Celebrity memedom is a double-edged sword. It can quickly boost the profile of someone whose career could use the attention; consequently, the person can either go on to capitalize on their newfound spotlight or fall victim to our shortening attention spans and come to be remembered more for that singular funny moment than for who they are.
DJ Khaled — who'll be busy during Super Bowl LIV weekend with headlining performances at the EA Sports Bowl, Rolling Stone Live's Big Game Bash, and Story Nightclub — arguably falls somewhere in the middle.
The ubiquitous producer and rapper has enjoyed musical success for some 15 years after his debut, but for a large portion of that time, he was known by many people strictly in name for his involvement with chart-climbing hits such as “All I Do Is Win” and “I’m on One.” All of those tracks with Khaled as a credited artist gained recognition mainly for the featured rappers who brought them to life as opposed to his invisible writing and producing hands, allowing him to become a household name by saying little beyond "DJ Khaled" in each song.
A Miami resident for more than two decades, Khaled has always taken pride in being as 305 as it gets; he’s also one of the hardest-working artists in hip-hop today, boasting 11 full-length albums packed with big-name guests in a 14-year period. As a result, he takes every opportunity to collaborate with local cultural ambassadors such as Pitbull and Rick Ross and uplift the profile (and the residents) of his adopted city. This has included the creation of his record label We the Best — which boasts the likes of “Bugatti” rapper Ace Hood and Jamaican dancehall star Mavado — as well as the We the Best Foundation, a 501(c)(3) benefiting underprivileged youth.
By the mid-2010s, Khaled’s name was known in Miami and around the world, but those familiar with him usually didn’t think much of DJ Khaled the artist. His album I Changed a Lot, released in 2015, had failed to drum up the same hype that followed his previous three records — We the Best Forever, Kiss the Ring, and Suffering From Success — all of which made Top 10 debuts on the Billboard 200.
Eager for a rebrand, Khaled turned to social media. Most celebrities by that point had noticed it allowed them to take control of the public narrative around themselves, and Khaled realized it was the “major key” that was missing. He began using Snapchat as a way of connecting with fans on a more personal level, sharing videos and photos from his everyday life filled with his now-famous phrases. He consistently told his followers that “they don’t want you to succeed,” with “they” referring to anyone who doubts your abilities or hates to see your success.
He shared his “major keys to success,” which included eating a balanced breakfast, taking care of houseplants, and — for those financially able — Jet Ski-ing on Biscayne Bay. He repeatedly said “bless up” in an act of thanks and praise to “the Most High.” He was documenting practically every moment of his life in real time; he even recorded his wife giving birth to their son Asahd while playing his RIAA-certified platinum song “I Got the Keys.”
It was all, in short, a hit. More people than ever were talking about DJ Khaled, even if most of the words being spoken were about his ridiculousness and not his music. Khaled took it all in stride; he was now a household name chopping it up with Ellen DeGeneres and continued to spread the messages of positivity and confidence that pushed him to the forefront of people’s fascination. He’d been dubbed a “living, breathing meme” for the way he moves through life — comical to watch yet inspiring upon reflection — and his glass-half-full mentality made it difficult to hate where he was coming from.
Unsurprisingly, his career benefited from his newfound stardom: His 2016 album, Major Key, became his first to top the Billboard 200, and singles “For Free” with Drake and “I Got the Keys” with Future and Jay-Z made similar splashes upon their release; it also was Khaled's first album to receive a Grammy nomination.
Much as he enjoys the waves of Key Biscayne via personal watercraft, DJ Khaled continued to ride the success of Major Key into 2017 with his tenth studio album, Grateful. Fronted by chart-topping singles “I’m the One” and the Rihanna-assisted “Wild Thoughts,” the platinum-selling album was the final puzzle piece in completing DJ Khaled’s transformation into a true cultural mainstay as opposed to an asterisk in conversations about popular music.
When his album Father of Asahd arrived last spring, Khaled was at the top of his game more than a decade into his career and extended his success through singles such as the Grammy-nominated Nipsey Hussle collab “Higher.” The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, a development that allegedly sent Khaled into a rampage at the Epic Records office, a stark contrast to the all-smiles image he had built over the past few years.
Despite his last LP’s perceived failure, DJ Khaled still very much enjoys the widespread name recognition his social media explosion brought him, along with the attendant commercial success. With a new decade now in front of him and armed with a larger profile than ever, Khaled is poised to continue his domination of music and culture in the coming years, beginning with his headlining status at this year's EA Sports Bowl at the American Airlines Arena, as well as his involvement in Martin Lawrence and Will Smith's latest Miami flick, Bad Boys for Life. In addition to executive-producing the movie's soundtrack, Khaled also makes a proper appearance in the film.
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Like him or not, it’s difficult to contest DJ Khaled’s cemented place in the hip-hop pantheon. He has worked with nearly every artist you can think of and been behind countless songs that enjoy popular appeal, often years after their release. When you become a meme, it’s easier than ever to fade into the public’s memory quickly after having your 15 minutes (or, in the digital age, 15 seconds) of fame. Khaled was well aware of this pitfall and used his social media persona in a smart way to push his career even higher. If that isn’t a major key to success, what is?
EA Sports Bowl. With DJ Khaled, DaBaby, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion, and others. 8 p.m. Thursday, January 30, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $50 to $400 via ticketmaster.com.
Rolling Stone Live's Big Game Bash. With Ciara, DJ Khaled, and Paris Hilton. 10 p.m. Saturday, February 1, at SLS South Beach, 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-1701; slshotels.com/southbeach. Tickets cost $499 to $899 via tixr.com.