- Shout Out To The Real (feat. Meek Mill, Ace Hood, and Plies)
- Bitches & Bottles (Let's Get It Started) (feat. Lil Wayne, T.I., and Future)
- I Wish You Would (feat. Kanye West and Rick Ross)
- Take It To The Head (feat. Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne)
- They Ready (feat. J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., and Kendrick Lamar)
- I'm So Blessed (feat. Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Ace Hood, and T-Pain)
- Hip Hop (feat. Scarface, Nas, and DJ Premier)
- I Did It For My Dawgz (feat. Rick Ross, Meek Mill, French Montana, and Jadakiss)
- I Don't See 'Em (feat. Birdman, Ace Hood, and 2 Chainz)
- Don't Pay 4 It (feat. Wale, Tyga, Mack Maine, and Kirko Bangz)
- Suicidal Thoughts (feat. Mavado)
- Outro (They Don't Want War) (feat. Ace Hood)
"I MAKE HITS. I FIND HITS. AND I PUT HITS OUT.”
With this proclamation, DJ Khaled has finally justified his existence. The Miami DJ and rap radio mainstay puts out album after album, year after year, despite the fact that he fucking does nothing. Sure he’ll kick a clumsy struggle bar here, contribute “additional production”—whatever that means—there, but by and large, DJ Khaled albums are marked by star-studded posse cuts not featuring DJ Khaled that are not produced by DJ Khaled. To many people, this is maddening. Indeed—it’s hard to write about a dude’s album if he doesn’t do anything. Except shit like Kiss The Ring has been coming out for years. Funkmaster Flex has put out Khaledesque albums since before the term “Khaledesque” would have made any sense. Nobody bats an eye when guys like DJ Whoo Kid and DJ Drama are co-credited with putting out mixtapes along with marquee rappers, despite the fact that they just bray random bullshit between songs just like Khaled does. Hell, Drama’s put out four albums of his own, and nobody seems to get all up in his business about it. Nobody cares, but at least nobody gives him shit.
What separates Khaled from the rest of those DJs is, as he says, DJ Khaled makes hits. He finds them, and he puts them out. He is a buffoon, but behind the veneer of stupidity sits a genius, pulling Rap Levers to make stuff happen. Khaled is curator in the purest sense of the word, putting people together who need to be together and letting them do their thing. Everything’s held together under Khaled’s “brand,” which is basically governed by the Heisenberg Bestness Principle. I just made that term up, but you get the point. Throughout his career, Khaled has exclaimed, “We the best!” repeatedly and exuberantly until it actually became true. DJ Khaled’s version of Bestness is linked fairly intrinsically with Rick Ross’s vision of being The Boss. As the two figureheads of the latter-day Miami rap scene, their worldviews are basically interchangeable—being the Best (or the Boss) involves riding around in cigarette boats, having lots of money, hanging out with beautiful women, and being fat but not caring. Ross shows up on three of the 12 tracks that make up Kiss The Ring, and those songs are Best in the classical sense of the term. The Ross songs are simple in their concepts, but bluntly glorious in their execution. “I Wish You Would,” which also finds Kanye West re-boarding the Autotune Train, is about how people are intimidated by how awesome they are. “Take It To The Head” has Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Lil’ Wayne on the raps and a “Why The Fuck Did They Let That Dude Into The Studio?”-ass hook from Chris Brown. The song is about very honorably smoking pot. Or something. The third song featuring Ross is called “I Did It For My Dawgz,” and while Jadakiss, French Montana, and Meek Mill all turn in generously able verses, Ross still wins, proving he has his MB (Master’s in Bestness) with the line, “Got a mansion, got a yacht, a bad bitch and a tiger.” That’s not just a rap line: it’s the album’s thesis statement.
However, where the album truly shines is when Khaled’s delusions of Bestnositude are expanded, his faith in his brand strong enough to let him (let others) try new things. J. Cole laces himself, Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar a beat that splits the difference between organic Southern soul and the rattling, mechanical drums of trap, and the song, titled “They Ready,” finds its Bestness simply by being very good, despite not sounding like anything else on here. The other overt outlier here is simply titled “Hip-Hop,” which is only The Best because of how completely random it is. Nas and Scarface rap on this one, using the beyond-played “hip-hop as woman” metaphor while DJ Premier (of all people) does scratching on the chorus. Scarface’s verse is the actual Best, while Nas references his movie Belly and gets uncomfortably graphic and overshare-y. The verse is totally awkward and a complete misfire—the type that Nas is good for every few songs. It’s almost like Nas cares about hip-hop so much that he couldn’t find the words to defend it eloquently and just went straight from the gut. It’s kind of endearing, and therefore, it is also The Best.
Sure, this album has a bunch of shitty songs. Ace Hood, who Khaled seems perennially interested in making a “thing,” in actuality exists only to make other rappers sound better. The only dude with a solo shot is Mavado, and while “Suicidal Thoughts” is fine in and of itself, it seems arbitrary to let a Dancehall guy who not too many people care about steer the truck all by himself for the ballad. 2 Chainz’s verse on “I Don’t See ‘Em” is half-assed in a particularly 2 Chainzian way, and the only thing interesting about “Don’t Pay 4 It” is how Mack Maine begins his verse by yelling, “Bitch I’m Mack Maaaaaaine!” just like how Old Gregg did in that one viral video from five years ago. But DJ Khaled albums have never been about cohesion. Unlike Funk Flex albums, which had a very specific focus, Khaled seems to be shooting for a survey of modern hip-hop every time, only bigger and Bester. Lots of hip-hop sucks in 2012, so it only makes sense that a half of Kiss The Ring is horrific. By the time Khaled is actually, like, rapping on the album’s outro (entitled “Outro,” because duh), it seems like he’s checked out. He’s ordering fucking food, for Christ’s sake. But I will always listen to DJ Khaled albums. They exist to be heard. They exist because they are the Best. Forever.
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