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DJ Khaled: Behind the Scenes with Hip-Hop's Anthem King
"Yo, Khaled...you're working hard...real hard."
Khaled bin Abdul Khaled, aka
But before that, when he wakes up in the morning, he's first on the phone making sure radio is all over his latest event single, "I'm on One," which features Drake, Lil Wayne and Ross. "Tell Billboard DJ Khaled said this is going to be the biggest record in the country," he boasts. The T Minus & 40-produced track (and second single from the new album) does in fact feature three of the most successful MCs recording today. The streets and the tweets are mostly heralding it. And awaiting the video.
Back to Khaled's day: He then rings up video director Gil Green to discuss the edits on an upcoming Ross video. He does some running around, appointments, and by early afternoon, Khaled is seated in an SUV, en route to IDJ's New York headquarters.
"I'm walking the halls...talking to our radio and marketing people...dealing with...sample clearances," he says. "I give them marketing ideas. I'm the guy that explains to the people at Def Jam how big our records are in the streets. Also, I'm talking to lawyers about signing someone new. That's a bit of secrecy right now. And after that, I'm done with the Def Jam thing -- headed to the recording studio."
Khaled still finds time to fly back to Miami to appear on his "TakeOver" radio show every Thursday and Friday. "I like to be on the radio," he says. "That's my stress reliever, like going fishing." Def Jam executive VP Chris Hicks admires Khaled's work ethic. He points specifically to his overseeing Ross' evolution from a thugged-out regional rapper to a hip-hop movement -- Ross has had three No. 1 pop albums.
"I remember when he took on the Ross project," Hicks says, recalling that Khaled had the savvy to pair Ross with then up-and-coming producers like the Runners, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Lex Luger. "He never wavered in his ability to get past the hurdles...energize the marketplace and to help establish Ross as who he is today."
"Him sticking by me let me know that there are real individuals in the game," says Khaled protégé Ace Hood, who's signed to the We the Best imprint. After two relatively unsuccessful Ace albums there were whispers that Hood would be dropped from the house that
And in true mogul fashion, Khaled is extending his brand. He frequently licenses his records to the NBA and NFL -- his triumph-themed works are tailor-made for the sports world. " 'All I Do Is Win' won't stop getting licensed," Khaled says. "They know I make anthems." There's also Khaled's We the Best management company, which houses a crew of hitmaking producers including the Runners, the Incredibles and the Renegades.
"Khaled has a great ear," says the Runners' Dru Harr, who credits Khaled with helping the duo progress from producing menacing gangsta soundtracks with Ross (2007's "Hustlin' ") to landing them sessions with Usher, Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson. "It helps that he started out as a producer. Khaled has an understanding of what people will move to."
Being known as a behind-the-scenes kingmaker is one thing. Making the switch to recording artist is an entirely different skill set.
Then again, maybe not. His voice is usually on his songs, and Khaled's 2010 signing to Cash Money Records is so far paying off. The aforementioned "I'm on One" -- already among iTunes' top 10 songs -- has the feel of one of those summer jams that's nearly impossible to get out of your head. Cash Money's Bryan Williams says getting Khaled on the team was a top priority. For his August signing, in true Cash Money style, Williams rolled out the red carpet and then some, throwing an extravagant yacht party as lawyers were flown in by helicopter to make the deal official.
"I wanted Khaled to know -- whatever you've been doing I'm going to upgrade it," Williams says. "That's just our lifestyle...we live a flashy lifestyle. We work hard for everything -- nobody ever gave us shit. And I know Khaled is a hard worker. It's an honor to be able to work with him."
Khaled says joining up was a no-brainer. "The reason I signed to Cash Money is they've always been my family," he says. "I knew Birdman before he had his major deal [with Universal Motown]. I used to work at a record store in New Orleans called Odyssey Records...where Birdman would sell tapes out of his car. I was just a kid. I have the ultimate respect for he and Slim. I look up to them as artists and moguls.
"I like being both an artist and an executive," Khaled adds. "I can't choose one over the other. I know I'm not a rapper. But I'm not going to lie...when I do rap, I'm nice [laughs]. I guarantee you, you will be reciting my rhymes."
Yet still, DJ Khaled wants more. "I'm not just representing the Arabic community," he says in a rare moment of stoicism. "I'm representing all nationalities because I believe that when they read this story [they] can say, 'Hey, if Khaled could do this, I can too.' And I have a lot more work to do."