We all have “that friend.” Every time there’s a party he gets way too drunk, ends up saying something hilariously inappropriate and usually gets slapped. Before you introduce someone to that friend for the first time, you have to preface it with, “Listen, he’s actually a really good guy, but sometimes…”
When that friend first started showing up to parties (uninvited) his antics were aggravating, but as time passed, honestly, you kind of ended up liking him. He might be that guy, but he’s your that guy, and at the very least he always gives you and your other friends someone to constantly crack on. He’s worth keeping around for the comic value alone, and every once in a while, he actually does something pretty damn cool.
DJ Khaled is hip-hop’s that friend.
When Listennn….the Album dropped four years ago, I would have rather listened to an asthmatic manatee than Khaled screaming on every track he touched, but over the last few years, something strange happened. Maybe, like a lobster that will boil alive without complaint if you turn up the temperature slowly, I’ve simply become desensitized to the barrage of ad-libs, but at this point you know exactly what you’re going to get from a Khaled track—a huge Southern beat, an all-star street rap roster and, yes, some uninhibited screaming—and you know what? I’m OK with that.
Shockingly, Khaled’s new album, Victory, is a sharp departure from that formula, choosing instead to examine the legacy of the civil rights movement over some experimentally progressive production. No, I’m just f**king with you. Like the man himself, Victory is nothing but street rap at its biggest. Hey, there’s something to be said for consistency.
I’m not going to lie to you. Three minutes into Victory I was braced for possibly the worst album I’d ever heard. I was prepared for a Khaled monologue during the intro, but a profanity-laced Diddy tirade and an incomprehensibly low quality rant from Busta Rhymes was just too much. Thankfully, the situation improved rapidly by quickly transitioning to the pounding "All I Do Is Win," a DJ Nasty cut that’s most notable for T-Pain’s catchy hook, Luda’s killer verse (he’s still apparently pissed about being left off the original I'm So Hood) and a somewhat unexpected Snoop verse (Khaled rarely reaches out to the west coast).
Speaking of somewhat unexpected, Victory’s lead single "Fed Up" recruits Ursher for hook-singing duties, and he delivers, setting the stage for celebratory verses from Jeezy, Ross, Wayne and…wait for it…Drake, who instantly becomes the least “hood” rapper to ever appear on a Khaled joint. Still, Khaled’s not going to pass up the chance to connect with a new hot artist if it improves his bottom line, which is exactly the reason we’re also treated to some Soulja Boy on the skip-worthy "Rocking All My Chains On." That’s not to say you should listen to all of Victory with one finger on the next button. I don’t think there’s another hit on the level of "I’m So Hood" on Victory, but despite my higher intentions, I couldn’t help but nod my head to the Jim Jones lead cut "Ball"—Is Jones winning me over?—and despite a subpar hook, the Pitbull fueled "Rep My City" is pretty damn ill. Sure, there are some lowlights—I’m going to pretend like "Killing Me" and "Bring the Money Out" never happened—but while I don’t know about the best, Victory definitely had its moments.
While the album largely sticks to the Khaled script, there is one super-notable exception: the title track "Victory." With the album’s smoothest beat, courtesy of The Inkredibles, cruising across the track, none other than John Legend stops by for one of the most soulful hooks in Khaled history, and—I almost can’t believe I’m saying this—none other than Nas spits two of the better verses we’ve heard from him in a minute. That’s right, God’s Son kills a mic on a Khaled album. Whatever Khaled’s shortcomings, the man can network like no one else the game’s ever seen.
Listen (no pun intended). You don’t have to even hear Victory to know exactly what’s on the album, and you’ve probably either already decided that, at the end of the day, you actually kind of like having that friend around, or you cut him off a long time ago. Either way I suggest you make your decision and stick to it because I’ve got a feeling Khaled’s going to be around for a long, long time.