It is generally accepted that having a young child makes parents – especially first-time parents – a little crazy. Khaled Mohamed Khaled, best known by the moniker DJ Khaled, has taken that new parent weirdness in a wholly unexpected direction. Yes, that is Khaled’s 8 month-old son Ahsad on the album’s cover, as well as on closing track Ahsad Talk (Thank You Ahsad), but the infant is also credited as executive producer for the 22 track – 23 if you have the US version – record, Gratitude. It mightn’t be that strange in the scheme of things, and is certainly a novel way for Khaled to ensure money is put aside for his son (via royalties), but it still feels a little out there.
As an album, Gratitude is a sprawling affair, spanning two discs – in its physical iteration – and running to nearly an hour and a half, and features more guest artists than a tickle me Elmo can giggle at. Music royalty Beyoncé and Jay-Z lend their presence to lead single Shining, which is a catchy little number carried on the back of Beyoncé’s vocal versatility. Khaled melds a straightforward beat with Latin guitar – and a sample of Carlos Santana’s Maria Maria – on Wild Thoughts, with vocals provided by Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. If the vocals were better interwoven and integrated with each other the track may well have been a standout.
On Everything and It’s Secured demonstrate that Khaled can craft tight, compelling tracks, balancing samples, repetition, and guest vocal performances to great effect. Both tracks suffer from the use of auto-tune on certain performers’ voices, but that also feels like an artistic affectation on that artist’s part. Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj make an appearance on the catchy and soulful Nobody, and although Khaled fails to utilise the contrasting styles of Keys and Minaj to provide extra depth, Keys carries the song so well that the listener all but forgets Minaj’s presence.
After a while, listening to Gratitude starts to become monotonous. Not because the songs all sound the same – there is reasonable variation, although the frequent injections of “DJ Khaled”, “another one”, or “we the best music” quickly grate – or the same guest vocalist keeps appearing – there are too many for that to happen – but because it is just too damn long. In his excitement, Khaled has gone for quantity over quality, hoping that big-name guest appearances will distract listeners from the fact that he hasn’t tightened or polished the album by anywhere near enough.