DJ Khaled occupies a unique position in the pop world. While he’s spent decades working as a DJ, producer, rapper, and radio personality, he’s best known simply for his ability to bring together the biggest rappers in the world for platinum posse cuts with his name topping the credits, even if his main contribution to the track is a bunch of super-enthusiastic ad libs. It’s industry flex elevated to a legitimate art form, and a reflection of a lifetime spent on grinding in the Miami rap scene.
With “Hold You Down,” his first real attempt at adapting his formula for R&B (featuring Jeremih, Future, August Alsina, and Chris Brown on vocals), wedged firmly in the Hot 100 and a new headphone line about to drop, Khaled got on the phone with EW to talk about his superhuman hustle.
EW: People see you in these videos and know you had something to do with putting these songs together, but it seems like a lot of them don’t know what your role in them actually is. So this is a weird question, but what exactly do you do?
DJ KHALED: It’s not a lot of people, really. DJ Khaled’s obviously one of the biggest DJ’s in the world. DJ Khaled’s also one of the biggest producers in the world. DJ Khaled is also one of the biggest executives in the world. DJ Khaled’s also one of the biggest A&R’s in the world. DJ Khaled also has a management company called We the Best. Also CEO of his own record company called We the Best. A publishing company called We the Best. DJ Khaled is a brand. DJ Khaled is a mogul. He wears a lot of hats. You know what I’m saying?
How do you find time to do all that?
You have to make time, and you have to challenge yourself every day. I always tell people I haven’t slept for 38 years. Today I only got four hours of sleep. It is what it is. To be number one, and to be on top, to fulfill my type of dreams and goals it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s not all pretty. Some people don’t have that kind of work ethic, and that’s why they’re not on the phone with you.
Your new track “Hold You Down” has the same formula as your other singles where you bring together a bunch of stars, but this one has more of an R&B vibe. How did the song come together?
I wanted to challenge myself and put all R&B artists on this record, for two reasons. I wanted to do it for myself and make a special record, and I also wanted to do it for the game, meaning, “Oh, Khaled breaks another ground. Khaled makes another number one.” But it’s not what you’re used to. I think that shows the music man in me. I know how to make records. I know how to put them together. I know how to be the coach, the leader. When I was making “Hold You Down,” I always remember when Quincy Jones put together “Secret Garden.” I remember how excited I was when I heard that record and saw all them stars together.
What’s the secret to writing a hit record?
In my idea of it, it’s something that people can relate to. And being honest. I always want to make sure it’s something people can relate to. When they hear it they can say, “They’re talking about me.” When you hear “Hold You Down,” I’m sure everyone has a wifey or a girlfriend or a friend who you hold down. And you treat them special because they hold you down.
Tell me about the headphones you’re releasing.
The headphones I’m very excited about. First of all, I want to shout out my partners Bang & Olufsen and Heads Audio for collaborating with me on We the Best Sound. I’m excited because it’s the best headphone in the game, craftsmanship-wise, sound-wise, and I think style-wise as well. I wanted to do this because anything I promote, I want it to be real and authentic. If you know my track record, you know I only do great things. When I made this headphone, I think it’s the best headphone out.
What’s the next thing you want to do?
Right now I’m all about my brand, We the Best. Right now it’s definitely the headphones, but I want my brand to continue growing the way it is, from the music to the headphones. Maybe one day you might be seeing me in films and movies. Just taking my career and my brand to another level. You might catch me in a Coca-Cola commercial.