Major Key (released July 29, 2016)
I don’t know about you in your corner of the world, but where I’m livin’, the summer temperatures feel like some of the hottest we’ve had in years.
It’s a shame hip-hop has been so lukewarm lately.
Summertime has always been the setting for some of the game’s most memorable songs. This year has been … lacking to say the least. ScHoolboy Q’s latest album was solid, Gucci Mane’s recent effort was better than it had any right to be, but rap fans has been denied a sure-fire scorcher.
Well, if you listen to DJ Khaled, he’s got the key.
Khaled’s bizarre rise from hype man to Snapchat motivational speaker (don’t ask) has made him one of the game’s most recognized faces. And that notoriety has spawned lots of friendships.
Khaled gladly falls into the background on Major Key, his ninth studio album. It’s not about Khaled, it’s about his guest stars.
And when they deliver, THEY DELIVER.
Six months from now, when y’all are writing your Top Songs of 2016 lists, you’d better leave room for “Holy Key.” Kendrick Lamar continues his unbelievable hot streak, running amok over the heavenly production like a crazed crusader:
I’m restoring the portrait of feasting, n****, I am beast
I don’t like to sleep, I’m up like coyote, I might OD
Hair like ODB, I’m off a higher need
Khaled is valid, I been looking for inspiration
But when you the only king, you the only one in the matrix
To his credit, co-star Big Sean holds up his end of the bargain too, delivering one of the strongest verses I’ve ever heard from him. Add in the incomparable Betty Wright, who screams the hook like it’s the last night of your church’s weeklong revival, and “Holy Key” lives up to its lofty name.
Unfortunately, many of the album’s other high-profile tracks don’t live up to expectations.
The highly celebrated single “I Got the Keys” teams Jay Z with Future … and it just doesn’t work. Jay drops off his usual technically sound verse but sounds entirely unenthusiastic. Future, of course, does the only thing he knows how to do – stomp all over the track with his repetitive, overbearing hook. He pops up on three more of the album’s songs and the results are no different. Wanna know how “F*** Up the Club” sounds? Just repeat the title over and over about 700 times. That’s it.
Drake raps with the enthusiasm of that sloth from Zootopia on “For Free.” Do not listen while operating heavy machinery. Even J. Cole’s contribution “Jermaine’s Interlude” sounds like an unfinished album castoff instead of a full-fledged song.
Thankfully, Nas didn’t let us down. Esco glides off a Fugees sample on “Nas Album Done,” effortlessly dropping bars about his “signature fade with a bevel blade” and how he’s “playing chess with babies.” He still makes it look easy.
The album does have a few more successes: Big Sean, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz show surprising chemistry on “Work for It” and slapping Meghan Trainor between Wale and Wiz Khalifa pays off on “Forgive Me Father” – it’s as introspective as you’ll get on album that features other Sunday morning hymns like “Pick These Hoes Apart.”
And “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” is a solid East Coast posse track. Fabolous, Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes are all here, but SHOCKINGLY it’s Kent Jones who shines brightest. Yes, the “telling me this, and telling me that” guy who has been saturating radio for months goes on a warpath, firing off punchlines like a semi-auto: “You do it for the ‘Gram, I do it for a Grammy/f*** a gold trophy, I’m talking moms, mammy.” Color me impressed.
The rest of the album? Not so impressive. It’s cluttered with tracks like “Do You Mind” and “Tourist” – they might be tailor-made for radio, they’re also entirely too predictable and boring.
That’s the main struggle with Major Key. Outside of a handful of well-crafted songs, everything else blends into a dull sea of auto-tune, lazy lyrics and annoying Future hooks.
So yeah, radio will love this album. The rest of us won’t.
Khaled comes close to unlocking this summer’s potential but Major Key just isn’t the right fit.
Best tracks: “Holy Key,” “Nas Album Done,” “Don’t Ever Play Yourself”
3 stars out of 5