DJ Khaled is a talent aggregator. You can say what you will about his mantras or his never-ending quest to be an omnipresent figure in rap without actually rapping, but you can’t understate his value. He is the maestro behind many of rap’s best post-Napster posse cuts, and he assembles the biggest names in the hip-hop with relative ease, unlike anyone else in his field. Khaled is the definitive “executive producer,” someone who oversees the crafting of a project without being a major creative contributor, and he has managed to remain relevant by building a brand that his famous friends can subscribe to, one of triumph and opulence. His seventh studio album, Suffering From Success, plays out with exactly the same narrative as its predecessors, but the key underlying difference is its lack of flashiness compared to his previous records.
Khaled doesn’t make albums per say, he packages singles; so, in essence, the measuring stick for every project he ever makes will be the hit quotient: the number of undeniably catchy, commercially permeating records he can churn out. It’s the only way to assess his production given the fact that his albums are basically just compilations. Given the fact that none of the singles featured on Suffering From Success released to this point have blazed the airwaves, it would have been safe to predict the album would fall short of its mark. However, his last album didn’t really have an incredible breakout hit either and it cranked out great records like “Hip-Hop” and “They Ready.” Will Suffering have the same staying power?
For starters, the album suffers from far too much Ace Hood. He is relatively proficient in his own right, but he receives a lion’s share of the work here, scoring as many credits as megastar Meek Mill, and on this platform that’s a problem. Amongst this much star power, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Additionally, the features on Suffering From Success seem a bit sparse for a DJ Khaled release; half of the album’s tracks have two or fewer signature guests. DJ Khaled has always been about going over the top—overdoing and the doing more—but when you really look at the songs here, you notice the disappointing number of throwaway verses packing the album.
This may be the closest DJ Khaled will ever gets to producing a cohesive effort, but the singles simply aren’t as memorable as in years past. While the provocatively titled “I Feel Like Pac/I Feel Like Biggie” might turn a few heads strictly for being contentious, it isn’t equipped to live up to the high standard it sets for itself, though it does fit the narrative created by the Suffering From Success title well. “Give It To Me’, a reggae-infused dancehall record, is paired with the gloomy, J. Cole-led “Hells Kitchen”, and neither deserves championing; the blandness of both is further accentuated by the sequencing. “No New Friends” is the album’s biggest single, and even it’s basically a big budget take on Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”.
Suffering From Success does have strong moments, though. The somber “Never Surrender” features the tightest songwriting on the entire album in the form of anecdotal verses from Scarface, Jadakiss, and Meek Mill, and its soulful melodies—delivered by R&B stalwarts John Legend and Anthony Hamilton, and the surprisingly competent Akon—make it the standout track. “You Don’t Want These Problems” serves up two very different Kelly Rowland references on its way to becoming the best posse cut on the project. Its beat lacks a punch until Meek Mill arrives to destroy an amazing Timbaland-produced breakdown. You could call Meek Mill the MVP of this album. He joins forces with Birdman for “Murcielago (Doors Go Up)” and provides the show-stopping charisma he’s known for.
Suffering From Success is Khaled’s first full step back since becoming the premiere DJ for crafting rap hits in the mid-2000s. He simply doesn’t provide enough flash to continue his meteoric ascent toward becoming an independently viable brand. If you want to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. The barometer for his success will always be the quantifiable impact of his records and the buzz they generate in the hip-hop community, and there are very few buzz worthy records present here. Khaled will undoubtedly continue to bring the same bravado, after all… all he does is win. –Sheldon Pearce