swings too hard and misses too often with each attempt at a radio hit. Even though Khaled succeeds with a few cuts on this album, it’s not enough to save the overtly simplistic, poorly written songs towards the end. Although Khaled has shown that he hasn’t squandered his success by disposing of his musical roots, this album is not much different than Khaled’s previous releases. It’s a compilation album with something for everyone, but, as a result, it’s de-centered and lopsided.