Last week, perhaps the most important video in the past five years of hip-hop found its way onto the internet. It’s a clip of DJ Khaled getting interviewed by MTV News’ Rob Markman, but it is so much more than that.
It begins inauspiciously enough. Khaled, wearing a sweatshirt that says “$UCCESS” written on it in big lettering, fields softball questions from Markman about what he’s been up to. “I been in the gym,” he says, though anyone who pays attention to Khaled’s particularly inspired Instagram feed already knows this. The amount of bullshit hanging in the room is so thick you could cut it with a knife you didn’t mind getting some shit on. Khaled continues. “I’m inspiring myself. I wanna make sure my fans get inspired as well. I’m making the best music I’ve ever made in my life.”
Markman’s tone throughout the interview is akin to a rookie listening to a lecture from his out-of-his-mind boss, understanding the absurdity of the statements he’s being fed but gleefully asking for seconds. “I’m gonna be honest,” he lies. “Going into another album, what else is left for you to do?”
It is now DJ Khaled’s turn to be honest. “Imma be honest,” he says, getting up from his chair. “Every summer’s mine. I’m the king of the anthems.”
Markman halfheartedly says, “Chill, chill, chill,” hoping that Khaled doesn’t extemporaneously sprout horns and skewer him.
“NO. YOU CHILL,” Khaled says as he transforms into a sentient, moderately-overweight tornado. “THIS GOTTA BE TOLD! I DO IT FOR MY PEOPLE, I DO IT FOR THE STREETS! THE STREETS GON’ RISE UP! AND THAT’S ON MY MAMA! PEOPLE THINK IT JUST HAPPENS! IT JUST DON’T FUCKIN’ HAPPEN! I MAKE THESE FUCKIN’ HITS AND PUT THESE FUCKIN’ HITS TOGETHER AND MAKE THE BIGGEST MOTHERFUCKIN’ ANTHEMS IN THE GAME! I GOT HARDWARE! SOME OF THESE GUYS AIN’T GOT NO PLAQUES! THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT IS! I DO IT FOR THE STREETS AND FOR THE PEOPLE, MAN! I MAKE THIS GOOD MUSIC! ME AND MY MUSIC, IT’S LIKE THIS,” he says raising his fist to illustrate both nothing and everything. “THIS IS EIGHT SUMMERS, MAN! AND GUESS WHAT? I JUST LEFT MARCY PROJECTS!”
Marksman says “Wow,” almost succeeding in stifling his laughter while somehow managing to cram his head further up Khaled’s asshole full of lies.
“WHAT, YOU THINK I’M PLAYING WITH THIS SHIT? EIGHT SUMMERS! I GOT JAY Z! SHAWN CARTER! I GOT HOVA ON MY FIRST SINGLE! FUCK THIS SHIT! IMMA SHOW THE GAME, BOY!” He then drops the mic and leaves the studio, presumably fleeing to a 175-foot yacht docked in the East River.
There’s no way to tell whether or not Khaled’s antics were planned or not—recall when he issued a straight-faced marriage proposal to Nicki Minaj, only to reveal it was a hoax meant to promote his single “I Wanna Be with You”—but that’s not really the point. More than anything, the video serves as proof of why DJ Khaled is by far the most exciting figure working in rap right now. Those who criticize Khaled because he doesn’t actually rap, produce, or DJ are blind to the fact that this is precisely why Khaled is perfect. He does all of the things that make mainstream rap so enjoyable to follow—put out songs and albums, have an interesting social media presence, talk tremendous amount of shit directed at no one in particular—without, strictly speaking, doing the one thing that rappers are required to do to be rappers: I.E., actually rap. The less he does, the more hip-hop needs him. If empty bluster were paint, he’d be da Vinci.
Following rap is as much about keeping up with whatever bullshit narratives your favorite rappers are pushing on the public as much as it is enjoying their actual music, and Khaled is nothing but wonderful, absurdly dumb narratives, to the point where the fact that he does literally nothing is secondary. He puts out albums with beats produced by other people with raps rapped by people who are also not him, and yet there is no one else who could feasibly release a song like “All I Do Is Win” or “We Takin’ Over” and have them be undeniable anthems like Khaled did. To spend a night in the multiverse of DJ Khaled is to toke upon the e-hookah of excess, to suckle upon the teat of stupidity, to burrow deep in the pores of a man who secretes raw, nonspecific achievement. Slowly but surely, he has become a bottomless diamond shaft of shit-talk, bravado, and relentless personal branding, as integral to hip-hop as a guy like Paul Heyman is to the WWE. Where Heyman has his roster of wrestlers he manages who exist under his umbrella of money-grubbing dickbaggishness—Paul Heyman Guys, if you will—Khaled has the perpetual also-rans Ace Hood, Mavado, and Vado. Just as Lesnar’s defeat of The Undertaker at Wrestlemania was nothing without Heyman’s speech the following night at Raw, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of a DJ Khaled-less Ace Hood, or a Mavado whose duties might not include filming this Instagram video of Khaled sinking a one-handed basketball shot as a taunt to 2 Chainz.
Probably the funniest thing about DJ Khaled is his continued insistence that he’s making big deals and putting great things in motion that will continue his status as the absolute best. What these deals entail and how exactly they reaffirm his continued triumph is never revealed; however, the passion with which he asserts his outstanding achievements in the field of excellence overshadows this, which is why the video of him freaking out on MTV was so great. You know he’s full of shit, but the amount that he truly believes he is not full of shit is captivating; it makes me want to shield him from the world so that he may never know the pain of a society that is not fully based on being the absolute best at all times. Or, perhaps, he’s already aware of this reality, which would explain why he named his most recent album Suffering from Success.
DJ Khaled continues to do things because people pay attention to those things; however, people care about him because he is always doing something worth paying attention to. This is a weird, fragile homeostasis to exist in, where he is both a product of the absurdity of mainstream hip-hop as well as someone who perpetuates its inherent absurdity. He will one day go away when people stop caring about him, retiring to whatever banana daiquiri-filled beachfront cabana spawned him. But until then we should pay attention, because we could all use a bit of Khaled’s childlike wonder in our lives. Reality is too boring, otherwise.
Drew Millard is the leading DJ Khaled scholar on the internet. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard
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