In the past decade, few entities have stayed steady. Wars have ended, 'The Hangover' rose and fell, and 4 Loko got banned within a month. Meanwhile, as the world has turned, DJ Khaled has managed to put out six studio albums -- each and every one of them, in his words, "the best." On "Kiss the Ring" (his latest version of Now That's What I Call Hip-Hop), Khaled surrounds himself with a wide swath of friends, cutting across all spectrums of the culture. Everyone from Kanye West, Chris Brown to Ace Hood make appearances on "Kiss the Ring." Ace Hood makes a lot of appearances.
"Kiss the Ring" is a messy project connected only by DJ Khaled's thumbprint. While most tracks hit listeners over the head, "Hip-Hop," featuring Nas, Scarface and DJ Premier, sounds practically foreign as it's too quiet, too 'real' and too piano-based. Still, DJ Khaled can not help himself; restraint has never been his forte. He saunters to the microphone: "This shit's special."
Because it's a collage of voices and a patchwork of emails, the album is uneven. The radio-blazer "Take It To The Head," anchored by Brown, is followed by J. Cole's perfectly bouncing "They Ready," which then careens off a cliff for the disaster that is "I'm So Blessed." Khaled is certainly highly skilled at building networks and sounds but there's something to be said for editing, too.
Check out our track-by-track review of DJ Khaled's sixth studio album, "Kiss the Ring."
1. "Shout Out to the Real" feat. Meek Mill, Ace Hood and Plies
For the first posse cut of many, DJ Khaled assembles the dream team of yell-rappers, blowing the conch shell in order to summon them. The three talk about how "it's like a full-time job not to kill n***as" over a beat that sounds like clanging bells in the bowels of Arkham City. Plies boasts that he's got "a yapper the size of Shaquille." He stands 5'5", so a concealed weapon it is not.
2. "Bitches and Bottles (Let's Get It Started)" feat. Future, Lil' Wayne and T.I.
Doing the hook, Future gargles "Let's get it started / Let's go dumb and retarded." A double-reference to the Black Eyed Peas, perhaps? Disappointingly, Future doesn't get a verse, leaving T.I. and Lil' Wayne to do mail-in efforts. (Wayne says, "Dick stay up, like it's got insomnia," but his flow seems tired.) Many people wonder what it is exactly that DJ Khaled does, so he explains it in a soliloquy at the end: "I make hits, I find hits, and I put hits out."
3. "I Wish You Would" feat. Kanye West and Rick Ross
The second single, over bleepy-bloopy Hit-Boy production, seems like a watery version of Kanye's 2008 remix to Young Jeezy's "Put On." Same darkened vibe and same auto-tuned 'Ye. It's really notable only for Ross' ad-libs which include an imitation of a machine gun, an extended deep trill, grunts in the distance, triplets of "WOOs," and a bunch of "YAHs" cutting through the clatter.
4. "Take It To The Head" feat. Rick Ross, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and Lil' Wayne
Tip-toeing keys and pitter-patter snares set the mood for this radio jam. There's a syrupy drone that rises and falls not too high and not too far. Lil' Wayne's lyrics, though sporadic, win this round. Nicki and Ross feel at home here as they measure the drapes and consider paint swatches while talking light-weight party rock. Though slick-tongued and hummable, Chris Brown is like Randall from Monsters, Inc.
5. "They Ready" feat. J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar
Are there any rap figures seemingly less expected for DJ Khaled's overloaded bombast than these three? And weirdly, it works! Intricate staccato syllables let dem country boyz roll smooth over a J. Cole cut-and-sew beat that includes a Willie Hutch sample. Kendrick Lamar seems like a late addition -- his name is left out of the chorus -- but his verse might be the show-stopper, a pause-and-pull sixteen. (Most clever line?: "My only desire's to blow; her only desire's to blow.")
6. "I'm So Blessed" feat. Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Ace Hood and T-Pain
The first true mis-step of the album includes T-Pain's computerized warble clawing at the rafters. Someone please unplug him from the wall. Though the concept is growth with God's help, this song feels regressive; even the horns are MIDI-ized. (Big Sean's stand-out line, "Fat asses, big bottles, when I'm around they both get popping" isn't too suitable for the pews.) Good luck getting past that hook, though.
7. "Hip-Hop" feat. Scarface, Nas and DJ Premier
Forget what I said earlier: are there any rap figures seemingly less-suited for DJ Khaled's overloaded bombast than these three? (And what a title: "The Making of 'Hip-Hop' with DJ Khaled" was a weird headline that popped up on the Internet a few weeks ago.) DJ Khaled says "this is special" twice, which is debatable. Over a finger-walking J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat, Nas plumbs old territory, bringing Scarface and DJ Premier along for the train ride.
8. "I Did It For My Dawgz" feat. Rick Ross, Meek Mill, French Montana and Jadakiss
Sirens! Clanging! Woofing bass! Maybach Music drops! Ross crams a bunch of syllables together and an exhausting string of tongue rolls ("Pistol in the freezer, spending kilo on a Visa / Courtside, Sportscenter, I could make you a believer.") Meek joins in later, saying something sure to annoy Drake: "I'mma die fly / Rest in peace, Aaliyah." French Montana, bless his heart, tries to keep up with the lyricists, though his strongest suit is screaming the hook through Novacane lips. Jadakiss closes with gravitas.
9. "I Don't See Em" feat. Birdman, Ace Hood and 2 Chainz
"If I stand next to ice, then I'm camouflage / If I stand next to lights, then I'm camouflage," 2 Chainz closes his verse (and that's really the last one one needs to hear from this song), before Birdman and Ace start rapping. Ace Hood: "Mr. Fuck Your Bitch and Leave Her, that's my code name." There's a few issues with this: one, it's strikingly similar to Trey Songz' alias of "Mr. Steal Your Girl." Two, that's a very long and specific nickname.
10. "Don't Pay 4 It" feat. Wale, Tyga, Mack Maine and Kirko Bangz
Over a swirling tornado of Nintendo level beats, this fearsome foursome refuse to pay for pussy, sort-of. "I'm not trying to pay for it" isn't exactly a hard no, though Kirko hardens his spine mid-way through the hook, "I don't pay for no pussy / I won't pay for no pussy." Wale sounds adamant; Tyga, menacing. Kirko Bangz recycles words and flows from his song "Drank In My Cup," which seems like a wasted opportunity.
11. "Suicidal Thoughts" feat. Mavado
DJ Khaled opens the song by saying, intensely, "Pass the Guinness." Yes, pass the Irish beer for this Mavado song. Marching over a battlefield snare, Mavado pours his heart out in the same style of his "Wah Dem Wa Do." In the midst of all of this, Khaled walks over to the mic to say,"Sing it." Mavado continues, eyes-closed crooning, Oscar-worthy for Best Cinematography.
12. "Outro (They Don't Want War)" feat. Ace Hood
"Nah, give me the steamed fish with some white rice. And give me some champagne cola. And some water with some lemon on it. You feel me?," says DJ Khaled. Jamaican waiter: "What does ya' friend wan'?" Ace Hood: "Nah, I'm good." And then DJ Khaled proceeds to rap, which is much like a dog tangoing.