In February, DJ Khaled was enjoying the best month of his career. He notched his first Grammy, had his second son, performed at NBA All-Star Weekend, and had a cameo in Bad Boys For Life. With his confidence at an all-time high, Khaled was prepping his return into the music space with his glitzy single “Popstar” featuring Drake the following month. As fate would have it, the COVID-19 pandemic halted his plans and forced him to readjust.
Rather than sulk, Khaled spent more time with his family and crafted new plans with Drake to release their collaboration once things calmed down. Because Khaled wasn’t able to shoot the video with Drake as he previously wished to do, they masterminded a strategy to drop “Popstar” and “Greece” the same day, and the results proved to be golden. Both records debuted in the top 10 of the Hot 100 in July at No. 3 and No. 8, respectively. Khaled’s winning streak continued when he released the video for “Popstar,” starring pop’s current icon Justin Bieber.
Helmed by Director X, Khaled and Drake took the backseat and allowed Bieber to walk fans through his day as one of music’s biggest celebrities. Since releasing the video last month, “Popstar” sits at a whopping 92 million views on YouTube.
Along with his chart success, Khaled kicked off his new podcast, The First One, Oct. 15. Spearheaded by Amazon and LeBron James’ media platform Springhill Company, Khaled’s latest endeavor highlights him interviewing his favorite artists about making their most iconic records and celebrating their career paths. Guests on the show include Lil Wayne, Bon Jovi, Rick Ross, Big Sean and Kelly Rowland.
Even after experiencing some bumps on the road with the pandemic, Khaled’s unwavering confidence remains a driving force behind his success. With a fresh haircut and pumpkin spice cappuccino in-hand at his home in Miami, Khaled cheers to being pandemic proof with his eyes on more wins.
Billboard spoke to Khaled about his new podcast The First One, staying upbeat, his special bond with Drake, and how “Popstar” came together.
When we last spoke, your confidence was sky high after having won a Grammy, doing a Super Bowl commercial with J. Lo and welcoming your second baby boy. After the pandemic hit, where was your confidence at then?
You know, my confidence always been at a high level and it’s always going to be like that for a lot of reasons. God is great. When you know love God, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
I always tell the young world that you should always be confident. You should always be humble, but you should always be confident. Confidence has so many meanings and definitions in my world because it shows through your work ethic. It also shows when you talk something into existence and you really make it happen. It shows your ambition, your love or whatever you have love for that you want to put your work in.
For me, I always say this to my friends, family and I’ll say this to you: I’m not stopping. I’m going to keep going harder and harder. I’m just excited to do the things that I’ve been saying I’m gonna do since I was a kid. From the music side to the movie side to everything that’s going on from an entrepreneurial standpoint — like real estate to owning restaurants — I said all of this and I’m doing it.
We know you’ve always wanted to pursue music, but with the new endeavors you’ve been exploring like with your podcast, real estate and the restaurant business, which lane are you most proud of?
Man, I feel like everything embraces everything that I’m doing. I feel like music is something that we all love in some way, either making it or listening to it. I use my music to inspire me, to motivate me, because of my true love: hip-hop. I am hip-hop. Now I’m doing pod talk. On pod talk, we’re talking hip-hop. We’re talking to all the icons and the musicians out there from Lil Wayne to Bon Jovi and we’re talking about music.
At the same time, it’s talking about The First One but also where you’re at now. I’m doing these interviews and I’m inspired listening to some of these stories because if you think about it, you gotta think about how you started in the game and then you look at yourself now. Hopefully, you’re inspired by your journey. We’re just getting started.
With pod talk, it’s not a regular podcast, I would say, because it’s a feeling. I could predict what’s going to happen every conversation. I can tell you this: We’re talking about greatness only. Just greatness.
Are there any similarities between crafting a podcast and making an album?
Yeah, for sure. It’s like any time you get somebody to confirm on the podcast, it’s like a feature. [Laughs] Also, teamwork. That’s something I want to talk about. Teamwork makes the dream work. Everybody is involved in the podcast. It’s a team. If they reach out to somebody and they get the response that they wanna be on the show, great. If they can’t, I jump in.
Most of the calls, I try to call personally because it means that much to me. Most of these icons and great artists that I’m talking to are really my friends or I really worked with them. We really have history together and they know that they can trust me to talk about greatness and not waste their time.
I’m glad the trailer is out because I want people to know if you get the call to be on Khaled’s pod talk, it’s about greatness. If anything, you should want to do this because finally, we get to talk about greatness. There’s other podcasts that are great, but with what I’m doing, I’m really dialing in to greatness only.
The lineup you have for the podcast is star studded.
We have [Lil] Wayne, [Big] Sean, [Rick] Ross, [Fat] Joe, Kelly Rowland. Tonight we’re doing T.I. We got Bon Jovi. I just got the text right now. We got Nas locked in, but I also have some ones that I’m not even going to say that’s already done that I told the team don’t even put it on a trailer or even on a caption.
It’s top secret.
Not even top secret. I want it to be promoted separately because it only happens once in a blue moon. So we’re going to be talking to the ones that only be coming out once in a blue moon. Season one is going to be phenomenal. You know I’m gonna be honest with you because it’s always real talk. We already did renegotiations before the show even started. Season two is already locked in. I ain’t even gonna lie. I’m comfortable talking about greatness. You see how comfortable me and you are and we always catch a vibe? Imagine me talking to other great people, including yourself? It just flows out and it’s a vibe, but I want to be clear with using the word “greatness.”
In this time in the world with what’s going on right now, and at anytime, I’ve always promoted love. I’ve always promoted unity. I’ve always wanted to bring the light, especially when it’s hard and dark times. We all need to do this so we have the same greatness. There gotta be a time when we talk about the greatness. And when you talk to these great artists, I say to myself even though I’ve worked with them and they’re my friends, I still look at it like the biggest fan. Like, “I’m talking to Lil Wayne!” I’ve known Lil Wayne most of my life, but I’m talking to him like, “Wow.”
You just walked into my next question. Because you’ve worked with a Wayne, Ross, Sean and Joe in the studio, was there a story that stuck out to you during the podcast that you never once brought up with them in the studio?
It’s crazy because, sometimes, I have a story to tell them, and I would see if they would remember. It’s crazy that most of them would remember. I’m talking about stuff that before I became Khaled. Like our Wayne interview, we talked about how I worked at the record store. That’s where I met Birdman and all them. I used to work there and DJ. He brought it up and I brought it up and we told stories. It just felt good because again, look at where we at now. So when people see it, I want them to be motivated and inspired. Not only are you getting gems you didn’t know, but if you want to be in the music game, you’re getting to see it from another perspective. You get to see it from the person you’re inspired by because you wanna be where this icon is at if you’re doing music. Like with Wayne, I feel like he’s one of the greatest executives because of his roster. What’s that statement? Men lie, humans lie?
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.
You better give that man his flowers! What I’m trying to tell you is we’re talking that talk. We’re talking cloth talk. We’re talking that pod talk with Podcast Billi.
Let’s talk about the chemistry you and Drake have because you guys stormed right out the gate with “Popstar” and “Greece” in July. What makes that bond between you two so special?
Khaled and Drake is super special and we both know that. I appreciate you saying that, but me and Drake know it’s special because just getting to the release date of any Khaled and Drake record is always a special story. From “For Free,” “I’m on One,” “No New Friends,” there’s always been a special story up into the release date.
I can say this with Drake: That’s my brother for real. He’s my friend for real. He loves me and I love him too. Also, as people that are two music execs, two guys that make music, two guys that put out albums, two guys that are bosses and CEOS, we relate to each other in a great way meaning IT’S BIG. If I come to Drake like, “Let’s do something,” in his head, he’s already saying that “Khaled isn’t doing just anything.” That’s how I look at Drake too, because everything he do is big. So, if anything, I’m complimenting him because I don’t wanna waste nobody’s time and we’re brothers. So we gotta do it big.
If you wanna talk about going big, you called Justin Bieber for the “Popstar” video. How did that come together?
I want to be clear because nobody really has that story yet. Actually, I never told nobody. Remember when I seen you at All-Star?
Yeah. I remember you said you were sitting on something.
After All-Star, I come home and me and Drake were supposed to shoot the video. This is before the “plandemic.” My son was born. I won a Grammy and I was in the studio with Drake all in that one span. We agreed on shooting the video right away. I told him that it was important to me and that I wanted to shoot the video before I dropped the record. I’m not just dropping the record. I want the video at the same time. It’s important. Khaled and Drake is always big and the fans know we gotta do it big. He says, “Let’s do it.”
We’re going over ideas in the studio. I get back home and we’re going over ideas over the phone. Then, the “plandemic” hits. [Sighs] So out of respect for everybody’s households and families adapting to the new world, I stopped conversation about when we’re doing the record and video for that moment because this is something crazy going on in the world. A month in, two months in, me and Drake are staying in touch. At that time, I didn’t feel like I should drop any music and I’m sure he wasn’t either during the beginning stages of the “plandemic.”
Time goes by and I got motivated one day. I finally got my hair cut. I was looking crazy. I got my hair cut and I was like, “Hold up.” We can’t fall for the trap. I woke up and I was like, “We’re the light. People are counting on us.” We have to bring the light during these dark and hard times. If it’s through music, let’s do it. I told Drake, “It’s hard right now, but we’re going to be the light.”
All those videos you seen me in the music video, those are all real videos. Every single video in there was a real video that I was sending. That’s how I communicate with Drake. I communicate with Drake through video because I have too much to say to be texting. I don’t like texting. You could read it wrong. You might be in a good mood or rough day and you might read it wrong. So I wanted him to know my facial expressions and my energy.
So when Drake was telling Director X he wants all those videos that Khaled sent me — me and him were really going to shoot the video together — but I couldn’t leave the country.` For real, I couldn’t get to Canada. They closed the borders. So he came up with an idea like, “We should get a pop star –Bieber” before the “plandemic.”
So when the “plandemic” hit, we were still trying to shoot me and him together, but then the “plandemic” hit and it made even more sense. I wanted to drop the video and the song the same day, but we ended up dropping two songs with no videos. It went crazy. It debuted No. 3 on the Hot 100 with no video. No bundle. Straight music.
I wanna say that to say I didn’t give up. I secured that video. Another person would have went back to Drake and would have said, “We ain’t gonna do the video,” because Bieber was only available at a certain time. And I told you how long I had the record. That was a long time. It’s a marathon like my brother Nip said. So to all the artists out there and people making music, if an idea can’t happen that moment, don’t give up on the idea because it might be an even better situation when it comes later.
So when we dropped that video, not only is “Popstar” one of the biggest record of the year, but it also solidified it on another level and opened the eyes of creativity. Like these guys really did it big.
I gotta ask before I let you go: I noticed you’ve been calling the pandemic the “plandemic.” What’s your reasoning for that?
Well I remember Nas posted one day and used the word “plandemic.” So I looked it and said, “Man. He’s saying something real because it’s a ‘plandemic.'” Somebody planned this and people are getting hurt by it. So I took “plandemic” and said, “If they plan” — noticed I said “they plan” — then we have to plan. That’s this whole conversation. This me planning with a new podcast, a new album, and more family time. We planning. Let’s plan greatness. Let’s plan positivity ’cause they planned something else. Planning is good if you use it in a good way. So while they planning, we planning in a good way. We plan be blessed and grateful at all time.