You know Snapchat’s motivation master does music too, right?
The living meme himself, DJ Khaled (real name Khaled Mohamed Khaled), is a truly fascinating specimen. Having been behind the boards for a plethora of both his own and other hip hop and R&B records for the past 10 years, he’s a figure that has been recognized as the go-to-guy for high-value production and some of the most hilarious ad-libs in modern urban music. “WE THE BEST” has become one of the most recognizable voice clips in the genre and has in fact symbolized a certain scale of quality that you won’t find in most underground releases. Because of that, I was surprised to find myself a little excited for ‘Major Key’ and to see what DJ Khaled could bring to the table in 2016; with him seemingly being a magnet for some of the biggest names in modern hip hop so as to put on an album-form talent show of different styles and the most times you’ll hear a man say his own name in the space of an hour.
The thing is, for a guy that calls himself ‘DJ Khaled’, he doesn’t really do a lot of actual DJ-ing. Khaled works as more of a middle-man figure in the game; a guy with a hell of a lot of money to bring together the best producers and the best rappers/singers to create a product that would (in theory) be a compilation of quality. That’s not to say he isn’t a talented producer, because he’s shown that plenty in the past, just don’t give the guy all the credit if you happen to fall head over heels with a beat on ‘Major Key’. And I wouldn’t blame you if you did become infatuated with an instrumental or two on here, as there’s plenty of diversity to go around. Take the single released a month before the album’s drop; ‘For Free‘, featuring Drake. Not to be confused with a track off of last year’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly‘, the song is full of this bouncing sub-bass and a glitzy synth loop that manages to platform Drake pretty well for a clean R&B/dance track with a rapping edge. Of course, the shallow subject matter of the sex being so good he questions if he should pay for it keeps it from being a huge radio hit, but you get the sense that that may not be what Khaled’s after this time around.
With his massive amounts of internet attention (thanks to his endless amounts of Snapchat story motivational videos), the DJ seems to have adjusted his sights on appealing to what’s most popular on the digital stage. He’s always been one to follow the trends of the time, and it shows across both the features and the production on the album. The track ‘Ima Be Alright‘ with Bryson Tiller and Future (AKA a trap fan’s dream combo) embodies everything that people seem to love about the ever-growing trap trend. Monstrous rumble and rattling hi-hats set the song as a straight cut from either one of these two artist’s records, who both pin excellent flows to the beat even if there cadences are so different. Another case is the song ‘Jermaine’s Interlude‘ with J. Cole, one that (as you would’ve guessed) sounds like it was made for the MC. Lyrically, the track is staggering in Cole’s delivery as he spits a verse about all of the difficulties and worries in his career: “How the fuck do I look / When I brag to you about some diamond? / Said all that I could say / Now I play with thoughts of retirement“.
‘Major Key‘ in fact often brings out some of the best in the performers and producers it rounds up for its complete run-time. ‘Nas Album Done‘ has arguably the hardest beat on the entire cut, with a hefty load of trunk-rattling bass and a ‘Fu-Gee-La‘-sample used for excellent effect. As you’d expect the legendary MC comes through with 2 solid verses, referencing both old and new aspects of a game he has helped shape: “Now everywhere all I see is Pablo, Esco / Last time I checked I was still breathin’ / My neck was still freezin’ / Now everybody got an Escobar Season“. When the album is at its best, it really is something to marvel at. Nowhere is this more present than on the record’s best track ‘Holy Key‘, featuring Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar, both adding something unique yet equally brilliant to a wonderfully produced track with 2 verses that’ll have you breathless just listening to them. With additional, superbly powerful vocals from Betty Wright the track is ‘Major Key’s‘ crowing achievement.
And that’s about it for positives. There is plenty that different types of fans may find attractive about the album, but around 60/70% of ‘Major Key‘ is monotonous, commercialized filler. After an impressive opening 6 tracks, the nosedive in quality doesn’t take long in getting going with ‘Do You Mind‘, a cringe-worthy song that just reeks of romantic radio appeal. Pop rap/R&B names like Chris Brown, August Alsina and Jeremih litter the track with weak verses about getting close to some faceless woman with bodily features that somehow warrant this generic track. Even Future and Rick Ross hop on this thing in a hopeless attempt to salvage something good from the track – to no effect. The cringe carries over into the track ‘Forgive Me Father‘ which in turn has a bland instrumental, forgettable verses from Wiz Khalifa and Wale and one of the most out-of-place features I’ve heard in a long time; Meghan Trainor on the hook (cue Nick Young confused meme).
The cracks in ‘Major Key’s‘ aesthetic are exposed by this poor choice of who to hire for delivering verses and how to pair them with good production. ‘Pick These Hoes Apart‘ could’ve been a decent with its trap-flavoured instrumental but it has some of the worst lyrics on the record, the pinnacle being Kodak Black’s wonderfully poetic verse literally having the lines “Soon I saw you girl my dick was standin’ hard / She so wet I make that pussy fart“. Too many tracks similar to this caliber take up the majority of the album, dragging it down further and further into the realm of forgettable-ness. There are moments that give the record a little more credibility, one of these is ‘Don’t Ever Play Yourself‘. Featuring dark, gritty verses from the likes of Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes (plus a seriously impressive verse from Kent Jones) that match the haunting piano loop and ominous sub-bass perfectly, it’s a high enjoyable cut among all the debris. It’s a shame that moments like these are few and far between.
The thought of bringing together hip hop and R&B sensations from both the past and present in one project is one that most would find highly exciting, especially when the money and connections of a man like DJ Khaled is behind it all. But ‘Major Key‘ suffers from trying to appeal to a lot of different tastes at the same while pandering to an internet audience who are extremely picky about the music they hear. At times the rappers, singers, producers and songwriters all come together to craft some stellar music that the album and its mastermind can be fully proud of. It’s sad that the rest (and most) of the time it feels like a compilation of mediocre tunes that are trying too hard to give the whole record as much variety as it can have. In the end, ‘Major Key‘ falls short of being anything that memorable and will dissipate into the ocean of average projects released this year.
“They don’t want us to release a uninspired album!!” Well you did, Khaled.
Highlights: Holy Key, Nas Album Done, Don’t Ever Play Yourself, Jermaine’s Interlude, Ima Be Alright