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He was already a successful hip-hop producer but when DJ Khaled found Snapchat he became a pop-culture sensation

To stare at a Rolls-Royce Wraith is to know it is the great misnomer of luxury cars. There is absolutely nothing wraith-like about the solid curves of DJ Khaleds gleaming white whip, which, on this Wednesday in midtown Manhattan, purrs up to the curb and slows gawping pedestrians in their tracks. The car is simultaneously impressive and a bit ridiculous, like Khaled himself. In his capacity as impresario, producer, DJ, artist and businessman, the 40-year-old is a power-node at the centre of hip-hops universe. Since his 2006 debut Listennn… the Album, Khaled has put out seven more albums, been Grammy-nominated for his track Im On One featuring Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, and worked with just about every other rapper you can think of.

Today, however, he is also known for being a living meme. Snapchat, the video-based social medium which remains bewildering to most people over the age of 21, has become Khaleds kingdom. On it, he broadcasts his days in real time, narrating scenes with catchphrases that are now rap lingua franca(Major key alert!; Another one!; I like that!). They evidence the banalities (breakfast) and extravagances (They dont want you on yachts!) of his lifestyle with inimitable, if unwitting comedy. Later, Khaled will tell me: My everyday language ends up just being contagious, you know what Im sayin?

Maybe thats because hes much like a motivational speaker, fond of inviting fans to ride wit me through the journey of more success. Today, on a full schedule of promo for his ninth studio album, Major Key, I get to do just that. At TV and web channel Music Choice, Khaled films the segment Wise Words, a stream of motivational messages delivered to camera. Music Choice has written him a script but it could just as well have used They Dont Want You To Win, an online quote generator that spews Khaled gems ad infinitum. In the green room, he plays back his Snaps after he makes them, his words recorded and replayed until it starts to feel like an echo chamber of bromidic brainwash.

In his tracks and on social media, Khaleds affirmations have the same all-caps hype-man urgency. Off camera, however, things are slower. Dressed in black sweatpants, hoodie and some heavy duty ice, he walks at a lilting shuffle, permanently engrossed in his phone. If someone says his name with enough force and conviction, hell glance up and switch on a brief, dazed smile at whoever happens to be closest. In these moments he can appear faintly cross-eyed.

This is a ripe moment for slogan-spouting personalities who have levied buffoonery into bewildering heights of power consider, after all, the jokes-made-real of Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. Unlike them, though, Khaled knows what hes doing. Born Khaled bin Abdul Khaled to Palestinian parents in New Orleans, Khaled got his break on pirate radio in Miami, where hed broadcast until late, sleep on the floor for a few hours and then wake up and begin shouting into the mic again. His hustle remains just as relentless: he moved to New York last year for 12 months, just to get a verse from Jay Z for his recent single, I Got The Keys. Jay not only gave him two verses, but ended up directing the video, a montage of prison cells, stand-offs and a suited Jay, Khaled and Atlanta trap mainstay Future, shot in black and white. The biggest hip-hop star in the world is also now Khaleds manager.

Dj Khaled performs with Von Miller.
Photograph: Rex

This shouldnt come as a shock. Khaleds newfound social media virality may rely on absurdity he once Snapped getting lost on a jetski while whizzing back from Rick Rosss private island; recently he announced that hell Snapchat the birth of his child in November but his career is longstanding and legitimate. Still, hes not inclined to reflect on these contradictions. I just feel like Im a music man in full form, he shrugs, because my hands on not just making the music and being part of the creative, but also putting the music out. I do it all. And in a post-Kardashian world doing it all means a total assimilation of self and brand. For Khaled, theres scant difference between shilling gum on Snapchat and getting in the studio.

It connected, everything connected, he says, during our interview in the back of the Wraith, for much of which hes glued to the phone. Obviously Ill always be putting out great music and Ive been a hard-working mogul my whole career, but now with Snapchat, it just shone more light on everything were doing. Thats what we work hard for, a light for your greatness. Since hes on his phone anyway, I ask him if he feels like doing a Snap right now, in the back of the Wraith. He shrugs again, lifts his phone, and with that, several million followers witness their man voice his support for the worlds leading liberal newspaper: Guardian… LONDON BIG UP BLESS UP!

Our next stop is Sony, where a waiting French film crew stare morosely as Khaled begins making phone calls. He mutters a request for some water. I look over to his crew, but theyre so engrossed in arranging bottles of Khaled-endorsed cognac they dont hear him. Theres a stack of water bottles beside me. I hand him one. He takes it wordlessly, without looking up from his screen. When your life is being constantly relayed to millions of fans, theres little space for other interaction.


The moment the interviews over, Khaled is pacing about on the phone once more. You gotta taste this gum, its the most amazing gum! he evangelises. I imagine the person on the other end asks him if hes serious. No Im being real! Youre gonna love it! Back in the Wraith, he looks me in the eye and says, with passion: Everything you see me promote, I love it. If somebody thinks Im selling something, just know I only represent the best.

Khaleds positivity is unwavering and, ultimately, irresistible. He maintains that his Snapchat popularity derives from just being myself and it might be this lack of self-awareness that has made him so successful beyond social media. At his Major Key playback later, the guests revealed to be on the album are testament to that: Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz, Drake, Big Sean, Nas and heaps more jostle for space. A blazing, Betty-Wright sampling soul song called Holy Key, featuring virtuosic bars from Lamar, elicits particular awe.

Between tracks, the crowd emit Khaled catchphrases as if unconsciously: major key, someone murmurs approvingly, cloth talk (a Khaledism that roughly translates to wisdom thats going to tell you how to be successful) says another. Man and meme, it seems, are one and the same. On my way to leave, when I shake his hand and tell him Ive had fun, he looks at me with total blankness. I wonder if he knows Ive been within metres of him for the last eight hours. Maybe its only that Snapchat that makes it real.

Major Key is out now on We The Best/Black Butter

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