“What does DJ Khaled actually do?”—it’s an age old question in music. The Snapchat king hasn’t really produced a song since his 2010 hit “All I Do Is Win,” and he’s still never rapped or sung a song himself (“All I Do Is Win” featured T-Pain, Ludacris, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, and co-production credits to DJ Nasty). So what does DJ Khaled actually do? Why do artists let Khaled get any credit for the star-studded songs they create in his name?
In my review of his last record, Major Key, I described DJ Khaled as a “musical curator.” He isn’t present on an ounce of the album’s material, other than the occasional screams of “we the best!,” “another one!,” or in the case of Grateful, “Asahd, my son, I love you!”, but he’s somehow able to gather this star-studded roster to make albums for him over and over again. Grateful is not only his tenth studio album, but its an additional twenty-three tracks over the course of one year since the release of Major Key.
Plus, the roster on Grateful is insane: Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Drake, Rihanna, Bryson Tiller, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne, Migos, Travis Scott, Rick Ross, Big Sean, Nas, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, Jeremih, Calvin Harris, Kodak Black, Pusha T, Jadakiss, Raekwon, Gucci Mane, T.I., Young Thug, 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, Future, and more.
These artists treat DJ Khaled releases as the gateway that says who’s who is music, and DJ Khaled has the personality and likability to own such a highly-respected designation, despite having little to zero to do with the finished product. On Grateful, Khaled does see a fair amount of additional producer roles, but the majority of the record is still performed and produced by other artists.
Unlike Major Key; however, the tracks on Grateful aren’t really designed to impress as much as they were designed to be radio hits. Major Key tracks such as “Holy Key” with Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Betty Wright, “Nas Album Done” with Nas, “Jermaine’s Interlude: with J. Cole, and “For Free” with Drake, showed everyone on the top of their game—verses from Kendrick, Cole, Big Sean, and Nas really showcased their talents.
Grateful doesn’t have the same vibe, as even huge artists simply feel like they’re just running through the motions for a quick Khaled hit. “I’m the One” features not only one of the most basic pop chord progressions of all time, but a mind-numbering chorus and three lackluster verses. “To the Max” couldn’t live up to “For Free” as a successful sequel, Travis Scott’s chorus on “It’s Secured” ruins what could have been an okay Nas song, and Chance the Rapper flat-out raps the alphabet for a verse on “I Love You So Much.”
On Grateful, the collaborations feel not only forced, but half-assed compared to his previous release. Even Khaled’s character as the meme supreme seems to ware off when he describes his sons involvement in the recording process while wailing off blessings and screaming his sons name at the end of the record (granted anyone actually makes it that far). And it’s fine, people don’t have to listen to the entire record, because it’s not like singles such as “Wild Thoughts” and “I’m the One” haven’t already paid for the entire project in full. It’s just a shame when rap’s biggest curator misses the mark. Major Key was a glorious celebration of rap music, but Grateful feels more like a mockery.