You’ve seen him in just about every major hip-hop video of the last five years, usually dripping gold and wrapped in velour, hanging with your favourite rappers while draped with models and popping bottles, bonly he doesn’t rap himself. Sometimes he’ll shout his name: “DJ Khaled!” to bookend a song, and gets a feature credit for it. But that’s it. He doesn’t really make beats either, but manages to work with the most-sought after producers in the game. He hosts a weekly radio show in South Beach, is signed to YMCMB, and runs his own label called We The Best Music Group. He’s counts Rick Ross, Drake, and Lil Wayne as close, personal friends. His latest album Suffering From Success is his seventh, but what exactly was his role in making it? Type in “What does DJ Khaled actually do” on Google and you’ll get over 300,000 results. So how did this Louisiana born Palestinian kid become one of the biggest names in hip-hop? Er, we’ll let him tell you.
What do your friends call you, Khaled or DJ Khaled?
They call me Arab. They call me Khaled. They call me the Don. They call me DJ Khaled. They call me, “Biggest Rap Mogul in the Game. They call me Get Banks. Ya feel me?
I do. Your new record features a lot of guest stars. What makes a good posse track?
I just make good music. I don’t know how many people will be on the record. I just wake up, go in the studio, and the energy is right and the beat is telling me to put these 10 other people on our record. I just do that, and then it sometimes ends up being a posse track, but I call it a DJ Khaled track. I ain’t ever called it a posse track.
Is there a science to putting guest stars together? Do you need to find artists that compliment each other?
Absolutely, it’s a science. It’s a science and the science is called “there’s nobody that can do it like my team or me.” That’s the science.
With hip-hop being an ultra competitive industry, how do you get all these superstars to agree to appear on a track together?
You gotta understand, winners like to deal with winners, you know what I’m saying? There’s a saying called “real recognizes real.” People respect each other. I’ve been in the game. A lot of these favorite artists that you love, I probably known them before they was your favorite artists. We’ve all been through the same road. It’s called “the struggle.” It’s called “we gotta win, and we hustlin’ and we grindin’, and that we’re suffering from success because, you know, with success comes sufferation and with sufferation comes success.
Is suffering from success the new “Mo Money, Mo Problems?”
DK: Well, when Biggie said “mo money, mo problems,” people thought it was just a dope rap line. The problem is it might be the realest line I’ve ever heard in my life. I can get real deep about it, but what I’m trying to tell you is it’s not about glorifying all of your wins, it’s about also glorifying the struggle to win. Because a lot of people don’t know all the behind the scenes stuff. You don’t wanna know. That’s a whole other story. That’s a whole other book. That’s a whole other interview, my brother!
What’s the hardest part about being successful?
The hardest part about being successful is trying to please everybody, because a lot of people just see the wins, and I’m a human being. You know what I’m saying? I’m actually human. I like to eat cheeseburgers like everybody else does
What’s the first thing you bought when you got paid?
My first big purchase would probably be a car at that time. I gotta have the latest car. If you add up everything I own I definitely live beyond my means. I live like a Lebron James or Michael Jordan. I got the crib and a bunch of whips. If you add that up, there’s some shit going on.
Who’s the most prodigious beat maker you’ve ever worked with, somebody who you sat down with in the studio and just blew you away?
Um, shit! There’s a lot of them! I remember being in the studio with Scott Storch, of course the Runners, a new producer, Lee On the Beats, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. There’s so many people, man. Kanye West. Kanye West is somebody that I’ve been in the studio with that was fucking amazing to me when he makes his beats. Kanye West is probably the best producer out of all of them because when he makes beats, just like out of nowhere, he’s just catching the vibe and just starts chopping up a sample and he’s like, “check this out,” and then starts laying the drums. He’s like me, you know what I’m saying, like when I produce music, I just get in the vibe and I’ll be like, “Yo, alright, come on, let’s put some drums here, let’s chop this sample up, let’s get a live instrument and put in here,” and it’s all happening.
Who came up with the mantra for “No New Friends”?
Drake, man. Me and Drake were talking about working on a new record, and we finally got in the lab and he had the beat and the hook of “No New Friends,” and I was like, “Yo.” We both agreed that this would be great for my album and made sure I finished the record. I called the great one, Lil Wayne, and the great one, Ricky Rozay and I had my little special billion dollar voice, and we all agreed that we love it and let’s get it and we put it out.
When you shot the video for “No New Friends,” what’s the vibe like on set? Are you actually partying?
“No New Friends” was probably one of my funnest videos. It’s just all of us family, having a great time. We don’t get a chance to see each other as much because we’re all working, so when we’re all in the same place, we’re having fun and smiling and just having a good time and being blessed.
Where do all these video girls come from, because I never see girls like that when I walk down the street.
Um, man, they everywhere. You’d be surprised man. You just gotta look a little harder. They everywhere.
When did you realize Drake would become one of the biggest names in the game?
When I heard his mixtape, when I heard Wayne was co-signing him, and then you listen to his mixtape in depth and his mixtape is just a great body of work, and I was just like, you know, this kid is special, and he’s young. He’s refreshing. He’s new so right away the world knew he was gonna be one of the greats.
Are you surprised that he’s from Canada?
Yeah, I mean, I love everything that’s going on in Canada. There’s a lot of talented producers out there, artists out there, and, you know, it’s just a blessing that they can support and put their city on the map. The same way that I make sure I have Miami on the map.
Do you put him up there with the Kanye’s and the Jay-Z’s in terms of status?
He’s on the top of the new generation. When you have Kanye, Jay-Z, Biggie, and Pac, and you know, Ross or Wayne, these are guys that have been in the game and are still holding the title, you know what I’m saying? Drake is in the game and one of the best in the game, 100 percent.
A lot has been made about Drake moving away from Cash Money to focus more on OVO. Does that put a strain on your relationship at all?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. He always represents Cash Money and YMCMB. I think the media just says that. He represents them tremendously, always shows them some love. I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s family, that’s my label mate.
I guess the media always tries to create rap beefs when there’s nothing there.
That’s what they do. They talk rumors before they get the facts. Sometimes you gotta go straight to the source to get the facts. How you get facts if you ain’t talking to the source?
Even with Kendrick’s “Control” verse, I think that was done out of a mutual respect. What did you make of it?
I mean, I think it’s good. You should talk music, you know what I’m saying? There ain’t nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with vibin’ as long as it don’t lead to no street stuff. It’s about being competitive and having fun.
What does it take to be a good rap mogul?
You gotta work every single day. You gotta work harder than every artist. You gotta be more executive than the executive. You gotta work harder than everybody to be the mogul, to be a top mogul, you gotta do what I do, you gotta outwork everybody and never surrender. Never.
Where does your work ethic come from?
My work ethic comes from Allah, you know what I’m saying? Give your everything to God, give your energy. I’m blessed, and I have life, and that is that. I’ve wanted it. I’ve wanted it ever since I came out of my mom’s stomach, and I’m just gonna keep going. It’s something I want, it’s what I’m gonna do. It’s what I’m going to be doing for forever.
Miami has become a city of winners thanks to people like you, thanks to Rick Ross, thanks to Lebron James. Who wins harder, you guys or the Miami Heat?
We all one team. We are the Miami Heat. Lebron James, DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, D Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem, you know? They might play ball but we the Miami Heat too. We starting lineup, too. We the Miami heat, all together. On the court and off the court. Number one draft pick!
Is it hard to avoid all the different temptations that come along with being famous, especially in the rap industry?
Not me, not me! I’m a leader, yo, I’m a boss, so you can’t make me do something I don’t wanna do. I don’t do drugs, I just don’t do stuff like that. My temptation is money. My temptation is making money, meaning as in, the hustle to live a good life, and I’m gonna continue winning.
You’ve had a knack for spotting new talent. Who are some future household names in the rap game?
I want you to look out for Mavado, he’s signed under We The Best. There are some other artists, I don’t wanna say who yet, because I am doing some paperwork on them right now, and I don’t want to let nobody know what I’m up to before I get it locked in.
What is the craziest thing someone’s done to get a demo in your hands?
There’s too many, man. From people jumping out of cars to people going to the bathroom, to people trying to get at you while you’re eating. There’s too many.