Exclusive: DJ Khaled on New Album 'Grateful,' Conquering Snapchat and Dreams of Movie Stardom

DJ Khaled for Newsweek
DJ Khaled: “I don't get into politics, because I don't know nothing about it, and I don't want to know nothing about it.” Elizabeth Weinberg for Newsweek

On a cloudy day in late May, an hour after our interview was supposed to begin, DJ Khaled is pacing around the living room of his new house on the north slopes of Beverly Hills. Rihanna’s on the phone. His newest album, Grateful , is set to drop in less than a month (June 23), and he’s still working on the track list and video shoots. Which means he has a lot of calls to make.

Born in New Orleans in 1975 to Palestinian immigrant parents, raised in Orlando, Florida, and forged into a world-beating DJ in the heat of Miami radio, Khaled Mohamed Khaled is one of America’s top recording artists, with 11 platinum records. He’s achieved this without singing or rapping, contributing just a handful of beats to each release. Nearly all of his work consists of convincing other superstars—Nas, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross, Drake, Beyoncé, his manager (Jay Z)—to make music with him; a hip-hop Alfred Hitchcock, he cameos on his tracks. So if you miss Khaled yelling his name at the beginning of his latest, No. 1-debuting single—“I’m the One,” featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne—you’d never guess it was his song.

Khaled’s dressed in his familiar lounge uniform: white T-shirt, red basketball shorts, white socks and slides made by his music label, We the Best Music Group. Around his neck hangs his standard medallion: “Allah” in diamond-studded script. He wraps up the call with Rihanna and stalks off to another corner of his mansion, a place he bought from Britpop superstar Robbie Williams for $9.9 million back in January, though he still calls Miami home. There’s a lot of white, like the baby grand piano in the marble entrance hall that matches the baby-sized baby grand (a gift for Asahd, Khaled’s 8-month-old son, from Alicia Keys) in the white-carpeted living room.

DJ Khaled for Newsweek DJ Khaled and son Asahd, photographed May 25 at his home in Beverly Hills. Elizabeth Weinberg for Newsweek

A laid-back assistant informs me that Khaled has repaired to his dedicated haircut room for his twice-weekly trim. A few minutes later, along with anywhere from 3 million to 4 million other Snapchat users, an audience larger than most prime-time TV shows, I watch Khaled recording his shape-up.

Since downloading Snapchat in late 2015, DJ Khaled has posted a relentless stream of repetitive, eccentric and occasionally inspiring videos. He gives tours of his garden; sits shirtless in bed, rubbing cocoa butter on his considerable belly, exhorting followers to moisturize; he thanks God for his success, then peels out on his Jet Ski. In October, he Snapchatted his fiancée and partner of 13 years, Nicole Tuck, giving birth to Asahd, who now makes daily appearances on his feed.

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DJ Khaled with son Asahd

Photos: DJ Khaled and Son Asahd Pose for Newsweek

Newsweek photographed the "I'm the One" hitmaker at his home in Beverly Hills.
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All these videos are in service to “the keys,” Khaled’s nuggets of life advice, expressed through a matrix of catchphrases. Goals, for example, are “doors” to be “ripped off their hinges” to achieve “more success.” Within the keys are frequent references to “they,” the anonymous haters who don’t want you to succeed. A more concise version, a book titled The Keys, was published as a book last year; chapters include “Stay Humble,” “Success Is a Process” and “Have a Lot of Pillows.”

But the hyperactive, hyper-sharing Khaled hasn’t shared everything. Like, for instance, the friendly Siamese cat that has wandered into the living room. Or that his haircuts somehow take more than an hour.

Finally, edges clean, DJ Khaled emerges, chooses a wide armchair (white, naturally) and, after positioning a large bowl of fruit in his lap, trains his love on me. His new favorite topic is fatherhood. Khaled’s own childhood is well documented: He helped his parents sell second-hand clothing out of the back of a car seven days a week. When he went out on his own, moving to Miami to break into the music business, he’d sleep in the back of his Honda Civic with crates of records for pillows. (“Without vinyl, you wouldn’t have DJ Khaled,” he tells me later. “If I see a store, I will walk in there. I just love the smell.”) Asahd, on the other hand, is growing up with two Rolls-Royces in the garage, which could conceivably undermine such Khaledian catchphrases as “Success is a process.”

“I’m not worried at all, because I’ll raise him right,” says Khaled. “I mean, he's his own man—he got the drive now, you can see it in his eyes. His father is the definition of drive, and my father was the same way. I want to give my son all the joy and happiness and anything he wants, and I'm also gonna show him the hard work you have to do to get these things.” (Asahd, it should be noted, has an executive producer credit on Grateful and the points that go with it.)

Tuck wears a matching diamond “Allah” chain around her neck, but she does not share Khaled’s faith. Still, he says, “I'm gonna raise Asahd the way I was raised: Muslim. But I respect my queen too, so my son is gonna get a little from his mother and a little from me. One thing he needs to know: God is the greatest.”

Khaled is arguably the most famous Muslim in America today. As the public face of Ciroc vodka, his practice of Islam is clearly not strictly orthodox, but it’s an essential part of how he lives. “I pray every day,” he says of his faith. “I pray in Arabic. I love where I’m from.” This being the day before Ramadan, he is also going to do his best to fast, though it can be tough on the road.

I ask if he’s ever been on the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. “No, but I’ve been in Jerusalem when I was young, like in 1984,” he says. His mother is from Ramallah, near Jerusalem; his father from a small town nearby. “My mom took me for a wedding, and she tricked me—we ended up staying for a year and a half. She made sure I knew where I come from. I got a chance to see what they're talking about in the Scriptures, in the holy city. Like I touched the ground, the rocks, you know? It's so beautiful.”

When I push for political views, though, he demurs. Khaled tells me that he prays for peace between Palestinians and Israelis every day, and that he hopes to bring Asahd to Jerusalem once he’s grown. But he’s reluctant to address the Trump administration’s noted bias against his faith. I ask if, in the language of Khaled, Trump is a “they.”

“I don't get into politics, because I don't know nothing about it, and I don't want to know nothing about it,” he says. “Because if it ain't love, I don't want to be involved.” He will say that he appreciates how many Americans came together over the issue of a travel ban. “We were like, ‘This is wrong. ’ I'm about what's right. You can't stereotype people.”

Politics exhausted, I turn to the mysterious cat. Khaled identifies her as Coco, and she belongs to Tuck. Given that social media were practically invented for cute pets, her omission from his feed is notable. “I don't like cats,” he explains. “I'm a clean freak—even if the house is clean, I still want the housekeepers to come over and just keep cleaning. This cat knows not to play with me. But that was the rule when I fell in love with my queen: I had to take both of them.”

Khaled won’t let me leave without a discussion of future glory. Grateful is (naturally) his best album ever, and he’s conquering movies and TV next. To begin with, he has film roles in Pitch Perfect 3 and Jamie Foxx’s upcoming directorial debut, All-Star Weekend . Is he a good actor? “I just feel like I'm born with it, you know what I'm saying? I can go into any mode in any scene.

“I’m letting everybody know: Get me while you can,” he says of these smaller roles. “Because in a minute, if you don't, I'm gonna do it on my own. So I'm telling everybody, I'm waving the flag: I'm the next Denzel, get me now.”

But just to be clear: “I think that in a humble way—I'm here to work.”