DJ Khaled simultaneously manages to be one of the most beguiling and simplest artists in the pop music industry. The question that is often asked when a new Khaled track premieres is “what does he actually do?”. He doesn’t rap, only produces very occasionally, and his contributions to the songs that bare his name usually consist of shouting vague motivational catchphrases – “we the best!”. In spite of this, each Khaled album has the best lineup of guest rappers and producers on Earth. At first this is confounding, but looking through Khaled’s history as DJ for the WEDR radio station, it becomes evident that his albums are simply DJ compilation records that have gotten a little out of hand. Essentially, DJ Khaled is the best networker alive, and Major Key is a remarkably strong artistic statement from someone who seemingly didn’t have that active a role in its creation.
Part of this is likely down to the fact that Khaled has received an incredible surge in popularity due to social media, particularly his mastery of Snapchat (the series of snaps where he gets lost on a jetski are still hilarious and vaguely traumatic). Seemingly through sheer force of will, he’s turned himself into a “living meme”, constantly spouting wilfully ridiculous catchphrases (eg: “congratulations, you played yourself”, “bless up”, “they don’t want you to win”) and building an entire brand around the key emoji (symbolic of the “key to success”). On Major Key, his guest artists largely sync up with this sense of absurd positivity, leading to a shockingly consistent album of boasting and comical braggadocio.
The whole “keys” concept comes up on several tracks, from Future’s “I got the keys, keys, keys” hook on the appropriately titled I Got the Keys, to Nas bragging with lines like “start a label, run it, sign yourself / that’s a major key” on Nas Album Done. Other Khaled-isms pop up throughout the record, like this couplet by Fabolous on Don’t Ever Play Yourself: “first things first don’t ever play yourself, ever / oh another thing, I ain’t ever play myself, never”. Some of the guests use the album to talk about more serious topics like religion and race relations (Nas and Kendrick Lamar in particular), but most of the guests are largely content to just embrace Khaled’s particular brand of nutty motivational nonsense.
Whilst most of the tracks on the album are extremely solid, there are a few exceptions to Khaled’s curatorial quality. Forgive Me Father is particularly weak, combining Wiz Khalifa and Meghan Trainor into an overly saccharine mess, which works hard to close the album on a sour note. Tourist, the track immediately preceding it is also fairly dull, with Lil Wayne and Travis Scott dealing up the robotic autotune past the point of any sort of emotion or enjoyment. However, even these weak spots can’t dampen what is actually quite a strong album. Khaled has become very good at corralling his incredible lineup of collaborators, and whilst there’s no one track that matches his best songs (I’m on One and All I Do is Win), Major Key is strong proof that whatever he’s doing, he’s very good at it.