Wednesday, August 3, 2016

album review: 'major key' by dj khaled

I don't use Snapchat. I don't use Vine. I have an Instagram but have never posted a photo, and Socialblade tells me I have a substandard Twitter account. So maybe I just don't get social media in some capacity - it's fine, I've accepted that, and while I find the success of many acts based upon their social profiles bewildering, I get the appeal. Hell, on some level you can almost admire someone who can so manipulate social media to still make themselves relevant - like it or not, it's a skill, especially if you're not especially good for what you're 'supposed' to be famous.

And I think at some point, DJ Khaled got this. He realized that nobody gave a damn about his interchangeable party anthems for his contributions, so he did the next best thing: marketing. He inflated his online persona to comical sizes and then focused on his one real skill: collaboration. He became an expert at connecting people and making his 'records' star-studded affairs that were more notable for guest verses than anything else. And going into this, I had no expectations that this would be anything beyond over the top party jams- but on the other hand, it's not like either of his lead off singles were any good, so my expectations were rock bottom. Could DJ Khaled at least rise to that?

Here's the thing: this could have been good, the sort of project that if a little more care was taken with the guest stars and production we could have had something pretty potent. But that would require more effort and focus than I think DJ Khaled was looking to give Major Key, where the approach was to throw as many artists at this album to see what stuck, without a lot of focus on cohesion or themes. And that does frustrate me because there are seeds of a real focused idea here, defining that 'major key' to success and how others can find it for themselves, and it's just a damn shame so many of the guest stars didn't care to follow it.

But let's start with DJ Khaled himself and his 'contributions' - and really, they're pretty minimal. He shouts his name and half-formed bragging, and he only produced four songs - again, he's only here to bring everyone in the same room. And you know, there is something to that - Khaled might not know how to make a great album but he knows how to bring the people together to make it for him, and he does get some solid guest verses. As much as I can't stand the shrill squealing howls and airhorns of the instrumental or Future's repetitive hook, Jay Z's verses are on point on 'I Got The Keys', and it's a similar case when Nas drops his detailed and socially-aware bars on 'Nas Album Done' - it's just a damn shame the backing production is all warping chipmunk vocals that inevitably feels too thin. But these two tracks are perfect examples of what holds the good tracks back from being great: either the other guest stars aren't holding their weight or the instrumental just can't back them up. A prime example is 'Holy Key', with a monster of a hook from Betty Wright, a solid blur of lo-fi guitars, and Kendrick Lamar dropping the sort of lyrical genius not just in its intricate construction but also in the themes, where he struggles with the ever increasing weight and allure of the physical world and is searching for transcendence yet finds himself all the more trapped... and yet on the same song you open it with Big Sean. And yeah, his verse is good and even fits thematically, but it's not on the same level. Similar case happens later with 'Don't Ever Play Yourself', where Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes deliver some blisteringly strong verses and Kent Jones surpasses all my expectations with some well-structured bars against the creepy pianos and bass-heavy skitter of the production... but then you get Fabolous talking about his giant balls and flubbing rhyme after rhyme and it's a complete dead zone in the middle of the song that Fat Joe doesn't recover well. 

And this becomes a problem when you consider the album on a bigger scale - forget the fact that DJ Khaled is trying to make this album feel anthemic and then for his second song puts up 'For Free' with Drake, a limp lazy track that I already thrashed on Billboard BREAKDOWN, where this album is at its strongest is when it focuses on revealing to the world how these artists have found their success, showing the major keys. And yet after 'Jermaine's Interlude', where J.Cole meanders through an otherwise decent song musing how his success hasn't stopped his depression or things from getting worse - and his solution is just to give up or retire, because of course it is - the album switches focus less on showing the success but preserving it from so many golddiggers and haters trying to tear them down, and it's nowhere near as anthemic or triumphant as I think DJ Khaled wanted. We start with 'Ima Be Alright' with Bryson Tiller and Future, with Future again bitching about Ciara - dude, get over yourself, it's been nearly two years, two albums, and about seven mixtapes at this point - and then hits the absolute low point with 'Pick These Hoes Apart', an anthem to negging with Kodak Black and French Montana talking about their dicks and pussy farts with Jeezy desperately trying to hold some dignity with bizarrely distant vocal production, as if he just phoned in his verse. It's one of the worst tracks I've heard this year, especially coming right after the smooth and well-executed 'Do You Mind' with Chris Brown, August Alsina, Jeremih, Future, Rick Ross, and Nicki Minaj... and really, if this was pushed to the radio, it'd stick, because for an R&B jam it's surprisingly strong.

But beyond that, this record really seems to lose focus on the back half, mostly as the 'major key' idea falls completely out the window in the face of disconnected bragging like 'Fuck Up The Club' and the flat drone of 'Tourist' with Travi$ Scott and Lil Wayne, or the borderline Big Sean solo track 'Work For It', where he describes himself falling away from his work for some girl as 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane spit interchangeable verses. And then abruptly this record wants to have some redemptive focus with 'Forgive Me Father', where Wiz Khalifa's verse about slowing down to focus on fatherhood mostly works, but we still have to content with Wale's increasingly disconnected bars and a hook from - no jokes - Meghan Trainor, who in comparison with Betty Wright doesn't remotely belong on this record. And speaking of not remotely belonging here, the album closer is a solo joint from reggae dancehall artist Mavado called 'Progress' that plays in the same sort of bragging,, but is way too slick and synthetic to flatter the lyrics about fighting against temptation, and it ends basically unfinished, which strikes me as completely the wrong way to finish this record!

And yet I'm not surprised by that, because the more I listened through DJ Khaled's Major Key, the more I got the impression that while he knows how to bring people together, he doesn't quite get how to make them create gold, or to guide them to be better than the sum of their parts. And that's really what this record feels like: a scattered collection of verses and fragments that had the potential to be better but for now hang disconnected in the wind. And sure, there are some fragments that are genuinely excellent, some great verses and hooks, but with the weight of so much incompetence around them, this record can't help but be dragged back to a light 5/10. Again, I'm not sure what I was expecting from DJ Khaled, but there's a part of me that was hoping this could be better as a whole - in other words, if you're curious, it's got a few bright spots, but overall, probably not worth your time. I'd likely skip it.

No comments:

Post a Comment