He rarely raps and sparingly produces, but Def Jam South President DJ Khaled is arguably one of hip hop’s most visible influencers. While many fans aren’t even really sure what the radio DJ turned mogul actually does (outside of yell “we the best”), he’s been able to leverage his marketing and networking genius to become an important figure on Miami’s music scene. While he might not be too hands on with the creation of his albums’ music himself, he’s hoping that his sixth studio compilation project, Kiss The Ring, will continue to add on to what has been an impressive amount of commercial success for his releases.
The typical formula for a DJ Khaled project is as follows, and is very well established at this point – take a whole bunch of A-list “top 40” rap and R&B features, add a few appearances from some artists with some bon a fide “street cred”, and then drop them over some extremely flashy production. It’s been the same since Khaled’s first album dropped back in 2006, and with Kiss The Ring, it definitely doesn’t change at all. Literally every hip hop artist who’s currently having any kind of success on the pop charts is present for this one (from Kanye to Wiz), and from start to finish they lay verses over production from current hit makers like Boi-1nda and Hit-boy.
While the idea of combining a whole bunch of star power, from both a rapping and production standpoint, seems like it would make for a memorable and standout musical experience – the results aren’t quite as promising as one might expect. Don’t take that the wrong way though. There are definitely plenty of tracks on the album that are probably going to be getting a ton of radio play and attention, and rightfully so. But, it would be extremely hard to argue, like with most DJ-branded compilation projects, that this one comes anywhere close to living up to the potential of its credits.
From a lyrical and substance perspective, Kiss the Ring, really doesn’t do anything too noteworthy (with a few exceptions). Despite having a huge variety of artists contributing a verse or two, the writing and delivery that each one comes with is extremely similar on nearly every track. Content-wise we get the typical money, party, and hustling laced with some occasionally witty wordplay, throughout almost the entire project. As with most Khaled albums though, the overall aesthetic is a bit grittier and more “street” inspired than the modern mainstream hip hop listener is probably used to.
A good number of the artists featured (like Ace Hood, Jadakiss, Future, etc.) definitely thrive in that rougher lyrical environment, and their verses are pretty typical compared to the rest of their catalogs. When they’re on the mic, the album feels like a mostly above average party rap album. It’s definitely trunk worthy music, that wouldn’t surprise any of their fans.
However, the artists that usually come with a different or “unique” lyrical approach seem like they were told to try and emulate the cliché party rap mold, instead of doing what they do best. The result is a good number of tracks that feel a bit forced and generic. “They Ready (feat. Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Big K.R.I.T.)” is a prime example. K. Dot and Cole definitely simplify their flows a great deal compared to their usual work, and K.R.I.T.’s verse is the most personality free he’s sounded in a long time. Kanye’s appearance on “I Wish You Would” even feels like it lacks his signature egotistical elitism. Granted, these songs aren’t terrible listens, but they’re probably far from what a good number of their fans might have been hoping for from them.
It should be noted that are a few definite highlights from a songwriting standpoint though. The Nas and Scarface powered “Hip Hop”, which was produced by DJ Premier, is easily the best cut on the album. The almost sad take on the commercialism in and of hip hop seems a bit comically out of place on a DJ Khaled album, but it shouldn’t be missed by any type of rap fan. Reggae artist Mavado also provides a few dark, yet undeniably impressive performances on “Suicidal Thoughts” and the bonus track, “Aktion Pak”
From a production standpoint, Kiss the Ring, is pretty consistent with its lyrical performances. There is a great deal of variety in the sounds that its producers traditionally bring, but they all seem to bend more to the typical DJ Khaled sound, as opposed to sticking to their usual aesthetic. That isn’t to say that each track isn’t immaculately engineered and polished, but again, there’s a noticeable lack of variety even though there are so many different, and highly talented, producers involved.
Not one song on the entire project would even come to close to falling outside of the upbeat radio/club friendly category. While there’s nothing “wrong” with that, the undeniable theme of heavy, sometimes gimmicky, production can cause the hour-long album to start to bleed together and drag on a bit. There definitely isn’t an unlistenable beat anywhere to be found here, but there isn’t anything the average hip hop fan hasn’t heard several times before either.
Overall, the Kiss the Ring album is an extremely ambitious project that definitely falls short of its goals and potential. It’s not the best DJ Khaled project by any means, and probably lacks a huge hit like “I’m On One”, “We Takin’ Over” or “All I Do is Win”. But, it is a crisply produced, high-energy project with appearances by nearly every commercially relevant hip hop artist alive. It’s worth a spin or two, but outside of “Hip Hop”, it’s hard to imagine this one having too much staying power in anyone’s rotation with the great deal of superior competition that’s come out recently, and still on the way.