What does DJ Khaled do, exactly?
Scratch that — we know what he does. He shouts his name on XXXL anthems featuring the world’s most famous rappers. He makes appearances at plentiful celebrity events and photo-ops. He coins catchphrases: “Another one!” “Bless up!” “Congratulations, you played yourself!” He tirelessly chronicles his daily exploits on Snapchat — per The New York Times, as of last December about 2 million people were witnessing his every inspirational platitude and misguided jet ski adventure — and parlays his increasing notoriety into new levels of fame. But still, like, what does duder do?
At this point Khaled — born Khaled Mohamed Khaled in New Orleans almost 41 years ago — is one of those 21st century anomalies who’s famous for being famous. More acutely, he’s the kind of famous-for-being-famous that could only happen in this decade, after the proliferation of social media made it possible to turn your life into a 24/7 TV show. Khaled is a self-perpetuating cult of personality, a human meme, an emoji empire waiting to happen. And even before his Snapchat stardom put him on Ellen, Nightline, and other TV shows your parents watch, he was making millions by recruiting rap’s biggest superstars to appear on titanic posse cuts — a curatorial carnival barker à la Funkmaster Flex and DJ Drama, but bigger, louder, and more up-front.
If you understand today’s celebrity economy at all, you understand how Khaled’s persona functions. The character he inhabits in public life — the enthusiastic motivational speaker who will pump you up by relentlessly reminding you that “they don’t want you” to achieve your chosen objective, whether that’s eating breakfast or having a bigger pool than Kanye — is contagiously likable and extremely fun to parody. Who wouldn’t want encouragement to burst so charismatically from their phone display? Who hasn’t absentmindedly shouted “Lion!” in the midst of an unrelated activity? Khaled’s first major key to success, though, was putting himself in position to flourish. He did it how anybody does it: by networking like crazy.
As a teen in New Orleans, before getting started as a soundclash DJ, Khaled worked at the music shop Odyssey Records; according to Ben Westhoff’s book Dirty South, he was present on the day when Lil Wayne met Birdman. Like those guys, Khaled made his way to Miami, where he leveraged a pirate radio career into a job on Miami station WEDR alongside 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell. Eventually he got his own radio show and became a member of Terror Squad, even producing actual beats on their 2004 album True Story (catch a skinnier version of Khaled in the “Lean Back” video). And a decade ago, he released his debut full-length Listennn… The Album.
Listennn… also featured a couple Khaled beats. More importantly, it boasted a who’s who of rap’s biggest stars: Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Juelz Santana, Paul Wall, basically everybody who was making hits in 2006. He must be just as gregarious and winsome in real life because he apparently accumulated a lot of friends during his tenure at WEDR, all of them eager to hop on one of his records even if it meant doing lead artist’s work for featured artist’s credit. And although Listennn… was more of a success on the albums chart than the singles chart (it debuted at #12 with 44,000 sales in the first week, a figure that might put it in contention for #1 these days), it established a formula that accelerated Khaled’s cycle of perpetual upward motion.
His second album, 2007’s We The Best, was the one that cemented his status as hip-hop’s premier hypeman-as-frontman. That one generated “We Takin’ Over” and “I’m So Hood,” all-star hip-hop blockbusters that rode hooks from Akon and T-Pain, respectively, to cultural saturation. From then on, Khaled could be trusted to preside over some star-studded party-starter every year or two. Although 2008’s We Global failed to generate a ubiquitous single, 2010’s Victory nabbed Khaled another zeitgeist-seizing hit with the exultant “All I Do Is Win.” Drake’s team gifted him “I’m On One” for 2011’s We The Best Forever, and the uncharacteristically melancholy but characteristically humongous track became Khaled’s first and only Hot 100 top-10 hit. And from there he kept dropping albums almost every year, usually generating at least one club burner. “Take It To The Head” — another one. “No New Friends” — another one. “Hold You Down” — another one.
The pathway to more success now leads to Major Key, Khaled’s ninth(!) album, out this Friday on his We The Best imprint via Epic. As usual, his famous friends have lined up to contribute music, with advance singles from Drake, Jay Z and Future, and Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean. Today he unleashed one of his signature behemoths, “Do You Mind” featuring Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, August Alsina, Jeremih, Future, and Rick Ross. With so many urban radio mainstays on one track, it’s almost guaranteed to become Major Key’s breakout hit.
Hits don’t really matter anymore for Khaled, though. He has ascended to that rarefied place within pop culture wherein he will always have a spotlight as long as he keeps doing ridiculous shit. And ridiculous shit is his specialty. Khaled has always seemed like an accessory to his own music, but now the music is an accessory to Khaled. By being shameless, he has become an irrepressible force. And if you counted him out, congratulations: You played yourself.
A week after we checked in on Drake’s historic chart run, “One Dance” has been dethroned by Sia and Sean Paul’s “Cheap Thrills,” becoming Sia’s first Hot 100 #1 hit and Sean Paul’s fourth. Billboard notes that Sia also becomes the first woman over 40 to hit #1 since 42-year-old Madonna did it with “Music” in 2000.
Of course, “One Dance” has been dethroned before — Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” surpassed it for a week back in May — so the rise of “Cheap Thrills” may be a temporary blip. But for the time being, WizKid and Kyla’s 15 minutes of kinda-sorta fame may well be over. As for Rihanna, who rejected “Cheap Thrills” for ANTI, her Taylor Swift-penned Calvin Harris collaboration “This Is What You Came For” rises to a new peak of #3.
Although “One Dance” declines, Views holds firm at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart for an 11th nonconsecutive week with 89,000 equivalent units. Per Billboard, that’s the most weeks at #1 since Taylor Swift’s 1989 spent 11 weeks on top in 2014 and 2015. The next milestone would be the Frozen soundtrack’s 13 weeks in 2013 and 2014. And Drake’s current run continues to be the longest stretch at #1 by a man since Billy Ray Cyrus’ Some Gave All held on for 17 straight weeks in 1992. Weirdly, Views is all the way down at #9 on the Top Album Sales chart with 16,000 copies sold; the bulk of its units continue to come from streaming.
The actual bestselling album of the week is NeedToBreathe’s H A R D L O V E, which earned 50,000 units based on 46,000 in sales. At #2, it’s the Christian rockers’ highest-charting album ever, besting 2014’s #3-debuting Rivers In The Wasteland. The only other top-10 debut this week is Kidz Bop 32 at #9 with 29,000 units/28,000 sales.
5 Seconds Of Summer – “Girls Talk Boys”
In 2003, the idea of a boy band releasing a disco-punk song would have seemed ridiculous. It still seems ridiculous in 2016, actually! But 5SOS made it work.
JoJo – “Fuck Apologies” (Feat. Wiz Khalifa)
JoJo’s finally coming back with an official album, Mad Love, and its lead single suggests she’s OK with keeping her success online. It’s too bad because “Fuck Apologies” is a song that could get a lot of radio airplay if “fuck” wasn’t a key component of the chorus. Shit, maybe it will anyway; radio censors can be pretty creative if a song catches fire.
Shawn Mendes – “Three Empty Words”
Weirdly, it looks like Vine star Shawn Mendes is in this pop game for the long haul. This one’s his minimal guitar ballad, and unlike some of his other hits, it doesn’t even sound like excrement.
Pitbull – “Green Light” (Feat. Flo Rida & LunchMoney Lewis)
In other surprising news, I think I like the new Pitbull and Flo Rida song? Excuse me while I walk into the ocean and disappear off the coast of Miami forever.
Wale – “My PYT”
Don’t let the irresistible Michael Jackson hook distract you: This is a new low for a rapper who has fallen from some incredible heights.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Beyoncé leads the list of 2016 VMA nominations with 11 nods. Adele’s “Hello” earned seven. [MTV]
- Rita Ora will replace Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. [EW]
- A graffiti artist’s “RIP Taylor Swift” mural in Melbourne was converted by someone else into an even funnier Harambe memorial. [The Daily Mail]
- Relatedly, Swift enemies Calvin Harris and Kim Kardashian hung out at JLo’s birthday party. [People]
- U2, Drake, Britney Spears, Sting, Sia, Ariana Grande, and Twenty One Pilots are among the acts playing this year’s iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas 9/23-24. [Twitter]
- At his Kansas City show Drake announced he’s working on a new mixtape. [Twitter]
- Ariana Grande has bangs. [Billboard]
- Thirteen-year-old dance prodigy Maddie Ziegler will join Sia on the Nostalgic For The Present Tour this summer. [Twitter]
- Kanye West is starring in another Balmain campaign. [Harpers]
- Florida Georgia Line were denied a police escort out of town after playing in Iowa because the band banned officers from coming backstage. [TMZ]
- In addition to Justin Bieber and MØ (on “Cold Water”), Diplo says the new Major Lazer album will feature Usher, Sam Hunt, Travis Scott, Sia, and possibly Tove Lo and Tinashe. It should be out in January. [Apple]
- Rachel Platten and dozens of celebrities (including Mandy Moore, Aisha Tyler, Eva Longoria, Idina Menzel, Jane Fonda, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Kristin Chenoweth) sang “Fight Song” in a video to support Hillary Clinton. [YouTube]
- Jennifer Hudson, Aloe Blacc, the Lumineers, Sia, and Tori Kelly will cover the Beatles on Netflix’s new Beat Bugs series. [Billboard]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
I. AM. CRYING. pic.twitter.com/hDoIvdndJv
— Julian (@RobGotNext) July 27, 2016