Beyond the Hood

"Turn your TVs on/Bet ya all you see is me!" DJ Khaled raps/sings on "Standing on the Mountain Top," his only tangible musical contribution to his third album, We Global (We the Best/Koch/Terror Squad). This boast is not exactly true — when I turn on the TV, I see mostly Sarah Palin. Still, dude has a point: His importance in the hip-hop game has climbed high in recent years, mirroring that of Miami's. He's been in the right place at the right time — considering influential radio DJs like himself wield unprecedented clout in today's music environment — and has been able to cash favors by enlisting many of rap's big names on his albums. The results have ranged from decent to awesome. Tracks on his last CD, We the Best, like "We Takin' Over" and "I'm So Hood," transcended dance floors and treadmills to approach ideal banger status almost instantly. Much of the credit goes to the Runners, the Orlando-based production team that's as responsible as anyone for crafting Miami's zeitgeisty, adrenalized, pop/rap sound. The duo was responsible for "I'm So Hood," Rick Ross' "Hustlin'," Ace Hood's "Cash Flow," and now some of We Global's best songs. (A clue: Their tracks usually begin with someone saying "Ahh" a couple of times and a boxing-match-style bell.)

Though on each of Khaled's first two albums, he made a few forgettable beats, he has no production credits here. Still, winning new cuts include the stellar Kanye West-assisted joint "Go Hard," the laid-back and sleazy "Go Ahead," and "Out Here Grindin'," perhaps the best single of 2008. Khaled has been credited for reviving the hip-hop posse cut, and "Out Here Grindin'" features inspired contributions from Lil Boosie, Trick Daddy, and Akon. Even Plies sounds less strung-out on barbiturates than usual. The album then proceeds to lose momentum. "I'm On" and "Red Light" don't feature the Runners or many MCs; the former is a by-the-numbers Nas vehicle, and the latter showcases the Game in free-association mode. But the ship is quickly righted with the braggadocio ballad "We Global" and the drug-dealing quasi-lament "Blood Money." Like Khaled's previous albums, it's hard to quantify his exact contributions to these songs. But they certainly wouldn't exist without him, and that would be a shame.

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Ben Westhoff
Contact: Ben Westhoff