After years of dominance in his self-devised field, the last few years have been an uncharacteristically bumpy spell for DJ Khaled. Adopting the format of DJ Clue’s The Professional series, Khaled maximized the crossover appeal of the all-star ensemble, and from 2011’s We The Best Forever onwards, Khaled became a vanguard of the middle ground between pop and rap. Even as the enquiries over what he actually did persisted, Khaled was never seen as a detriment to hip-hop culture until about 2019, he informally positioned himself as an enemy of creativity through bemoaning his chart defeat with Father Of Asahd to Tyler, The Creator’s “mysterious”-- and far superior– IGOR.
When its follow-up, Khaled Khaled, came and went without much of a legacy to speak of, it seemed that perhaps after a long period of prosperity, fans had reached a point of fatigue with the DJ’s tried and true methodology. But through it all, two things never wavered-- his self belief and his innate trust that a higher power was on his side.
In concept at least, Khaled’s latest album, GOD DID, is a full length exaltation of what can be accomplished with the degree of faith and determination that he’s shown since he stepped out of the shadow of the Terror Squad to declare that “we the best.”
Leading with bombast and big name team-ups, he’s still attempted to craft nothing but anthems that'll bellow from every corner of the globe and initially, it does feels like you're in for something special with the intro, "No Secret," managing to exhume Take Care era Drake. As for whether that mood of grandeur is sustained across its entire 57 minute runtime, well, that's another matter entirely.
An album that is all about celebrating the power of perseverance, Khaled is fittingly blessed with an assortment of motivated artists this time around. And given the nature of his albums, that really can be make or break. Above all else, Khaled’s continued relevance depends on the ability to coax cultural moments out of others and there are certainly a few to speak of on GOD DID.
A record which may be three years old at this point but still holds a natural intrigue for any hip-hop fans, Dr Dre & The ICU’s remix of Kanye West’s “Use This Gospel” is an early highlight. Augmented by those trademark speaker-knocking drums that Dre cut his teeth on, the track delivers one of Em’s most focused verses in recent times as he eschews the dazzling multisyllabic gymnastics in order to drill his point home, spitting about “temptation” delivering “a bunch of painkillers on ya, wavin' 'em in your face and then watch 'em comin' extra strength and that's why they make 'em in rectangular objects cause that's the shape of a coffin.”
Where this redux of an existing track would normally seem like an odd inclusion, the religious overtones that permeate much of the record not only provide context for it, but speaks to an album that has something of a connecting throughline-- a component typically absent from Khaled’s compilation-style projects.
While other songs expand on the theme, its star-studded title track is always going to be the record’s defining characteristic. Hyped up ahead of time as a song which featured Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and one of the finest ever verses from Jay-Z, there’s certainly a debate to be had as to whether it met that last criteria. However, what is undeniable is that this luxuriously rendered Streetrunner and Tarik Azzouz-produced track has proven that Hov’s latter day victory lap is every bit as compelling and quotable as his road to success was.
While this has been the biggest takeaway from the record and rightfully so, it should be stressed that it’s not just the elder statesmen that shine on this project.
On “Keep Going,” a veritable modern-day dream team converges and as is customary these days, both Lil Durk and 21 Savage attack their verses as if their status in the game depends on it, while Roddy Richh reiterates why he’s one of the most reliable hook men in music today. Later, 21 shines once more on “Way Past Luck,” using his electrifying verse to stoke the already-considerable excitement over the prospect of his next full length.
Often pejoratively viewed as a disciple of 21’s, “It Ain't Safe” sees Nardo Wick grabs his high profile placement alongside Kodak Black with both hands and deliver an unrelentingly sinister verse that’ll no doubt earn him a few new supporters. On the ubiquitous ode to Jamaican culture of “TSKMN”, Skillibeng arrives similarly motivated to stamp himself on non-specialized audiences with a star-making turn while the new candidates for the leading lights of female hip-hop come through on “Bills Paid.” Although the more cynical among us may see it as an A&R-led attempt at a Glorilla-style anthem for the girls, there’s no denying that Latto, JT & Yung Miami refused to be outshined by anyone and delivered a dynamic, old school-inflected track which has some of the highest replay value of any song on the record.
Latto and DJ Khaled attend the 2022 VMAs - Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
For all the highlights, and the sanctified tone providing more cohesion than usual, there are some tracks that feel inherently throwaway or are simply ill-fitting on the project. Where Future and Lil Baby’s “Big Time” is a strident and energized performance from both men that is complimented by some gripping sonics, each artists’ other contributions to the project underwhelm.
Just as two third of Migos rhyming over Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time” falls flat, Pluto’s team up with SZA on “Beautiful” feels disjointed and inherently spliced together. In the same vein Lil Baby and Drake’s “Staying Alive” lands as revisionist and likely won't penetrate as it may have if the duo didn't already have a succession of better tracks to their name. Elsewhere, the Roddy Richh-led “Fam Good, We Good,” complete with a triumphant flourish of synthetic horns, can’t help but feel bittersweet on account of the predicament that Gunna finds himself in now.
On other occasions, Khaled’s gambles pay off and that is very much the case on “JUICE WRLD DID.” Although posthumous tracks generally arouse suspicion, this record finally emerging, after being teased way back in February of 2019, meant that it was received with complete jubilance by long-time fans. Performed by a charged and almost agonizingly vibrant Juice WRLD, his verses show off his sheer lyrical aptitude and his mastery of flow that he often divulged during radio show freestyles while the intricate Nick Mira production feels as organic.
Closed out with Vory’s tender vocals on "Grateful," the track is thematically fitting, but feels anticlimactic when you consider how stacked the record had been up to this point.
While devised with at least a degree of forethought in a way that his previous gauntlet of chart-friendly records weren’t, the pitfalls of GOD DID are ultimately the same issues that plague every Khaled album-- you’ll extract what you like for a playlist and completely discard the rest.