What Does DJ Khaled Do?

DJ Khaled is an American music artist who doesn’t produce but organizes, directs, and promotes his songs. Rather than making the music himself, he gets artists and beatmakers together to come up with tracks that are later released under his name. He also generates a lot of hype around his brand and social media presence.

Ordinarily, music artists get directly involved in the music-making process, though the lines can get quite blurred, particularly in hip-hop culture. Producers develop the beat and rappers create and perform the lyrics. DJ Khaled does none of that. Other than adding a few ad-libs to his tracks (generally at the start and end of the song), he never gets hands-on with his music.

Does this mean DJ Khaled is worthless and shouldn’t be considered a real artist? Not by any stretch of the imagination. While it’s up to each listener to like or dislike his songs, it’s undeniable that he deserves to be credited for all of his hard work. Yes, DJ Khaled does things differently but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of an artist.

The case against DJ Khaled

DJ Khaled is one of the most criticized mainstream artists in the world. Most of the criticism, however, doesn’t concern the quality of his songs but how they are created.

Music fans are accustomed to praising artists that do it by themselves. There’s a widespread notion that singer-songwriters are better than singers because they also compose their songs. The same applies to multi-instrumentalists: rock fans, for instance, tend to idolize musicians who play all the instruments in an album.

Some people discredit music artists who are not directly involved in every step of the music creation process. But does it even matter? Is Bob Dylan inherently superior to Frank Sinatra just because the latter didn’t compose most of his songs? Is a pop singer’s work devoid of value just because he or she didn’t work on a song’s lyrics, composition, and arrangement?

The case against DJ Khaled is that, because he’s not the one making the beat, writing the lyrics, or performing the chorus, he shouldn’t be credited for his records. However, it’s undeniable that DJ Khaled’s songs only exist because he’s putting in the work and making everything possible.

Yes, it’s easy to snub DJ Khaled but not necessarily right. To understand better what makes him a real artist, it’s important to comprehend exactly what he does.

What does DJ Khaled do exactly?

There are three main tasks involved in being DJ Khaled: organizing, directing, and promoting. Let’s explore each a bit further to get a better glimpse of what DJ Khaled does exactly.

1. Organizing

DJ Khaled has described himself as an “organizer” in the past, and this is arguably his most important job. As an experienced DJ with a long career and great knowledge of the music industry (and hip-hop culture in particular), Khaled has unrivaled access to an outstanding network of singers, rappers, and producers.

His function as an organizer is to contact the people he needs for a job, get them together in a room, and make things happen. This requires more than having a few celebrities on his contact list.

Some of DJ Khaled’s collaborators are extremely busy artists. The mere logistics of getting them on a spot can be hard to navigate. When you enlist the services of the likes of Justin Bieber, Rihanna, or Lil Wayne, you also need to rely on some pretty outstanding communication skills. Above all, DJ Khaled needs to be charming and convincing.

Having a solid artistic vision is also part of DJ Khaled’s job as an organizer. To make a solid tune, he needs to get the right people together. Putting a bunch of celebrities in a studio at the same time is not enough, they have to be able to work with one another, both socially and musically.

2. Directing

Part of DJ Khaled’s work also involves directing his tracks. Think of traditional movie directors: they don’t act, come up with the story, or compose the soundtrack. Their job is to overview everything and make sure that the final result is fitting of a certain artistic vision. That’s precisely what Khaled does.

In the video above, you can see how DJ Khaled interacts with Drake during the creation of his track “I’m On One.” His job is to provide Drake with hints of what he wants, clues that help him to realize a specific artistic vision. Khaled needs other people to make his songs come true, just like directors need a cast and crew to make a movie. However, he’s still the man yelling “cut” and coming up with the broader plan.

3. Promoting

What many people forget about DJ Khaled’s job is that he invests immensely in promoting his songs and brand. Many musicians explore the potential of social media, but few do it as diligently and originally as DJ Khaled does. He’s always coming up with fresh content and giving something new to his fans, even if it has nothing to do with music.

DJ Khaled’s projects work not only because he’s well-connected but also because he knows how to stay in the spotlight. He’s famous, and his fame helps to hype up other artists. For this reason, there are plenty of producers, singers, and rappers waiting in line to work with him.

DJ Khaled doesn’t know how to sing in tune, play the guitar, or write fabulous lyrics. But he does know how to sell a great track! Whether you like his music or not, you should find something of value in his online content. Khaled compensates for his lack of hands-on music talent by being a hardworking and charismatic music promoter.

DJ Khaled and hip-hop culture

So, is DJ Khaled unique? Is he the sole famous music artist who isn’t involved in the music-making process of his tracks? While he does limit his participation to a relatively unprecedented level, DJ Khaled is not alone. Hip-hop culture is fertile when it comes to “organizers,” “directors,” and “promoters.”

Long before DJ Khaled made it into the tops, artists such as P. Diddy assumed a similar role. While P. Diddy can be considered a rapper, most of his success comes not from his rapping skills but from his ability to get talented people to work on his projects.

Even artists as renowned as Kendrick Lamar rely on a network of talented people around them. You don’t need to look twice at Lamar’s lengthy full credit list to “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” to realize he’s hardly a lone-wolf genius. That, of course, doesn’t take anything away from the value of his music.

In an article on DJ Khaled’s role published by UPROXX, the hip-hop writer Andre Gee established a connection between what Khaled does and the role of a traditional DJ in hip-hop culture. He goes as far as stating that snubbing Khaled’s work is but the result of musical ignorance. He supports the idea that Khaled is simply reinventing the role of the hip-hop DJ in the context of mainstream music culture and social media in particular.

Is it wrong to criticize DJ Khaled?

There’s no denying that DJ Khaled has been the target of unfair abuse. It’s painful to watch him get booed at a major festival for no reason other than his bad reputation among a certain crowd of music fans. There’s undeniable value in what he does, and his songs do hit the top of the charts regularly.

This doesn’t mean that you’re automatically wrong if you’re not into DJ Khaled. I do believe that some of his songs are overly commercial, relying on an easy-to-digest format that’s good for the radio but adds nothing new in terms of musical ideas. I also think that his methods can hurt the quality of his songs, as they take some authenticity away from the music-making process.

Conclusion

You have every right to skip DJ Khaled’s next song whenever you hear it play on the radio. But hating all of his output just because he’s not making the beat, writing the lyrics, or performing the song is just wrong. Without DJ Khaled’s hard work, there would be no DJ Khaled songs in the world and that is simply a fact.

Even though it’s unlikely that DJ Khaled will ever come up with a masterwork of an album that will change music forever, he does have a knack for getting the right people together and coming up with catchy, fun, and lovable tunes. “Haters gonna hate,” but reasonable music fans should always respect Khaled’s talent as a music organizer, director, and promoter.

DJ Khaled Featured Image by: Meghan Roberts, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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