It’s sort of bewildering that DJ Khaled is on his fifth album. Here is a man who’s parlayed his career as a prominent radio DJ from Miami with a voice that sounds like it belongs to a super-excited fourteen year-old into a pretty sweet gig doing, well, I’m not exactly sure. He doesn’t rap on his own songs as much as he screams random shit every once in a while. He doesn’t seem to care much for producing or scratching, as Wikipedia told me that out of all the songs on Khaled’s five albums, he has played a part in producing seven of them. His basic modus operandi seems to be to track down a bunch of expensive-sounding beats and call in his famous friends to rap over them about how they are the best at everything. Through the transitive property of bestness, you then understand that DJ Khaled is also the best. This is an almost unimpeachable strategy, and despite – or perhaps because – of his almost pathological presence on his own albums, every single DJ Khaled record is completely fucking perfect, and there’s no reason to believe that his fifth, We The Best Forever, won’t be the same way.
DJ Khaled albums are like museums, and he’s the curator. There are rules, and if you don’t follow them, you’re getting thrown the fuck out of the museum. First, you are not allowed to rap about your feelings, unless you are feeling like you are the best. If you own a boat, go ahead and bring it to the video shoot. Bombast is the general oeuvre you’re shooting for, obviously. Anything less, and you’d better be Drake, drunkenly teetering on a stool in the corner, wildly oscillating from asking girls what’s up with their best friend to paranoically denying allegations that nobody in particular actually brought up. That little gem of a verse appears on “I’m On One,” the first track on We The Best Forever, which features DJ Khaled even less than usual DJ Khaled songs, but whose music video inexplicably features him standing on a hotel balcony, alone, drinking a watermelon-flavored Four Loko. That is another on of Khaled’s rules: you better show up to the studio with a couple of contraband Four Lokos.
We listen to DJ Khaled albums because we want to hear like a billion different rappers in one room, all trying to outdo one another in lyrically capturing the uncapturable feeling of living a life of unrelenting, manic stunting. Obviously guys like Rick Ross and Drake are the best at this, because that’s basically all they have ever rapped about, ever. The technical skills of these dudes can blind you to their bestnosity sometimes, so that’s why it’s good that Birdman is such a frequent guest on these albums. Birdman, an oil baron/red car enthusiast/dude with a tattoo on his head/sometimes rapper, clearly understands that he can only maintain his credibility by rapping very slowly about very expensive things, and as such totally owns every Khaled track he’s on. He’s also really good at rubbing his hands together, which is a pretty important factor in being the best. No one really knows why this is, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Another guy who tends to show up a lot on DJ Khaled albums is Ace Hood. He’s never been very good at being the best, but he’s signed to Khaled’s label, so Khaled has a vested interest in developing his bestness. Maybe that’s another rule: if your verse sucks, it gets cut and replaced by something Ace Hood shook out of his dreads. Hood does, coincidentally, have the best part of the “Welcome To My Hood (Remix)” music video, mainly because it looks like he is literally shaking his verse out of his dreads. But still. It’s no small feat to beat out twelve other rappers, all of whom are much more famous than you.
That’s another thing DJ Khaled does disturbingly well: music videos. He tends to play more of a starring role in them, and much like the Ocean’s 11 movies, they tend to repeat the same story over and over, but in more ludicrous ways each time around. Generally, they have a heist theme, such as “We Taking Over,” which features DJ Khaled getting kidnapped and then coming to in a dark room, still wearing his sunglasses. Presumably, his captors want to know the secret to how he is the best all of the time, but right when you think it’s curtains for Khaled, surprise! Turns out his friends just kidnapped him for the hell of it. They spend the rest of the music video heisting things, and then Fat Joe has to rap his verse while riding in a boat, possibly because nobody wants to hang out with Fat Joe, like, ever.
The best music video in the ridiculously deep Khaled catalogue would have to be for the song “Fed Up.” The plot of the “Fed Up” video is that DJ Khaled meets with some gangsters and informs them that he can’t give them the briefcase full of money that he was supposed to give them, because, “The streets is fed up.” The gangsters then all give him a weird look, because no rational human being would ever expect to receive such a response, so Khaled just yells, “Fed up!” louder and then jumps out a window. Young Jeezy picks him up in a Ferrari, then they jet to the secret hideout to sing the rest of the song while being chased by ninjas. Usher and Busta Rhymes run surveillance on the entire operation. Rick Ross raps while not wearing sunglasses for once, and it’s terrifying. This time, Drake is on boat duty.
The best story about where rap is headed these days stems from Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sessions, where in an attempt to convince Pusha T to fatten his “Runaway” verse with just an extra dollop of vitriol, Kanye purportedly screamed, “More douchebag!” in Pusha’s ear. I like to imagine that DJ Khaled employs a similar tactic during the sessions for his own albums, except he probably yells shit like, “More sex with diamond-encrusted mermaids!” and “More sprinkling gold dust on your dinosaur steaks!” Whenever DJ Khaled albums veer away from his insane, conspicuous consumption-fueled utopian vision, things go from Best to Good, and quite frankly, that just isn’t good enough.
The title We The Best Forever seems to have some melancholy hidden in it, as if every morning DJ Khaled wakes up, holds his head in his hands at cries at the prospect of facing a day full of empty, hollow triumph. Maybe “I’m On One,” a song concerned with the dark side of being the best, won’t prove to be the exception of We The Best Forever, but instead the rule.
When you think about it, it really would suck to be the best forever. Like, living forever would obviously be pretty cool, but after a few go-rounds of seeing every single person you know and love grow old and die, it’s got to take its toll. Being the best forever would take these issues and compound them, because not only would you have to put up with seeing everyone you know and love grow old and die, you would also have to bear the burden of constantly having to beat everyone at everything. From rounds of hopscotch with little girls to writing novels to having knife fights with Lithuanian mobsters, being the best forever means you have to hand every single person’s ass to them until there are no more asses left. It’s like how George Orwell put it: imagine a boot, stomping on a human face – forever. Except in this situation, DJ Khaled is the boot, and maybe things aren’t so rosy from his perspective, either.