This piece was originally published in April, 2008.
For the most part DJ Khaled doesn’t actually make the music on his solo albums; the Miami radio personality farms the brunt of that work out to superstar producers and rappers like Kanye West, Rick Ross, the Runners, Lil Wayne and Cool-n-Dre. And that means Khaled’s creative contribution is more or less limited to his excitable catchphrases: “Listennn…”; “I’m about unity”; “We the best!” So it’s behind the scene—where Khaled improbably corrals together his MC murderer’s row—that dude truly shines. And the end results are fantasy land sugar-rush posse cuts like “We Taking Over” and “I’m So Hood,” simply some of today’s greatest radio-rap bangers. For that, he gets a tip of our hat; for being the only Palestinian-American we know of that can legitimately call Fat Joe his best friend.
You’re about to do your radio show?
Yeah, I’m on the radio right now, you know, every single day I’m doing radio, I’m in the studio, I’m promoting artists, I’m working on my album, I’m on the road with [Rick] Ross, I’m doing shows, we work. We grinding.
Sounds good. I was hoping to ask you mostly about your background, if that’s alright.
Yeah, well, you know I’m Palestinian, Palestinian-American, [originally] the Jerusalem area. I was born in New Orleans but I lived most of my life in Miami. I rep Miami, 305 Dade County for life! That’s who I am.
Was there a Palestinian community in New Orleans when you were growing up?
I mean you know my family’s big, so that’s the community alone, and of course, I always grew up near the people my family knew. But everywhere I go, there’s Palestinians and Arab, it’s not just one city, its everywhere I go. Now I’m successful in the music business, I see a lot of [Arabic] people come up to me in the street. You feel me?
Were your parents born in America?
Uh, no, they weren’t.
They were born near Jerusalem?
In the Middle East, yeah.
Do you still have family out there?
I got family out there, you know what I’m saying. They actually have a house out there too. In Mazrah Sharqia [a village in the West Bank]. And my mom’s side has houses in Jordan.
Have you been to the area?
I went with my mother, yeah, in ’84, you know what I’m saying. Just a chance to show me where they’re from, a chance to embrace the holy land…It was great, I got to see the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, got to experience Bethlehem. Seeing Bethlehem was real deep, you know what I’m saying. Seeing what you read about in the Koran, or some people read in the Bible. Actually see it. It’s deep.
How did you originally get into hip hop?
I mean, I was like 12, 13 years old, the breakin’ era, I was involved in the breakin’ era, the b-boy era, and I just loved music so much. And I was collecting mixtapes and had the biggest speakers in my room, and the turntables, and I started making my own music for my listening pleasure, and making it for my friends, so then I just got into it, and loved it. Hip hop!
Did you ever consider not using your real name (Khaled Khaled) when you got into the business?
Nah, I wanted to keep my name because it’s a powerful name. I never wanted to change my name, because that’s who I am.
Did anyone ever consult you against that?
I also read somewhere that one of your nicknames used to be the Arab Attack?
But you ended up dropping that?
I dropped it because, after the whole 9/11 thing, you know I’m not one of those ignorant people. I’m a positive person. “Arab Attack” was mainly used for music, like we attack you with music, but when 9/11 happened, I said, you know what, I’m not gonna use that name no more. It wasn’t respectful to the people that went through some stuff.
You named your studio Jerusalem. Was that any kind of statement?
I did it cause I feel like my studio is a holy place, everybody is allowed in there, and I feel like its blessed like the Dome of the Rock, you know?
I’ve heard you talk about promoting peace through your music. What’s that mean, practically speaking?
I always promote unity, and people coming together doing music…I’m not about no violence and I’m not about beef, but in our music, sometimes we have to tell stories, real life stories. But personally, as a person, I like to keep love and peace as much as you can in this world, you know?
That’s great. So what’s going on this week, you’re doing Spring Bling?
Yeah, I’m doing BET’s Spring Bling…hold on one second. [End bit of “I’m So Hood” plays in background, Khaled chimes in, offkey: And if you feel me put your hands up! [Then, in hyper radio voice]This is a classic forever! 99 Jamz, South Florida’s only station for hip hop and r&b, DJ Khaled, K Fox!What’s cracking. [Female announcer announces radio contest winner, and Khaled takes it back to the song]. Its 99 jamz baby! Yeah. You hear me? Hello?
Hey. That was fun to hear.
Let me ask, when you get together with the artists that you work with, do you discuss your different backgrounds?
A lot of people, some of these rappers are Muslim, and sometimes we’ll be kicking it. But everyone respects me as a man, respects me as a person. Everyone’s got their way of being brought up, in their different belief systems, like that. I’m a normal person, just like everybody else, you know it?
Do people ask a lot of questions?
Nah nah nah, it’s all love always.
I read in the past about you trying to open doors for other Arab-American artists. Have you noticed more Arab-American artists since you started out?
I meet different people every day in the business, some I meet who are producers, who are Arab, or managers…just you know, people in the business. I’m an artist in the business, [and there are others] but they haven’t made it to the point yet where we know them, you feel me?
There’s this documentary called Slingshot Hip Hop. It’s specifically about Palestinian hip hop, and I was wondering, do you know anything about the music scene in Palestine?
I heard there was a scene out there, I haven’t gotten a chance to experience it, I haven’t been back for a while, but I heard there was a scene out there.
Is it something you’d be interested in bringing over to the US? As artists on your label or something like that?
I mean, if something catches my ear, and I feel like, you know, they vibe with what the sound I’m doing right now, of course. I don’t discriminate against nobody.
But the priority is good music first?
Yeah. Gotta make good music, it doesn’t matter where you from.