Saying that DJ Khaled opened for Beyoncé on her latest tour is totally true—and completely wrong. Sure, the 40-year-old producer and social-media superstar warmed up crowds with boisterous self-affirmations like his 2010 hit “All I Do Is Win.” But he didn’t really do anything: He barely DJ’d and hardly touched his own material. He mostly served as a hype man during surprise visits from the likes of Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg—hip-hop heavyweights who provided the real show.
You could talk about Khaled’s new album, Major Key, in similar terms. He doesn’t rap, and the last time he had a sole producer credit on one of his albums was in 2008. Instead, he curates, picking beats and assembling the kind of OMG collaborations you’d find on awards-show stages. Khaled’s albums have always been star-studded affairs, but his ambition has grown even more for his ninth LP: Top names like Future and Jay Z join forces on the fire-alarm trap number “I Got the Keys,” while Wale and Wiz Khalifa get upstaged by Meghan Trainor(!) on the melancholy trunk-rattler “Forgive Me Father.”
Those eye-popping features may have something to do with Khaled’s second career as a Snapchat guru. In the past year, he’s amassed an audience of millions by dispensing his “major keys”: inspirational sound bites to help fans overcome an ambiguous, naysaying group of haters Khaled refers to only as “they.” Perhaps Khaled is feeling the pressure to deliver, or maybe he’s just embraced his life-coach role and learned to draw the best out of his roster. Either way, the triumphantly soulful “Holy Key” has Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar trading some of the most ferocious verses of their careers.
With Major Key, Khaled is dream-casting his ultimate Now That’s What I Call Hip-Hop! compilation. That can be catnip for rap nerds who would appreciate, say, Nas rhyming over an inventive Fugees sample on “Nas Album Done,” which might be the first time a song title has doubled as a breaking-news headline. But more often than not, Khaled invites guests like Future and Travis Scott to replicate their past successes instead of moving the needle. So maybe Khaled doesn’t aspire to high art—it’s hard to argue with his approach when the songs are this much fun. His bottomless stock of anthemic crowd-pleasers may not be game-changing, but few albums this year have come preloaded with this many obvious singles. And that’s something Khaled can definitely take credit for. B+
Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean get an assist from ’70s soul legend Betty Wright
“Nas Album Done”
The New York icon whets appetites for his long-awaited LP