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DJ Khaled Knows Best On Faith, Fatherhood & #Fanlove

The "Family Over Everything" mantra DJ Khaled proclaims is his life's energy, which also fuels his hit-making magic | Photography by Ivan Berrios

Khaled Khaled. Name so nice they had to say it twice. What the mega marketer, mixer, and music maker has done though is show how his name is his name, not just for him, but for his two adorable sons, Asahd and Aalam. They being the apples of his eye—with his wife Nicole at the center of Khaled’s universe—are the reasons for his unabashed foray into champion sound status with album after album of anthemic hits. His most recent self-titled 12th studio album was released on April 30th and debuted #1 on the Billboard 200.

The multimillion producing DJ’s long list of charting singles with a who’s who of top talent is damn near the norm for the 45-year-old with the energy of a youngster half his age. Maybe this youthful spirit is why he’s at ease when making speaker bangers with the newcomers of today’s music industry like Lil Baby, Lil Durk, DaBaby, and Megan Thee Stallion. Yet, he’s set in pocket with the Fat Joes, Buju Bantons, Nas’, and Jay-Zs of the world as well. It’s a special groove he’s carved out for himself, as award shows can’t keep him off their stages. The 2021 Billboard Music Awards just had him set off their latest show, with chart-topping acts H.E.R. and Migos. He’s about to light up the lauded event of the summer at the 2021 BET Awards next week…oh, that Dolce & Gabbana partnership? Chalk that up to the positive vibes that turned a previous “no” to a resounding “yes” to do business. This all culminates in the ultimate news of Khaled achieving Hollywood Walk of fame status last week. Now, with his own star on Hollywood Boulevard he can soon say he’s really in these streets. Suffering from success was something Khaled once lamented about, but now it’s an everyday occurrence that he happily accepts as part of the game.

Yet, let’s not overlook the lean and mean days of a DJ Khaled that didn’t have it so lavish. Sleeping in his car, pleading for radio air time to showcase his skills on the turntables and the mic. Taking time to build up his on-air personality, making relationships for exclusive tracks to pump to his listeners. Carrying crates from venue to venue, many times multiple gigs in one night. We are talking about the crate-lugging days, sans laptop and for little money. The ’90s and early 2000s sculpted the refined, energetic, master planner and connector of dots that you see today. But his most important role as husband and father has crafted the best version of the individual that inspires others to believe that life can be yours to curate, like the ideas that he has when putting his wild concoction of artists on the same tracks together.

From the early days as a young Palestinian kid of southern digs, by way of Louisiana and Florida, Khaled has paid his dues to sing the praises of the Most High, which he does loudly and often. Many successful people will tell you that prayer solves most things…some even more successful people will profess that prayer cures all things. Judging from the love of his family, the support of his friends, and the ultimate fan love he receives on the streets from around the world, Khaled Khaled would co-sign that latter statement.

Conducting this interview from the relaxed setting of his shaded Miami backyard, Khaled waxes philosophical while adding the necessary confidence of a man that has seen what it takes to be the best, while praising the very reasons why he is so blessed to be here.

Vibe Cover DJ Khaled & Family
Ivan Berrios for VIBE

VIBE: We saw you tear down the 2021 Billboard Music Awards with H.E.R. and Migos a few weeks ago…

DJ Khaled: I liked that show a lot. It felt real good; Energy was good. It was the first time I think somebody had a live audience in a long time…Open up the show. You know what I mean? Billboard, Billy.

It’s amazing that you’ve spoken all of that into existence, man. Can you speak on what it is to speak things into existence in the way that you do? Because it’s not just the chart positions. You speak projects, you speak business, you speak family into existence.

That’s part of living in the light. I feel like, God blessed us with life. We should be able to do anything we want and accomplish anything we want as long as we move with a good heart, good soul, clean face. Then, at the same time is when you go through hard times. You have [a] life so you can make things better. So, I live by all that.

And then at the same time, since I was a kid, I watched my mother and father take care of us. They worked seven days a week and I knew [that] hard work and working smart wins. So, I took that energy and I just spoke all my goals and dreams into existence and I’m still speaking them and I’m still…I feel like I’m just getting started.

We the best in all categories…not just music. The Khaled x Dolce Gabbana collab. We have one that did so well. Now, we’re on the second collection. I love to see these things that I’ve always talked about in that, and especially in that [fashion] category because if you look at it from the outside, they usually don’t let you in. And we broke that chain. We broke that cycle. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and to do it with Dolce and Gabbana was such a great connection because you see the colors are vibrant.

I love tropical and they love tropical. Everything I do, I got to love it, and you can see it through the music. I always bought the collab up with Dolce is because he was talking about the things in existence. This week, we just launched that. And I remember them telling me, there’s no way we can get this. Not only did we get it, it’s doing phenomenal. It’s so many things man, but I appreciate the love.

To stay in that chamber, when did you start to realize that spirit and energy can help direct your movements? 

Man. When I had to leave my mother and father’s house and man up. Be a man to take care of myself, as well as take care of my family. I would say, probably around 16 years old, it really hit me where I had to say, “You know what? I could have gone in another direction.” I stayed focused on the path of who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become. By going in a different direction, meaning I could have gone somewhere else. I’m not a guy you can peer pressure.

I was the guy in the crew where I was preaching love. But at the same time, I was preaching greatness and confidence. My friends around me, they would be inspired by that. And some people went this way. Some people went this way. Some people went this way. And, but they always knew, Khaled. Khaled, we want him to do what he does because it’s pure. And you have to get to know me to really know what I’m saying is, but you do know me and the world knows me now. If I was just speaking to the early Khaled, young Khaled, I’ve always been like this. That’s why I tell people every day, always be you.

The other day, I got a call from a friend of mine who’s big in the music business and he was like, “Yo, Khaled, I love to see how far you’ve come. It’s so beautiful. But what I love about it is that you’re not doing what everybody else is doing. Meaning as in, you’re not caught up in the industry, you actually do the opposite.” When he told me that, it really hit me because I thought about it. I was never the guy who did things to be cool. I did things that felt right. I’ve got to say the more blessings, the wiser you get. The more trials and tribulations you go through, the wiser you’re supposed to get. I know a lot more than I ever did before.

But you were strategic as well though. People don’t realize the strategy that you’ve put into it. It’s very organic, but then you’re more of a businessman on music and other endeavors than people give you credit for it. They see the big personality, but I don’t know if they necessarily connect your energy with strategy. Would you agree?

Well, I know you know because you’ve seen it from the early ages, the beginning stages. But it’s a new world and what I love about the new world is that Khaled Khaled is on top of the new world. In the same way, when I was coming up, it doesn’t matter what decade and what generation. When you’re timeless, you’re timeless. When you’re great, you’re great. When you are incredible, you’re incredible. That’s the rule.

But Khaled, I have to challenge that because, usually, that’s a short period. If we look, hip-hop careers are so short. You would have been gone if that was the only rule. There’s something else there, bro.

[That’s] what I’m trying to tell you, I have 12 albums in right now. People can’t make it past the first album or the first single. That goes back to what I said. When you’re timeless, you’re timeless. And when you’re great, you’re great. Before I could say I was great and timeless, of course, I said it when I first got in the game. You’re supposed to. You’re supposed to have that confidence in you. But I knew in time that I’d be a great one. One of the greats and the same way I look up to Puff Daddy [Diddy] and Jay-Z coming up in the game, as far as moguls not just music, the whole…

I feel like the newer generation can see that energy through Khaled because Khaled makes music, puts music out. He’s self-made. He’s an artist. He’s a producer. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s a hustler. He’s a father. He owns restaurants. He got clothing. We have to give our props to our brothers Puff and Jay, Joe, and so many others that broke the barrier for us if, you think about it. Remember when Jay-Z first chained with Rocawear? That was a big deal. When he came with a [signature S. Carter Reebok] sneaker, that was a big deal…as well as having the number one [album] out. The music brought light to other things and I’ve been blessed that my music career has been bringing the light and I’ve been opening up other doors for the lights to shine through.

That’s so cool man.

And I just want the newer generation, the younger generation to read this. I hope they read this because that’s what they need to do. They’re so blessed in a time like this because they get to do so much more because of technology. Because of the way the world is advanced. I want to show the younger generation, man, [to] keep going. Don’t stop and do everything that you want to do and accomplish it because it’s right there for you.

DJ Khaled
DJ Khaled Ivan Berrios for VIBE

That’s wild to even put that out there. Before the quarantine and shutdown, a lot of people would believe in that and say anything’s attainable. But then when everything gets taken from them and everybody had to sit down, some of that fire seemed to seep away from some people. Other people progressed during that time. How were you able to keep your energy up in the way that you’re speaking now during that sit-down?

Well, for me, I’m a guy that works seven days a week. When I was told the world had to sit down, I said, “You’re going to make Khaled sit down and think that much?!” I thought, “I’m going to be greater now.” Because while I was sitting down and trying to figure it out, I was still working. I mean, [Khaled Khaled is] one of my best albums. I opened more businesses. I expanded my team. Added more people on my team as far as job opportunities. Opened another restaurant. I did show much. Spent more time with my family. Took care of things that needed to be taken care of around the house.

That’s a difference-maker because you see things that you didn’t see before.

Right. What I learned about, too, is the people around [me]. If I’ve seen any laziness [I’ll just say], “You got to see who was who through the pandemic.” Meaning: you want to get it or not? It made me look at everybody, like “He hugged his pillow all day, slack all over. I can’t do that.”

[Some people] want to go hard and be creative and I liked that. I felt like not only was it [an opportunity for] a recharge, you got to see things more clear. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier about my man who called me up like, “Yo, you doing everything and you’re not doing everybody follows suit on certain things.” I don’t work like that. I don’t… Like everybody hit me up and say, “Khaled, you have amazing [album] rollouts.” I said, “No marketing meeting could ever come up with a catalog of [my] rollouts. It’s impossible because I don’t even know.

So you let the energy come to you, then boom.

My music’s got to speak to me, the pressure of—

Good pressure.

Being great and that whole album was rolled out right here in my backyard. Because going back to the “plandemic,” we cannot stop what we doing. We’re supposed to be greater. So if anything, you got to see more of the pure. This album, it was like, “Yo Khaled, we got to set up the press,” and I’m like, “Yo, I’m coming with it. If you want to set some up and it can match the time we’d come [cool]. But, I’m not going to go on to like, “Oh, I got to have this. Got to have that, no.” I got to make great music and be great and at the same time, I’m going to give my fans an experience.

And all my excitement through my rollout out is pure. It’s true, it’s real. Because a lot of people don’t know the stuff that goes behind the scenes and making records and…

You don’t show that, the hard, the bad stuff that happens. Those tough calls. You don’t necessarily show all of that.

Yeah, because it’s a lot of stuff that. The reason why I don’t need to show that is because I believe in the solution. I’m not going to fall for the trap and be like, “Yo, it was a stressful call, clearances and this and that. And they try to do this and that.” I’m like, “I don’t care who it is. We doing this.” We’re going to figure it out.

Let’s go with the good energy. Let’s build that.

Right, and that’s what I’m saying. People got to understand, you can’t work off your emotions and we’re all human. We all fall. I don’t care who it is. It’s natural, but [it’s about] what you learn. Somebody might tell me something like “this is not [working]” and I’ll be like, “You know what? We’re going to find the solution.”

That’s experience. I think a lot of the younger artists today, they don’t have the people around them to give them that insight. You see them bug out a little bit more so than they did back in the day. Back then, I think you had more of an A&R, a group that could actually help them grow. Now they’re super talented. The talent isn’t any different, it’s just the people around them.

I feel like you don’t need to overthink everything. Only time you overthink something is if it is to protect the blessings.

You’ve got to explain that…that’s beautiful.

When you make music, you might have 10 people in here [ing the studio]. They’re saying, “This is it!” Me? I don’t let nobody in for an opinion… Nobody’s allowed to put [out an] opinion when I make music. I don’t ask for opinions. I don’t, I have a vision. I’m going to get it done and I’m going to bring it to light and I’m going to put it out. That’s how I make my music because that’s a Khaled album. This is the energy that’s from the cover to the name, from the sound to the sequence of the tracklisting. Everything is a lot of work.

My heart, my soul, my passion. When it comes out, I know they’re going to feel what I felt, because what I’m making is special. I mean that because, if you think about my career, all my records, my catalog is a timeless catalog.

I’m not here to say, “Oh, I got the biggest… No.” I’m here to say that Khaled Khaled makes special anthems and his anthems play forever. The other day, [Billboard] gave my brother Drake the Artist of the Decade award. Man, I got so excited because he deserves it. I said to myself, it don’t matter what generation, he’s still potent. He’s still the greatest. He’s still making the biggest records. And that goes back to what I was saying. It’s about when you’re great, you’re great. And when you’re timeless, you’re timeless.

I’ve been putting out records from 2005, Khaled albums. I’m like, “Damn. I’m just getting started.” Number wise, success and blessed-wise [its] been doing this [elevates hand going up]. That’s rare.

It is. And you’re a loyal dude. A lot of those people that you’ve been able to collab with, you’ve kept them. Y’all been doing this. Ascending.

I got a rule. My people always say, “Khaled, who do you want to work with?” I say, “I want to continue working with the people I worked with.” Because when you make good music, why not make more good music?

I make great music with Lil Wayne and Rick Ross; those people have been on all my albums. I make music with Lil Wayne and Drake; they’ve been on the majority of my albums. It’s like, “Let’s keep going.” The fans love what we do and we make magic together. You know what? It’s a working with Khaled’s experience, but at the same time, it’s an experience for me too, because I’m so in the moment. I’m so into it as a fan, too.

You want to see what happens. 

I can’t wait. Like, I’m a fan. And that’s why I love making music. Because when you make music, you got to really love it.

Every time you throw those ad-libs on and people see you in the videos, they know that this is stamped and that you’re feeling it. You’re always into what you’re doing.

Yeah, no matter what. If you love me, you know what it is. If you hate me, you know what it is.

That fan love is different, though.

What I’m saying is [it’s] about being great and consistent. Going back to the “plandemic,” I was working even more than I ever did. Now I feel like there’s so much sh*t that I got coming that’s just…there’s so much sh*t coming. Like big.

But one of the things that happened during that time, we already saw you. And this is a bulk of what this cover’s about. We already saw you as a great father. We already saw that. But then we see you as a great husband. We see you as a great friend, but then we started to see you elevate and then you have another son and in the love, it quadrupled. It just got bigger about family. Just speak about having more time with your family.

My family over everything and everything you see me do is for family, my Queen and my kids. Once I became a father, my life changed. God said, “Here’s two beautiful boys, and here’s more blessings.”

Wow.

So, as a father, there’s no words to really explain because it’s so that love is so pure. And it’s like, you can show it because you can’t hide this love.

You can’t.

Asahd on a swing
Asahd enjoying the swings and a laugh. Ivan Berrios for VIBE

And so it’s like, I took my son to camp today. He’s just excited, man. And I’m watching him grow. He’s four and a half. As soon as I came home, Aalam was in the pool, wearing a hat, practicing swim lessons. I dreamt of this. I prayed for this. You know what I’m saying? And being a father is the best thing. And [during] the pandemic time, there was a time where I couldn’t take it anymore. It was the TV, it was the elections. And we’ve got to worry about our safety and I’m a father, somebody’s worried about me. I’m worried about my kids, the virus, all types of stuff. I turn on the TV, they depress me. I’m hearing stories. It’s crazy. The world is going crazy, right? I was like, “Man, they want us to be in the dark.” And I said, “I can’t because I’ve got kids.” And God, he’s like, “Yo, Khaled, I’m the light.” God is the light light.

And we always hear to embrace the light. Well, we also have to learn, to be the light and so through the pandemic and all that stuff, I had to be the light for my kids, my fans, my family, and get up. That’s what I was trying to do, tell you how to get up. And that’s what I got up. I’ll never forget. I was living crazy. My hair, they tell us you can’t get a haircut. When I finally cut my hair, I was like, “Nah, they’re trying to set me up. They want me to feel crazy.” I know what they’re doing. So, I immediately started meditating, coming out here in the backyard, even when it was raining. I was sitting in the middle of the grass and meditate the light to come.

It was so important for me, for my family, for me to show that light every day because I want to keep the kids happy, and also, I don’t know if you believe me or not, but I really wanted the world to feel it. You know what I’m saying? Because I believe I want everybody to be happy. I wanted everybody to get up and be inspired and give more and help more and do more. So I started all my social media. I got to post and show what makes me feel happy in life. Sometimes it’s a flower or it’s the sun. Because if not, [when] you turn on the TV, what do you see? Stress.

Stress.

You go to your Instagram, stress. So I’m like, “Yo, nah, I ain’t with this.” I’m not falling for the trap. We go [and] represent the light. And I told everybody, right now, it’s a great year. I’m not saying it’s going to be a great year. I said it’s a great year.

That’s right. Making the declaration of it.

Let’s say that out the gate. That it’s going to be a great year. No, no, it’s a great year.

What have you learned from your kids and your wife about being the man that you are and who you are to them?

I have to be the strongest, even though my point is super strong. Our mothers and our friends, they described this. But at the end of the day, we [men] have to be strong, too. We have to be… How can I say? The protector.

It’s not about what we have to do. The stuff that you know you have to do, no. You have to protect the energy. You know what I’m saying? That’s what I do every day. No matter what. If I see something, I want to be here to help make it better, make solutions. “Oh, yo, this is too heavy…You good? Let me pick it up…let me help.” Just make it better. And be the protector that lets nobody mess up this beautiful energy. So at the end of the day, being a father has taught me, not only to have more patience but it’s also taught me what life really is.

Aalam with a big smile on the swings
Big smile from Aalam. Ivan Berrios for VIBE

When you see other great fathers dealing with scheduling and the good pressure that you were talking about, of wanting to be great…what is it that you see that’s similar within everyone?

The bond [they have] with their kids. Like the bond as in like best friends. You can see the kids. For instance, you hang out with Asahd, you see this Khaled, he’s my son, you know he’s my son. The way he moves, the way he talks. The same way you hang out with Nicole. That’s her boy. You going to see it in them. Like the way they move and talk. But even better though. I’ve seen that with other friends of mine and their kids. And I’ve be like, “Man, I always cherish the moments where I see them when people don’t see.” For instance, [when] I’m with Jay-Z or with Puff and I see them with their kids. It’s so beautiful. Before I had kids, I remember seeing it.

It’s like, “Man, I love that. It’s aspiring beautifully.” These are guys that I look up to and listen to their music and inspired by that. I’m like, “Man, they are such great fathers.” I remember when I was on tour, the Beyoncé and Jay tour. My Queen was pregnant with Asahd, and while I was on tour, Jay always said, “Khaled, when you have kids…you think you’re great now without those kids?” He was right. People don’t realize like you have to have kids to know what I’m talking about.

Yeah, it’s a different feeling.

We can talk about it all, but you have to have kids [to understand] because there are no words to explain the love.

That’s real. It’s a different kind of love, man. What kind of advice would you give to fathers in all ranges? Like the new ones? The ones about to be…the ones that have been for a long time. What would you give them? 

I would say God bless you with your kids. That’s the biggest blessing that you can have, your kids. Know that and give the world and even more to your kids. I know I don’t have to say that to any father because that’s just what the feeling is. Love your kids, man. Give them 24 hours a day. Even if you’re on the road. That FaceTime, that call, that text, that sending a picture, that motivation, give your kids 24 hours a day. I do. My Queen, she gets mad at me all the time when it’s 7:30 p.m. She wants to put them in bed by eight. And I’m like, “Nah, nah, we got two more hours.”

We go in. So my message is: give your kids every second of the day. Even if you’re not at home because you have to provide at work. Make that phone call, that FaceTime, send the “I love you,” because it goes a long way. My son, when I say, “Asahd, you good?” And he goes, “Daddy, I’m good. And I love you.” I’m like, “Man.”

DJ Khaled
Khaled’s sons’ names shinin’. Ivan Berrios for VIBE

It hits the heart.

He said, he good and he loved me. And I tell Asahd, “I got you, right?” “I know that Daddy. I love you.” That’s it…I’m good for the whole day, but the thing is that I want a hundred more of those, [because] I’m back at it in an hour. So the message is to embrace what God gave you…your biggest blessing.

Photographer: Ivan Berrios

Hair Stylist/Groomer: Monica Gaviria

Makeup Artist: Lina Zuniga

Wardrobe Stylist: Terrell Jones