By: Emmett Robinson Smith –
It’s hard to remember what DJ Khaled was like before he launched his Snapchat account. He was well-known in the rap game, but only recently did he achieve ubiquity. And it wasn’t even because of his music (though, sadly, there probably exists some forsaken parallel universe in which DJ Khaled is making the best music out there). It was because of his Snapchat account, which documents facets of Khaled’s life that are ostensibly a result of his “keys” to success, a phrase that he repeats over and over. But for all of DJ Khaled’s self-assured pomp and relentless motivational speech, his new album Major Key is impersonal, uninspired, and – probably the worst quality that any music could possess right now – forgettable.
The ultimate failure of Major Key is that there exists no trace of soul, of art, of character. The only thing that makes it a DJ Khaled album is its title, especially since he hires various other producers to do most of the musical legwork. Khaled himself has production credits on most of the album’s worst songs, including “Forgive Me Father,” featuring Megan Trainor, Wale, and Wiz Khalifa. In fact, after the high point of the fourth track, “Holy Key” featuring Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar, the album gradually disintegrates, screeching to a final halt with a trainwreck of a finale: a song called “Progress” – a sloppy, borderline insulting approximation of Major Lazer and company.
Some of the choices made during the composition of the album are flat-out perplexing, including the decision to have Chris Brown, August Alsina, and Jeremih croon virtually indistinguishable verses one after the other on “Do You Mind?”. In fact, the features on the album appear to have been distributed at random with no regard for each of the artists’ strengths. After “Holy Key,” polished as it is, the glaring prognosis is that Big Sean should probably stop being on songs onto which Kendrick may swoop and eviscerate his peers. YG contributes a particularly weak verse over a beat for which he shouldn’t have even been considered in the first place on “Fuck Up the Club”.
Speaking of weak efforts, Future sounds lethargic, like a defeated King Kong. His hook on “Fuck Up the Club” is melodically off-putting, as are his derivative lyrics: “We just gon fuck up the club, baby, fuck up the club, baby / We just gon fuck up the club, baby, fuck up the club, baby / We just gon fuck up the club, baby, fuck up the club, baby / And you better bring your whole crew.” One of Future’s benchmarks is his repetition, but here it serves no purpose, making Future sound like a circus slave forced to repeat his old tricks.
The best song on Major Key is probably “Nas Album Done,” with a shamelessly self-promotional title that doesn’t betray the song’s force. Nas’s command of rhythm and meter is as acute as ever: “Hennessy, margarita, venison eater / So dear spread ‘em here, don’t be actin innocent either.” The beat flips a sample of the Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La” over a malevolent 808 and trap drums, bolstering it above every other song on the album not only from a lyrical standpoint but a sonic one as well.
Special shoutout goes to Big Sean, bless his heart, shows up ready to rap his ass off the two times he shows up on the album, first with the smooth but acrobatic “Holy Key,” and second with the infectious “Work For It.” He sounds like one of the only guys who’s actually stoked to be there, which could very well be the album’s saving grace.
The fact that so much ink can be spilled over the features on Major Key rather than on DJ Khaled himself only amplifies the cookie-cutter nature of the album as a whole. The project is fundamentally unoriginal, abandoning the notion that an album can be anything more than a collection of lukewarm songs. Artists such as Kanye West have proven that it’s possible to create a dynamic but consistent collaboration-based album, but that’s because there’s always the impression that the project is guided by a strong artistic hand. Major Key could not reside further in the opposite direction. The only attempt at a personal artistic brand is that every song begins with Khaled yelling “Major key!!!” in a jarring, repellent tone. Oh, and that random soliloquy in the middle of “Ima Be Alright” in which Khaled hollers irrational Trump-like statements such as “They want us broke, so you know what we gonna do?! We gonna become billionaires! From now on, when you see me, call me Billy!!!” Personal drive is a cornerstone to Khaled’s entire message, whether it be via Snapchat or his music. But, the way this project crashes and burns in the wake given all the good music being released right now, it’s hard to believe that Khaled means any of what he’s been saying this whole time.