Photos by Matt Seger
I wish I could say that within an hour of seeing DJ Khaled in the flesh for the first time I didn’t witness him getting his nails done while sitting on a throne. I wish I could tell you that he didn’t drop inspirational maxims as naturally as most people use swear words—or, hell, that I heard DJ Khaled use a swear word. I wish I could tell you that DJ Khaled was not the most comfortable person I’ve ever seen in front of a camera. I really wish I could tell you these things because, surely, they would prove DJ Khaled to be less than the person he claims to be. But, reader, I cannot tell you these things because they would be falsehoods. And I would never dare to bear false witness before the power of LION!.
You know LION!, of course, the stone lion statue that Khaled salutes ritualistically on his Snapchat feed each day when he is home in Miami. And you know “major key” and “they,” the nebulous force of cosmic hate that doesn’t want us to achieve various triumphs in life, such as eating a healthy breakfast or releasing a platinum record. In the last few months, these tropes have come to define Khaled in a way that even his bombastic “DEE JAY KHALED” and “WE THE BEST!” drops or hit songs like “All We Do Is Win” and “We Takin’ Over” and “No New Friends” never did. And considering that “All We Do Is Win” is still, by my own anecdotal analysis, played every night at every sporting event in America, that’s quite the accomplishment. Khaled has become the public face of Snapchat as the ascendent new social media platform, the guy who finally made ad execs start shitting their pants in their hurry to develop a strategy for the app. He was, appropriately, the cover star of a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek that trumpeted “The New New New New New New New Future of Media.”
Although he has an obvious talent for assembling hit songs featuring all the biggest rappers of any given summer—and has now been doing so for ten summers—Khaled has above all arrived where he is at through being the best living artist in the medium of bluster. In the last decade, achieving success in the music industry (and elsewhere) has increasingly dovetailed with the art of keeping people’s attention, and that shift has made people like Khaled, whose job is essentially marketing music, more central to the conversation. DJ Khaled didn’t become Snapchat’s breakout star so much because he was a savvy user of the app (although he is) but because his brand of being a guy who jet skis bravely into the realm of the absurd armed solely with pithy aphorisms is ideal for the current age of media. Success, right now, is above all about giving people something to talk about and a lexicon with which to do that talking (hence the proliferation of celebrity emoji apps). Khaled’s catchphrases are ones people want to share with their friends; his hijinks are worth talking about; his motivational speeches are broad enough to always ring true.
To be a fan of DJ Khaled is not just to watch him enjoy his success, the way we might have admired the stars of generations past; it means, to borrow one of his favorite expressions, walking with him on the pathway to more success. It’s a discovery of just how good things can get. All of this has made Khaled an aspirational ideal, a benevolent yang to Donald Trump’s bullshit yin, a force for good draped in luxury robes. It’s landed him the opening spot on Beyoncé’s Formation tour and set him up for what could be the biggest album of his career, aptly titled Major Key. It’s also why he was chosen to be the face of Rocawear’s latest campaign (“whoever picked me to do this, he’s a genius or she’s a genius,” he commented), the set of which was where I encountered him receiving the manicure detailed above. When we sat down after that photo shoot to do our interview, Khaled was clearly worn out from a day of having to talk about things being major keys, but he also knows what people want to hear from him. So he happily shared some, uh, chair talk from the chair where Noisey found him.
Noisey: What’s it like touring with Beyoncé right now?
DJ Khaled: It’s amazing man. I can’t believe I’m touring with her. My whole life I always wanted to tour and take it to the next level, and then I got the call from the team at Parkwood. It’s just unbelievable for me to have this opportunity, that Beyoncé asked me to go on tour with her. I want to take time on every interview I do to thank Beyoncé for letting me be a part of this tour. They don’t want me to tour now; I’m touring with Beyoncé. I’m so grateful. And my price definitely went up. When these promoters are calling me to do shows and events if we ain’t talking stadiums then what we talking about?
What have you learned that’s most surprised you about Beyonce fans?
Beyoncé fans are unbelievable. Not only loyal, but they’re so dedicated. Say there’s a thunderstorm, and it’s raining: Her fans will sit in the rain and watch Beyoncé perform. That is so amazing to me. The Beyhive is so much energy, so much joy, so much positive vibes. It’s like they’re all superstars.
How did your song with Drake, “For Free,” come together?
Drake’s a genius. He played me an unfinished record of “For Free” in January, and I lost my mind. I’m like “yo, this is it.” I was so excited. He just wanted the right time to finish it. He’d had his album Views that’s so huge, and he wanted to take his time. Working with Drake, what I like about him is everything has to be perfect and amazing. I love that, and that’s what I’m about, too. So he blessed me, man. When Khaled and Drake collaborate it’s two forces and two brands that represent greatness on another level. Last time we worked together was “No New Friends” and “I’m On One.” When we work together it’s real, and the fans love it, and the people love it, and Drake knows I’m gonna go hard, and that’s that.
What’s it like giving Drake a critique?
The good thing about Drake is there’s always honest talk with him. We don’t have an industry relationship; we’re family, we’re friends, we’re brothers, and I’m a fan of Drake. And he respects my work, my career, as much as I respect his, so if we ever go back and forth on any type of creative thing it’s always a good vibe. We meet at a perfect point, and at the end of the day we get the best result. And look at us now: number one record on iTunes, streaming, it’s about to debut on the chart in the 20s. It’s going to go number one. God is great, we blessed, We The Best, OVO salute.
Why is it that your Snapchat is so great?
My Snapchat is successful because I’m just being me, and while I’m being me I take them on the road with me. Or if I’m at my house jet-skiing, or in my Jacuzzi talk, or hammock talk, my flowers, that’s me for real. It’s just me, and at the same time my Snapchat, when I look at it I’m inspired. I’m motivated.
They put an antenna on Snapchat and the whole world could see it. If you’ve heard who DJ Khaled is—somebody might know me just from a record on the radio or just seeing me in a video—now they know who I am personally, which I’ve been my whole life. That’s the key. It’s about being yourself. And the reason I say I’m not a secret anymore is if you know any relationship I’ve ever had and you ask them why they love DJ Khaled, everybody has their unique and special story why they love DJ Khaled. Now the fans get to say the same thing.
Snapchat needs to thank you for all the publicity, too!
Yeah, I had a meeting with Evan trying to get some stocks. He’s a tough one! That’s my friend, though. I respect him a lot and I appreciate him supporting me and showing me love and his whole staff.
Since you’re such a motivational figure, I’d like to get some advice. How does one deal with the existential dread of this cruel worldly existence?
Well I’ve always said the world is cold. It’s a cold world. I’ve always said bundle up even in the summer, and the key is to make sure to dry your back when you get you the shower, too. It’s a cold world, and you don’t want to get a flu or a cold. But while the world is cold, don’t fall for the cold trap, meaning being down. You’re supposed to uplift yourself and embrace what God has blessed us with. It is a cold world, it’s tough out there, but at the end of the day we have to bring joy. And the joy is that we have life. We’re breathing, and that means we can accomplish anything we want to do. So it can be cold, but we’re going to be great.
Matt Seger shoots photos and video for VICE. Follow him on Instagram.
Kyle Kramer has the keys. Follow him on the pathway to more success on Twitter.