‘Khaled Khaled’ boasts strong talent, but overwhelms in excess

Courtesy of meghan.roberts via Flickr.

It would seem that album release season is getting back into full swing. With the release of “Slime Language 2” two weeks ago, and upcoming drops from the likes of Isaiah Rashad and J. Cole, hip hop fans are approaching the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to notable album releases. As for the present, DJ “We the Best!” Khaled released his 12th studio album “Khaled Khaled” this past Friday. As expected, it was chock full of big-name artists appearing on a collection of songs. However, despite its bright spots, “Khaled Khaled” falls into many of the same tropes that have held DJ Khaled’s previous albums back.

One skill that Khaled definitively has is his ability to collaborate with great artists. His albums consistently include guest verses from some of the biggest names in music, and are able to adapt with the times. If you want a way to encapsulate the year in music, your best bet may be to simply check out the producer’s release for that year. For example, Future had a very eventful 2015, releasing a total of four projects including the trap masterpiece “DS2,” and was in turn featured heavily in Khaled’s album “Major Key” in 2016. Likewise, while fresh off his hit mixtape “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper was featured on multiple tracks in the 2017 release “Grateful.” For this year’s installment, the notable presences on the album include Drake, H.E.R. and Bryson Tiller. In fact, the album is filled with some of the most talented artists in the industry.

However, I find that Khaled often pairs artists with one another in a very haphazard fashion that isn’t always complimentary. Sometimes these unorthodox pairings work out well, such as Justin Bieber and 21 Savage on “Let It Go,” where Bieber’s smooth vocals and the Atlanta rapper’s monotone cadence both ride the warm, summery beat well. Another pairing I appreciated was old-school rapper Lil Wayne with new-school Jeramih on “Thankful,” the album’s opening track. Sampling the legendary beat from Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City,” Jeramih’s singing style complements the ethereal beat and puts the listener in a peaceful frame of mind. However, on a song like “This Is My Year,” with A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Rick Ross and Big Sean, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. A Boogie’s melodic ability does not complement the hard-hitting one of Rick Ross, and the songs end up with each rapper unable to exercise their specific skill sets to their full potential.

This unorthodox pairing of artists is emblematic of the larger issue that this album faces: Khaled is simply trying to do too much. Sampling the iconic “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos, “I Did It” features a whopping four additional artists alongside Khaled for a sub-three-minute song. The constant changing of artists is too overwhelming. The multiplicity of features is entirely unnecessary. For such an “out-there” beat as this one, it would have been far better to allow the listener to familiarize themselves with it while hearing only one or two different voices throughout the song. Of course, having this many artists on one song is not unheard of, far from it even. Songs such as “1train” by A$AP Rocky or “Forever” by Eminem both have four or more features, but are also six minutes long, thus allowing each of the artists to firmly establish themselves on the beat. The listener is able to fully acclimate to each new voice, and therefore recognizes each rapper’s unique ability to ride the beat.

Another example of Khaled’s excessiveness is the overproduction of certain songs. When it comes to making beats, more does not always mean better. The best producers can make incredible beats that are both deeply layered and complex, but also ones that are far more bare-bones. Metro Boomin has made the beautifully rich “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” as well as the relatively simple “Ric Flair Drip,” both of which are equally impressive beats. While Khaled is fully capable of making great beats, be it complex and simple, there is unfortunately no happy medium on his latest project. For example, on “Just Be,” the overproduction is apparent, with Khaled adding guitar riffs on top of piano notes on top of already very complicated background synths and melodies. The result is an experience that is overstimulating rather than enjoyable.

The biggest winners of this album are Drake and H.E.R., both of whom provide multiple great contributions to the album. On “Popstar” and “Greece,” the two singles of the album, Drake utilizes his characteristically slick verse-writing and offers two very different cadences, both of which work. Particularly on “Greece,” his unusual, spacey and far away sound was difficult to appreciate at first, but grew to be a song I thoroughly enjoy. Meanwhile, R&B singer H.E.R. truly knocks it out of the park with her two verses. Her contribution to “I Can Have It All” brought life to an otherwise boring song, and she made one of my favorites off the project “We Going Crazy.” Hearing the three Migos go back-and-forth on the high-energy beat was enjoyable, but it was H.E.R.’s silky voice that solidified the song for me. She is able to tie a relatively happening beat together, and commands attention when she is on the track.

Other than these high points, I find the album suffers from one of the more intangible and difficult to explain aspects when it comes to albums, namely replay value. Some albums have it, and some don’t. Regardless of the quality of the songs, some songs just have more longevity than others. For example, “Slime Language 2,” while not being entirely consistent, did have a few songs with very good replay value. I found myself actively searching them out to listen to following the release. In these early days following “Khaled Khaled,” I do not get the sense that I will feel a pull to return to these songs. Perhaps it is because of the general over-the-top nature of many tracks, or the reliance on guest verses, but I do not get a sense of significant longevity from it.

“Khaled Khaled” provides us with some great songs and moments; however, it is largely an example of a producer trying to do everything they can, rather than focusing on one particular skill or technique, and perfecting that. While his status within the rap world is unquestionable at this point, the ability of DJ Khaled to put together one cohesive album still remains in question.

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