In obvious damage-control mode, Miami producer and mogul DJ Khaled has quickly followed up his weak I Changed A Lot album from October 2015 with his latest issue of 2016, Major Key (July 29, We The Best/Epic Records). There are no doubt many good spots on the LP, and as a matter of fact, it is an improvement on his last project, though not a gigantic one. DJ Khaled and that epic major label known as Epic Records have gathered several of the most trending, marketable and quality hip-hop artists on the scene right now for Major Key and they’ve oversaw and directed some of their vocal behaviors, but surprisingly, they have also allowed some of them to do their own thing uninhibited.
Considering its bright spots, and its other mediocre ones, Major Key is once again a more or less typical though decent product from Khaled and its typical yet well versed players of the game, contributors that are very recognizable names in rap. Except for “For Free” by Drake, which doesn’t provide a lot besides some unsubstantiated sexual posturing and boasting, Major Key actually starts out very well. We get an unxpected collaboration between the new and old with Future and Jay-Z in “I Got The Keys,” a powerful promo plug by God’s Son Nas in “Nas Album Done,” and a roiling rollicking posse cut featuring Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Miami soul/r&b singer Betty Wright in “Holy Key.”
The very best verse in the first five songs however does not belong to Jay-Z, Nas or even Kendrick Lamar. It belongs to J. Cole, whose wonderously aware speech in “Jermaine’s Interlude” is bound to spark an enlightenment or two in listeners. This is very unexpected for a major label record, but by all means we’ll take it. In that interlude, Cole raps on the importance of staying independent as an artist, the mind control that TV companies attempt to have over the public and the terribleness of hood violence anywhere and everywhere. Even the rest of the rappers we hear later on (Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, etc.) are good too, but this beginning section is easily better than the midsection and the end because of the character and depth of its verses and artists combined.
Although tracks six through fourteen showcase some good solid rapping indeed, they tend to slip into trap sex, violence, drugs and a few romantic joints. The “Lovers & Friends”-sampling “Do You Mind” is cool, the production overall is respectable though pretty standard, and of all the many guest-emcees, Kent Jones, who raps a very clever verse in “Don’t Ever Play Yourself,” is the only little-known rapper on the disc so his appearance on Major Key is that much more important and valuable. In all certainty, this is the followup to I Changed A Lot that DJ Khaled and hip-hop sorely majorly needed, and it’s probably better that we’ve gotten a good followup sooner instead of a perfect classic followup much later. The timing was right because it had to arrive with as little delay as possible in light of I.C.A.L.’s glaring shortcomings. Khaled’s Major Key to success is in fact a success, but just barely, and mostly because of the fine vocalists he’s recruited.
3 out of 5 stars