DJ Khaled Has Mastered the Balance of Professional Career and Personal Happiness
DJ Khaled has had a phenomenal two years and it's all thanks to that positive attitude.
Words: Vanessa Satten
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
It’s pretty damn cute seeing a dad and his mini-me rocking an assortment of matching custom satin, suede and terry cloth jackets and pant suits with coordinating Jordans. Today’s models are DJ Khaled and his 6-month-old son, Asahd Tuck Khaled, who poses for photos on this March afternoon at Ambient Plus Studio in Atlanta. Behind the photographer snapping shots is Khaled’s fiancée, Nicole Tuck, stylists, management, label reps, a nanny and others all working hard to try and get Asahd to smile. The little boy is a bit scared of the flashing lights and lenses in his face at first, but soon gets used to them and gives up the gold with a winning baby smile. And everyone cries and coos with delight. There’s nothing like a baby.
It seems like DJ Khaled has embraced the job of being a dad with a gusto as he carries his little man around the studio. But fatherhood isn’t the only role that Khaled has recently stepped into and thrived in. Over the past two years, Khaled, 41, born Khaled Mohamed Khaled, has found himself riding a rocket to fame and fortune thanks to being embraced and accepted by mainstream entertainment. A big part of that has been his positive and self-affirming Snapchat videos he began pumping out in 2015, which became somewhat of an internet phenomenon. Many of the clips featured Khaled discussing his “keys to success,” which he would share with his viewers. Khaled also made waves when he video documented the birth of Asahd via Snapchat.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Asahd has stepped into the social networking world with his own Instagram account (run by the family) that has over 330,000 followers already and Khaled regularly leaves sweet comments on his son’s posts. Now gearing up for the summer release of his 10th studio album, Grateful, Khaled recently named Asahd the executive producer of the album, a move which guarantees the baby a paycheck before the age of one.
XXL sat with Khaled to talk fatherhood, how it changed him and why being positive has helped him have the best two years of his life.
XXL: Over the past couple of years, things have picked up for you. Your celebrity status has expanded. Why do you think you are resonating with the mainstream entertainment world?
DJ Khaled: Well, I’m not a secret no more. The reason why my personality is spreading through the mainstream is that I’m not a secret no more. If you interview a bunch of artists that I’ve worked with, they’ll tell you why they love Khaled. Besides him making great music, he just brings certain energy and I think the world is seeing that. That’s what happens when, I guess, you know, you consider yourself going mainstream. It’s just more audience, more fans and more love, you know what I’m saying?
You are very positive and it feels genuine. Would you say that what we see is what we really get with Khaled?
When you see Khaled, it’s just me being me. I’ve always been like that, I would say, from birth. I’ve been blessed to have a special energy. I always say, “If it’s a dark room, I’m the light bulb.” I love giving and helping and making people smile. I’ve been doing that all my life, it’s just what God blessed me with. But this time, I also started doing that for myself, and my family, especially with my son here now, my biggest blessing. In the last two years, I figured out, You know what Khaled? As much as you give, I want you to give to yourself, too. I’ve been doing that lately, and, it’s just, the blessings been coming like, thank you, God.
Is it your responsibility to put that out there? You know, a lot of people believe if you put it out there, you’re gonna get it back. Would you go along with that?
I believe in the more blessings you give the more blessings you get back. I believe in the good energy, the good energy you receive back. I believe in, you put something negative out there, you’ll get that back as well. So, I always stay focused and I always stay positive, even through trials and tribulations. I’ve never been the person that complains.
I’ve always been the person that tries to find the solution. I believe as an artist, or as a producer, as a DJ, as an executive, everybody wants the big stage, everybody wants the cover, everybody wants the No. 1 record. But I always say, I wake up, I gotta be great. If I can’t get it that moment, I gotta be greater. I just gotta keep going.
So, the idea is that you’re constantly pushing?
I don’t stop. I go hard. I’m the definition of hustling and going hard. I’m the definition of working hard and at the same time, giving thanks.
There always has to be the loud voice or the leader in the room—someone who is not afraid to come in and own the situation or the room. Is that your role?
Coming up in the game myself, and you know, anybody I gave keys to, I said, “You can be quiet or you can be loud about your greatness.” I’ve always been loud about my greatness—how good I am at doing things. I’m not saying, “Hey, I’m the best at something.” No, I show it. I could show you better than I could tell you, you know what I’m saying? If it’s on the turntables, if it’s on the mic, if it’s in the studio, if it’s putting albums together, or if it’s—it doesn’t even have to be music, you know what I’m saying? The key is: I could show you better than I could tell you. I’ve been living by that my whole life.
When you make an album and someone says, “You aren’t an MC, you’re a DJ. How are you making an album?” What do you say to that?
When I’m making an album, I orchestrate the whole body of work. If it’s me producing the record, or me putting the record together, but from top to bottom, I am producing the whole album. Some of the tracks I physically produce have some of my We The Best crew [on them], or maybe I’ll get some co-producers, you know, it just depends on the song and the situation. But at the end of the day, it’s me orchestrating the whole song, bringing the energy, putting the pieces together, going to studio, cutting vocals, making sure the beat is right, making sure the mix is right, making sure the topic is right, bringing the best out of each MC or singer. I’m the orchestrator.
I was with Quincy Jones the other day. I’ve been blessed to go to his house and have cloth talk with him and I always say, people call me “The Hip-Hop Quincy Jones.” I look up to Quincy Jones. I look up to Berry Gordy. You look at these great moguls and producers and executives, these guys put the right people in the room together, as well as make music, you know what I’m saying?
As far as me as an artist, I am an artist. I have a personality. I’m somebody that can go on stage and headline a show. I don’t like to call myself a rapper because I’m not a full-fledged rapper. I’m somebody that is about vibes. If it’s Khaled adlibs, if it’s slogans or if it’s even me throwing a few bars or a bridge, I’m just a vibe person.
Are you, like, the puppet master?
I don’t like using the word puppet master. I would say, great minds together and great artists and great producers together, all of us come together and we just being great. The records I make, they’re hard to pull off. Some of these artists wouldn’t do that for themselves. So, that’s an energy alone to do that. When you work with DJ Khaled, if I make a phone call and say, “Yo, hey, I got this record I want to present to you. A record that I’m telling you, it’s gonna be amazing.” For them to say, “Come on, bring it over. Let me hear it,” because they know I hit home runs...They know I make great music. They know I’m coming with a positive energy. They know I’m not coming with no fuckery. They know I’m coming with love and Khaled gonna make this go, and it’s gonna be a moment and the fans are gonna love it. I’m about the people, you know?
So, your ability is to create the moments that the artists sometimes can’t make happen on their own?
Absolutely. This album I’m working on right now, I’m in the studio right now and I can’t believe the records I’m making. I’ve been telling people recently on my Snap [Snapchat], wherever I go, “Nobody can make these records. It’s impossible.” I’m gonna let the fans know that.
Because getting A and B together at the same time or to work together is impossible because A’s not calling B and you have to be the conduit?
Yes, and getting A and B to work together and sometimes A and B, it’s not like they can’t work together, it just doesn’t happen.
You’ve played a few different roles on rapper’s projects, A&Ring and producing and you’ve even executive produced Rick Ross’ Mastermind album. How do those roles differ?
I’ve been blessed to A&R Rick Ross’ albums and other projects and just been around a lot of great music. But a real executive producer, what we do is, we take the vision of the artist and fulfill their vision. At the same time, it’s if you can put steroids on their vision, then you’re being a real good executive producer. Because the artists obviously, you know the one’s I’m talking about, are amazing. Their storytelling, their beat selection and everything is amazing. But sometimes you can help them make it bigger, because, it’s like, [you] got a team. Everybody gonna put [in] their input. It’s about helping the vision. And then at the same time, it’s when the project’s done, it’s making sure that everything is executed right. Executive producing, it’s a big job. It’s not just a title. It’s a behind-the-scenes job where it’s a lot of work, but at the same time, it’s a real boss role.
How is a baby gonna pull that off? Because you recently announced that your son Asahd will be executive producing your next album.
The baby been pulling it off. I know people say, “Khaled, the baby’s only 6 months old.” Well, first of all, my album is called Grateful. He’s already made me make a title by his existence of him being my son. He made me name my album Grateful. And I really do have him in the studio, obviously the volume low, listening to music, his reaction to certain things...just his energy. When I look at Asahd, I look at me. I feel like, not only is he my son, he’s a prophet. He’s just bringing the energy to the table. And every artist I ever work with, it’s like, “Where’s Asahd?” They feel the energy and then when you hear their music and when you finally get the body of work on the album, you’ll hear some of Asahd’s influence in there. Like for instance, there’s a song on my album where me and another artist, we made a song about my son and his daughter. The song is also for the whole young world. It’s gonna be something special. And that’s something that Asahd made us, and obviously the artist’s daughter gave us the feeling to make this record.
Asahd executive-producing your album...some people are just gonna look at that as a get-money for your son or the start of his college fund. Where does that fit in?
First of all, Asahd, I work for him. Anything he want, he will get and I’ma teach him to work hard. Obviously on the album, I told my attorney to make sure [Asahd] gets his royalties, his shares as executive producer because that’s my son and I think that’s beautiful.
How has becoming a dad changed your relationships with other artists and what you talk about? Seems like it changed your music.
When I see other fathers and mothers, especially artists that I work with, I look at them totally different now. I’m actually in the studio and our first hour of conversation is about our kids. Before I had my kid, it probably wouldn’t be that conversation. Now I’m a father so any, not even as a musician but anybody that’s a mother, father, I look at them just totally different now. More respect. More love. And [I] praise them because it’s a beautiful feeling. They always told me when you have kids it’s gonna be a love that you can’t explain. It’s a feeling that’s just unbelievable. And that’s what my son is doing to me. He’s making me be greater.
I represent my son and when he grows up, I want him to know his father is the greatest. That’s how I am with the artists now in the studio. I don’t want to be sounding like I’m a preacher in the studio but I’m like, “Yo, we gotta represent right and whatever we doing gotta be great.”
Have you gotten any advice about being a father from anyone you worked with that has stood out?
Well, I got to visually see advice from Jay Z and Beyoncé, being on the Formation tour. It was real inspiring for me to see them work and be a mother and father, for real. That’s Jay Z and Beyoncé, it’s the biggest artists in the game, but you actually see them be a mother and father and [give] so much love to their daughter, and nothing else matters but their family. I love that and got to see that and it was inspiring. Jigga always told me, “Wait ’til you have your kid. You think you great now, you gonna be greater.” I’m experiencing that and I just love that.
How long have you and your fiancée, Nicole, been together? And how does her support help you on a daily basis?
Nicole is my queen. I’ve been with her, I think for like, 12, 13 years. I gave her a ring as an engagement, and she’s the mother of my biggest blessing, our biggest blessing. She’s a sweetheart. She’s always been down with me from day one. And not just that, she’s somebody that, how can I say, it’s always reality when I come home. Like, it doesn’t matter what’s going on when I come home. Tomorrow we could win a hundred Grammys, be on a hundred XXL covers, whatever. You come home, it’s still, Nicole, you know what I mean? And I love that about her. She love me for me. She love me for Khaled, not DJ Khaled. So, I love her a lot, man, she’s great. I love her even more now because of my son. You know the love has always been there, but now, she’s the mother of my son. Like I told her the other day, “You’ve always been beautiful, but you just keep getting beautifuller.” I don’t even know if that’s a word but it is now.
We just growing every day and that’s what’s so beautiful about real relationships. That you can grow and be real with each other. That’s what it’s about. She’s my partner-in-crime and she’s my best friend.
When did you decide you wanted to start a family?
I’ve always wanted kids. She’s always wanted kids and it was a time in my life, I would say a year and a half, two years ago, where I just dropped. I changed a lot and I came home. I just dropped my album and I’m coming home from the road. Usually, you’re a successful artist, you’re on the road damn near 10 months of the year and there’s only 12 months. You either touring, doing spot dates, putting music out and being in the right place at the right time, so that’s 10 months of the year to do that. The only time you really get off is December for Christmas and Thanksgiving. So I’m coming home, finally off the road, and I looked at her and I said, “Man, I’m tired. You know I’ve been going so hard.” And I said, “You know what? I’ve been going hard my whole life and I’m not gonna stop. But what do I have to show for it?” A house, thank God. But like, what do I have to show for it when I decide to say, “I’m just gonna chill,” or decide to take on more challenges?
At the time I was going through some trials and tribulations. It was actually the wrong time in other people’s eyes to have a kid, but I said, “Nicole, I’m ready to have a baby. I wanna have it now. Because if I decide not to make no more music or whatever, I wanna be here with you, my swimming pool, my flowers, my jet ski and my son or daughter that God has blessed me with and I’m good.” When I say [trials and tribulations], I was investing all my money into my vision, but sometimes it doesn’t come back the way you want it to financially. It might come back, how can I say, glorified, but financially, it might not come back. So I was like, Man, I’m not gonna keep going so hard and beating my body up and not being at home and not seeing my own mother and father every day ‘cause of my career. I just said, “Nicole, let’s have a baby now.” And the minute she got pregnant, God just completely put the sunlight on us on another level. That’s when everything changed [like] the success of Snapchat. The success of Snapchat was just me being me. I don’t even know how to work Snapchat. I was just at home. When y’all seen me jet skiing with the flowers and all that stuff, that’s what I do for real. I’m just talking to myself, giving myself keys. Meaning I was inspiring myself. I didn’t even know the whole world was watching. I didn’t even know how to follow somebody. I didn’t even know how many followers I had. I was just doing my thing. And that’s the time where I was meditating. I just got my girl pregnant. I was meditating, this whole thing—meaning as in just caring about life, you know what I mean? Embracing the flower, embracing life, thanking God.
It was in that moment at this time in my life and the blessings was pouring on us. And then when my son came, it was just even more blessings because that’s my biggest blessing. Financially, we’ve been blessed on another level because my work is paying off now. It’s finally paying off, you know, people respecting. So I believe all my prayers, all my meditation, you know what I’m saying? I ain’t give up. I ain’t surrender. I ain’t fold, I ain’t never dissed nobody. That’s why I keep saying I never complain, because some people do things the opposite, you know? If they can’t get their way, what they do? They tear each other down. I never did that.
So, you eliminated the negative?
Absolutely and I eliminated people around me. I eliminated all of the negative vibes that was ever around me. I made it a mandate around my crew. “Yo, you’re not allowed in my house if you come with any black cloud around you. You not allowed in my house you come with a different language, a tone, a facial expression. You not allowed in this place. Or around me.” And my real friends adapted to it and it changed their life, too. So I made sure I kept my circle just clean, we cleansed. And then, the blessings wouldn’t stop.
When they see a guy like me, you know, besides being successful in the music business, I’m not diesel, I’m a regular guy, I’m chubby, whatever. And [when people be like] “Yo, Khaled, you’re fat.” I’ll be like, “Nah, I’m great.” You know what I’m saying? That inspires the next king or queen out there. And that’s where we came up with the saying, “Stay away from ‘they,’” ’cause, they don’t want us to win, so that’s what we gonna do. We gonna win more. We gonna get more covers, we gonna get more No. 1 records, we gonna be more blessed. And that energy just went worldwide. Because it’s real, know what I’m saying? You can’t fake certain things. It’s an energy. It’s a feeling.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2017 issue including the cover story with DJ Khaled, Joey Bada$$ discussing his ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ album, Freddie Gibbs finally telling the story about his fight for freedom and more.
See Exclusive Photos From DJ Khaled's XXL Magazine Spring 2017 Cover Shoot