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With “I’m the One” riding high on the charts, DJ Khaled is going behind-the-scenes of his new album Grateful, out June 23. Below, the DJ-producer and Snapchat guru tells EW about wrangling all his big-name collaborators (including Beyoncé and JAY-Z), how his son inspired his album, and how he stays positive.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your chart-topping song “I’m the One” is a star-studded affair: Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne, and Quavo from Migos are all on the track. What kind of coaching did you give them before they recorded?
Every artist I work with is already great. I want to bring more greatness out of them. With Bieber and everyone on the record, I gave them the Khaled Talk: “Yo, this is the one, this is the one they gonna talk about.” I even told everyone that this was going to be a No. 1, and I’ve never said that in my whole career! I spoke this into existence.
Your 8-month-old son, Asahd, is the executive producer on your new album. How does an infant produce anything?
He’s the reason all of this magic is happening. He had a chance to be in the studio with some of the artists, and some of them he FaceTimed with. When I would do records, they’d all say, “This is for Asahd.” I didn’t tell them to say that! That’s the energy my son is bringing.
Do you pick singles based on his reactions?
He’s picked all the singles! When he’s in the studio with me, he [makes] certain smiles, certain movements. I make sure I go in there more than one time with him, to see if what I’m seeing is a true feeling for him.
Your new album is packed with guests — Drake, Rihanna, Alicia Keys. Were there any collaborations that were hard to pull off?
With “Shining” [featuring Beyoncé and JAY-Z], I didn’t know if it was really going to get done. I played it for JAY-Z [last fall] and he loved it. I was like, “If you want to ask your wife [to sing on it], I know the answer is no, but I at least got to try!” He looked at me like I was crazy. Then I see her at the Roc Nation Christmas party and she was like, “I love the record!” I left them alone — I didn’t want to bother them. But then I got a call the night before the Grammys: “The record is done!”
The song came out the next day. You finished it in 24 hours?
I had to clear the sample, mix and master it, go in there and do my thing to it — add the sprinkles. It was such a rush.
You toured with Beyoncé last year and said you were so nervous around her that you would sometimes leave the room when she entered. Is that still the case?
Still nervous, still starstruck. The other day we were at a birthday party and we were all eating dinner. She was sitting close to me, and I couldn’t even eat my food.
Are you planning an epic baby gift for when Beyoncé has her twins? [Ed. note: Beyoncé has since given birth since this interview took place.]
Of course. Jay and Beyoncé, that’s family to me. I’m a fan of both of them, but I’m also inspired by them and what they’ve done with their careers. Jay is a real friend of mine — he’s not just my manager — and that’s how I like to work, you feel me? We’re gonna celebrate the blessings. Me and my queen are going to come up with something beautiful to give them.
There are so many ways to put out music in 2017 — you can just release singles, you can make a “playlist” like Drake did with More Life. Why is making a traditional album important to you?
I love making different types of records and anthems. I like to make tearjerkers. I like records that give you goosebumps. I like records that make you want to party. I got records that make you want to talk about some real issues out there. I can’t just give you this one record so you can identify who I am, you know what I’m saying?
Ten albums into your career, do you feel the need to outdo yourself each time?
Major Key got nominated for a Grammy. But this album? Grateful is gonna win a Grammy.
Who’s still on your collaboration bucket list?
Eminem. When I get the right record, I’m going to present it to his manager. I just want to work with people that I’m a fan of, and when I work with people of that stature, I want it to be mutual.
How do you stay so positive and optimistic when it feels sometimes like the world is ending?
Why would I want to feel another way? It’s hard times out there, but I’m not going to give my energy to something that’s not good. I’m going to put my energy into everything that’s right. If I can’t accomplish something at a certain time, I’m going to wake up and [aim to] be greater and pray more. What’s going on in the world right now, it’s a cold world. But I’m a father, so I have to make sure the sun is shining every day for my son.