If you ask DJ Khaled, the last 30 days have been a blur. Sitting steps away from Chicago’s United Center arena inside his trailer, an effusive Khaled begins to gush about his recent triumphs, which include the birth of his second child, Aalam, his first Grammy win, and an appearance in the new film Bad Boys For Life.
Beaming with joy, Khaled quickly remembers that he’s hours away from notching his next victory — performing at the NBA All-Star Game alongside Chance the Rapper and Quavo for their Hot 100 chart-topper, “I’m the One.”
“God knows what he’s doing,” says a reflective Khaled. “I appreciate God, and I praise him every day, every second because it’s just been beautiful.” Khaled’s impressive winning streak has galvanized him to return to the studio and chef up his forthcoming single, which he says features “one of the greatest artists in the world.”
Khaled’s string of success began in January when he made his anticipated appearance in the blockbuster film Bad Boys For Life, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The movie soared to No. 1 at the box office, and Khaled left his prints on the film’s soundtrack — which includes recent top 40 hit “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life),” by J Balvin and The Black Eyed Peas — playing the role of executive producer.
The following week, he and his wife, Nicole Tuck, welcomed their second child. Five days later, Khaled won his first Grammy Award for best rap/sung performance for “Higher” featuring John Legend and Nipsey Hussle. Hussle was murdered last March outside of his sneaker store in Los Angeles, weeks after he filmed his final video for Khaled’s Father of Asahd single. Hussle’s death sparked an outpouring of grief and frustration within the hip-hop community, and on Jan. 26, Khaled remembered his fallen friend with a stirring tribute on music’s biggest stage, the Grammys.
Following the awards ceremony, Khaled performed at mutiple events during Super Bowl week in his hometown of Miami, starred in a Super Bowl commercial with Jennifer Lopez, performed at this year’s NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16, and now is readying his new single with one of music’s most prominent artists, who he remained tight-lipped about during our interview.
“[God] made all this possible,” says Khaled. “I got the Grammy, God. Baby boy came, God. When I was in the studio with one of the greatest artists in the world, God. When I was getting these opportunities to do films and movies, and right now I’m in this trailer. This is God. That’s the word, God.”
Billboard spoke to DJ Khaled about his Grammy win, fatherhood, why music remains a top priority for him, and why he’s enjoying the best 30 days of his life.
Congrats on your Grammy win. That’s No. 1 for you.
I’ve always wanted a Grammy. I’ve been nominated a few times and it feels good to win a Grammy at this time in my life. I’m very happy about it, but I’m also happy about winning it with the legend Nipsey Hussle and John Legend.
What’s so beautiful about the song “Higher” is that me, Nipsey and John Legend — I had real convos with both of them about when I was producing this record. I knew, God willing, we would get a Grammy nomination and a Grammy win. I was speaking it to existence. To be able to perform it on the Grammy stage was beautiful, man, to represent our brother.
Emotionally, it must have been a whirlwind for you to perform and get that win. Replay that moment for me.
That whole day was a tough day because we lost Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter [Gianna]. It was tough all around. To come to L.A. and perform at the Staples Center — that’s his house — and we were paying tribute to our brother Nip, but we had to get it together.
I remember backstage when we were doing the soundcheck, behind the curtains I was putting my earpieces on and John Legend was playing the piano. He was singing the hook as I was getting ready, and it touched my soul. It got me together to say we’re here to uplift and bring the love to represent Nip, Kobe and his daughter. It was tough, but at the same time, it was beautiful that we can represent for our people.
Eleven albums later, do you feel validated after your Grammy win?
I always wanted one, so it was important for me to have it. The best award is God’s award. You know, God blessed us with life. At the same time, we’re musicians, we’re producers, we’re DJs, we’re executives, we’re artists, we’re in the music game. We want one. The same way I’ve seen Jay-Z win one, when I seen Michael Jackson win one. When I seen all the legends, I always said I wanted one, and I got one.
Now my kids could see it when they grow up. They can see the trophy. They can say, “Daddy has a Grammy.” My son was the executive producer of my album Father of Asahd, so he won a Grammy. He won a Grammy, too. It’s just beautiful, man. It’s like winning an NBA ring. It’s like winning a Super Bowl trophy.
They can’t take that away from you.
Nah, they can’t. I wanted one and I got one. This is just the beginning. We’re going to get more.
You mentioned Kobe earlier. What’s your fondest memory of Kobe?
I was performing in L.A., I think it was the Staples Center. I was on the Demi Lovato tour, which he came to with his daughter. I actually have it on tape. I just dropped the record “Top Off” with Jay-Z, Future and Beyonce. I dropped the record that day and he was front row with his daughter and he was just vibing to it. I was onstage performing and he gave me that look. I’m bugging because that’s Kobe Bryant. What was so beautiful about it was he was with his daughter. He wanted to take his daughter to that show.
Me, as a father, that always touches me. That shows me what type of person you are and he’s a great. To see him always with his kids — as much as he’s one of the best basketball players in the world — I just also loved how great of a father he was and that he is.
When I became a father, my whole life changed. So Kobe Bryant is just a beautiful person. He’s a beautiful spirit and one of the greatest athletes ever. He’s an inspiration to me, and I’m sure to you and a lot of others. I remember that moment because [the Staples Center], that’s his house. He wasn’t there to play basketball, he was there to watch me. That was love.
Speaking on fatherhood, congrats on baby No. 2.
We got two! Asahd and Aalam. Two boys. It’s beautiful, man. My son came and God blessed me with another healthy boy. And then, the Grammy came. You see how that works, right? God knows what he’s doing. I appreciate God and I praise him every day, every second because it’s just been beautiful. I mean, look at us. We just had a beautiful baby boy, won a Grammy, then we were at the Super Bowl in Miami. I was blessed to be a part of that. Shout out to Jay-Z and Roc Nation for allowing me to be a part of that. Now, I’m at the All-Star game. This is all in a month.
I’m just grateful. I haven’t slept. I just got done being in Bad Boys 3. All in a month. I just got down doing something with Tyler Perry. We filmed some stuff at this studio. I did the Super Bowl commercial with J. Lo [Jennifer Lopez] all in a month. You understand what I’m saying? And we’re at All-Star right now.
Does it feel real?
[Pauses]. Man, it’s like I just have so much gratitude. I just did a fan meetup yesterday. You know, it’s important with every city I go to that I touch my fans, and I’m not talking just at a concert where you have to buy a ticket or you see me on TV. Nah, I’m talking about going to a place and tell my fans to come see me. It’s just about taking pictures, signing autographs or just kicking it.
To answer your question, I just know God — he’s so amazing — but I do know it takes a lot of hard work to do what we doing. You know, every day I just meditate. I say, “Khaled, you see them nights that you put in 24 hours. You see them executive decisions you’ve made.” I got a great team around me. I got We the Best, Roc Nation around me every day. I got people that love me and I love them. I’m just grateful.
You have your first Grammy, two young boys and a budding movie career. Where does music fall now on the priority scale for you?
There’s something I didn’t add to what’s happening in that month. You’re probably the first one to get this, but I ain’t gon’ say it in full detail, but I can tell you this: I have been in the studio. I’ve been in the studio with this month of energy that I’ve been talking about.
So imagine everything we talking about with the Grammy, baby boy, Tyler Perry, me in Bad Boys 3 with Will Smith, Super Bowl, Super Bowl commercial, I’m at All-Star right now and in the midst off all that, I’ve been in the studio, too. So I want you to use your best imagination.
Can I guess a collaboration? Because I saw you in the studio with Future, Diddy and Meek.
I don’t want you to guess a collaboration, but I’m working on something and I can’t wait to tell the world what I’m working. I also can’t wait to give the world something. Put it this way: It’s cold in Chicago — well I’ve been to another city where it’s cold, too. And I’m not saying the weather cold, either. So I’ve been working. I got something big coming.
Where does this “something big” rank in terms of your previous collaborations because you’ve had a “Shining” and “I’m the One.”
We’re gonna give you more. You think about my catalog from me and Drake “For Free,” me and Drake “I’m on One,” me and Drake “No New Friends,” me and Jay-Z “I got the Keys” with Future, me and Beyonce with “Shining” with Jay-Z and “I’m the One” with Chance [The Rapper], Bieber and Quavo, my catalog is strong.
I can tell you this: Expect and know another one is coming. [Laughs.] Something coming big! I want you to know and I want people to know when they read this interview that it was all from this energy and blessings that we’ve talked about from this whole month. All that was the inspiration to make this new song I’m talking about. I haven’t made an announcement yet with anybody.
You’re with Billboard, so this is the place to do it.
I love Billboard. I haven’t spoken to nobody. You know I’m Billboard Billy. Billboard is a brand that I love and will always respect. Y’all always show me love and I can’t wait to be on Billboard again with his thing that I’m talking about.
No matter how much success you continue to gain, God has always been front and center for you. Your faith hasn’t wavered.
You know, I can go for hours talking about God because I truly know all the blessings that he’s giving all of us. I don’t wanna sound like a preacher, I’m just me. I’m Khaled Khaled. That’s who I am and that’s who I’m always gonna be. I’m always gonna show gratitude and love to the G-O-D because a lot of people take things for granted. I don’t. I don’t take nothing for granted. Even my struggles, my trials and tribulations and my blessings, I don’t take none of that for granted. Everybody has a story and you’re witnessing my story now.