Snapchat was the tool DJ Khaled needed.
Khaled had big records, big remixes and big albums, but nothing he did in music made him larger-than-life like social media. When the phrases and mantras he would build projects around became hashtags and viral videos, an elevation occurred. Suddenly, Khaled was no longer lost at sea but dominating the world. Major Key, released last year following his newfound superstar fame, was a hitmaker's album filled with A-list talent. It was Khaled trying to do in music what Snapchat did for him online: capture the pulse of the moment.
Khaled’s success felt close to hitting a ceiling. Touring with Beyoncé and achieving a No. 1 album were impossible dreams that actually came to fruition. He was doing the unfathomable, accomplishing what wasn’t possible when he ran the streets with Terror Squad. The birth of his first son Asahd broke new ground; the adorable offspring was even more enchanting than his father. Asahd has become an Instagram darling and a Twitter goal and he can't even say the words "social media."
A love between father and son turned into Grateful, the latest Khaled attempt at unifying the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B. Asahd has been at the forefront of marketing and promotion, a young man born to go viral. Each single showed that Khaled was pulling out all the stops―Jay Z and Beyoncé, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, Drake, Justin Bieber and every rapper with Obama’s phone number―Khaled was able to dance with the stars and he wasn’t going to take it for granted.
He may be grateful but Snapchat’s biggest DJ doesn't practice modesty on his latest. At 23 songs, Grateful is a lengthy, modern-day double disc. It's an exhausting listen, the excess amount of music leaving you with the same queasiness as consuming too much alcohol. Even the most high-end liquor will have your face in the toilet if overdone.
Within the bloated, overbearing collection of songs are the few musical gems that make each Khaled album a piece of art that can outlive its moment in the spotlight.
Four Standout Songs:
"Good Man" ft. Pusha T & Jadakiss
Curating hits is what DJ Khaled is known for. Bringing together chart conquerors and attempting to make Billboard-climbing magic has been a role he’s played for years. With that said, each album is guaranteed to have at least one hip-hop record. The raw, underground rap you’d expect on a Gangsta Grillz mixtape and not a commercial darling. As soon as you hear the soulful vocals building up, you don’t have to know who is featured to realize track 15 is going to be the one. Cool & Dre are common collaborators with Khaled, dating back to his first album, and they laced him with a great flip of Them Two's “Am I A Good Man.”
A soulful trap thumper is a perfect foundation for King Pusha to perform an atomic elbow drop and completely annihilate with effortless bravado and clever introspection. One of the album's most noteworthy quotes appears in his first verse: “I was on the wrong side of the law, like Pac was on the wrong side of the car.” Just like “Nas Album Done” from Major Key, this sole verse will make you wish upon the Dragonballs for a new Pusha album.
Most of the collaborations on the album feel uneven—you’ll find more chemistry between bank robbers than some of the artists on Grateful—but Jadakiss and Pusha are the perfect pairing. Kiss is razor sharp, slick as a moonwalk on hardwood floors. Street rap may not be prominent in today’s trap era but the combination of T and Jada reminds us that we need the corner poets alongside the trap stars.
Grateful is a red carpet album, filled with artists who see flashing lights, photographers and journalists with microphones moments after exiting their car at award shows. To my surprise, the one who glows like a golden nugget is the artist with the least notoriety. On “Interlude,” Canada’s own Belly proves his prowess as a wordsmith. I don’t know much about Belly, I was under the impression there was more trap than soul in his artistry, but he sounds right at home like a preacher at the pulpit. The gorgeous foundation is ear-warming, while Belly gives a bit of insight into his life. It’s short, sweet and engrossing, unlike the album at large.
“Unchanging Love” (Mavado)
Anyone who listens to Khaled’s albums will recognize Mavado as one of the usual suspects. The Jamaican soul singer tends to appear at least once, a pace changer who takes us away from the traditional rap and R&B. Out of all Mavado’s appearances, there isn’t one that has left an impression quite like “Unchanging Love.” It’s a tropical, reggae vibe that takes ears somewhere where the sun is setting and the breeze is Heaven-sent. His voice is full of soul and grabs you with its gentle passion. He sings about growing old and how an unchanging love was necessary for him to be here today. It’s a love song that is tender, a thank you to an unnamed man, woman or entity. Mavado delivers the most grateful moment of Grateful.
"Iced Out My Arms" ft. Future, Migos, 21 Savage & T.I.
Southside and Metro created a black hole! The production is a falcon punch to the gut, the kind of trap banger that rappers look for when they search YouTube for “Metro Boomin type beat.” I can only imagine how many rappers are sick they didn’t receive this one in their email. Future sounds so natural I’m a bit irritated he didn’t try and keep this song for himself. Migos are in full Huey, Duey, and Louie mode. They play off each other perfectly, it’s like watching an exquisite triangle offense being executed. Migos don’t need separate verses, every feature should be them together. 21 Savage is becoming a better rapper before our eyes. Savage Mode proved he was growing, finding his voice, and “Iced Out My Arms” is the latest testament to his savagery becoming more focused and concise. The JCPenney jab was heartless. I didn’t expect T.I. to show up with the new trap kids, he is the sore thumb feature, but I don’t hate it. It’s actually a good verse, I just wish he would stop with all the extra noises—he isn’t Young Thug.
Out of all the trap songs on Grateful, this is the one I’ll be coming back to the most.
As a complete body of work, Grateful falls short. Good ideas, verses and hooks are lost in the madness of too many cooks trying to operate in an undersized kitchen. Travis and Nas should stay far from one another. One of Big Sean's best verses this year is placed on a painfully forgettable song with the worst possible Travis Scott chorus. Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj is a good idea that falls short. There's simply too much happening on this album.
Khaled’s formula of Avengers-esque rap albums overwhelms by having too many guests, too many songs, and not enough focus on calculated cohesion and chemistry. He went too far in his bag, and he feels like rap’s Oprah―you get a feature, you get a feature, you get a feature! Unlike Oprah, the gesture of involving everyone doesn’t work well on rap albums.
Consider Grateful a great lesson for young Asahd: You can’t include everyone in your artistic endeavors.
By Yoh, aka Grateful Yoh, aka @Yoh31