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“I am Blessed:” How DJ Khaled’s Palestinian Heritage Has Shaped His Rise to Success

Shirt, pants, Terrell Jones for 5001 Flavours; sneakers, Nike Air Jordan Retro 1

DJ Khaled wears Shirt, pants, Terrell Jones for 5001 Flavors; sneakers, Nike Air Jordan Retro 1. Photographed by Michael Schwartz for Vogue Man Arabia, Fall/Winter 2018

Multimillion-selling artist, father, superstar, and proud Arab – is there anything DJ Khaled can’t turn to gold?

DJ Khaled is a difficult man to pin down for a conversation. While getting the DJ, producer, and CEO to star in our cover shoot is relatively easy – unsurprisingly, he’s a natural in front of the camera – trying to hook up with him for a chat is less so. The email trail is at about 40 when we stop counting. There are high points, low points, and points filled with blind panic at the prospect of having no words to go with the shoot. Then, just as we’re about to give up, the phone rings. It’s Khaled – and the wait proves to be well worth it.

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Vogue Man Arabia

Just five minutes spent chatting to the 42-year-old on the phone is an experience. His voice is distinctive, his “bless-up” mantra peppered throughout the conversation, and his tone is super nonchalant. This is a man who can really talk and, refreshingly, he doesn’t hold back. But at the same time, he’s careful not to reveal too much, maintaining just the right amount of A-list mystique. Khaled has the art of intrigue down pat.

Born Khaled Khaled in New Orleans (and raised in Florida) to Palestinian parents, who immigrated to the US from their homeland, Khaled’s journey to the top has been family driven, with a work ethic that comes courtesy of his parents. “My mother is from Ramallah and my father is from a place called Al-Mazra’a ash-Sharqiya. They came to the US with, like, $10 in their pocket. They used to sell clothes out of a car. Then eventually they got to a shopping center and then from there they went to the mall. As a kid I got to see the progression from us living in an apartment to having a house,” he says proudly. “They worked seven days a week. Every single day they woke up at 6am, went to work, and got home at 11pm. I don’t remember them ever having a day off in my life. But they still had time to raise me and my brother, actor Alaa Khaled, like real parents.”

Coat, Gucci; T-shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren; pants, Terrell Jones; sneakers, Nike Air Jordan Retro 3; Rolex watch (worn throughout), Khaled’s own

DJ Khaled wears Coat, Gucci; T-shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren; pants, Terrell Jones; sneakers, Nike Air Jordan Retro 3; Rolex watch (worn throughout), Khaled’s own. Photographed by Michael Schwartz for Vogue Man Arabia, Fall/Winter 2018

As a devout believer – “I’m Muslim all the way. One hundred percent. It’s my way of life. I was born and raised a Muslim. I’m Palestinian. I’m Arab” – Khaled turned to his faith whenever he needed to find light in the dark. “The blessings Allah gave me was for me to see that my family worked to care for us. I was raised from birth to work hard. I learned the morals and respect of family first.”

A large part of his upbringing focused on heritage. In 1984, when he was nine years old, Khaled traveled to Palestine with his mother for a wedding. He was told the trip would be a week long – he ended up staying for two years. “They made sure I knew where I came from,” he explains. “I was blessed to go to Dome of the Rock, the Dead Sea, and Haifa, to see where my father was raised. I went to my mother’s house in Ramallah. I was so happy that I got to see that.”

Humbled by the journey, he plans to give the same experience to his son, two-year-old Asahd. “I’m taking my kid to Palestine for sure. I want to go when my son is a little older so he can see it the same way I did,” he shares. “I remember it every second, every day. I remember running through the streets of Ramallah. I remember the amazing food – the maqluba, the kibbeh – and the olive trees, they are just beautiful. It’s incredible. A lot of people see what I do but they don’t know that inside my home is a real Arabic salvation.”

Tracksuit, Terrell Jones for 5001 Flavors

DJ Khaled wears Tracksuit, Terrell Jones for 5001 Flavors. Photographed by Michael Schwartz for Vogue Man Arabia, Fall/Winter 2018

Khaled is determined to raise his son as he was brought up. “My family showed me love. That’s the key to raising anybody. They raised me the smart way. When I was just starting out, I used what they taught me to sell my tapes from the back of my car. The same way they used to sell clothes. I had to work for it. It took me 25 years to get where I am. Allah has blessed me so I can take care of my family now.”

The chart-topper, who is currently “working on” having more kids with his partner, Nicole Tuck, calls the birth of his son the biggest blessing ever. “My life changed completely in the most amazing way,” he enthuses. “We were blessed before, but this is more exciting. I feel like I’m just starting to live. Asahd is the light of my life. When I see my son, he sends me an energy that makes me feel like I can accomplish anything in the world. It’s like Allah smiling on me every day. It’s the purest form of love.”

While many celebrities prefer to shield their kids from the spotlight, Khaled is proud to show off his son. At 10 months old, Asahd featured on the cover of Khaled’s 10th album, Grateful, often attends events with his dad dressed in mini-me attire, and is Insta-famous with two million followers. The toddler is a social media king and has even graced the covers of magazines. Of course, Asahd isn’t the one uploading the images to the accounts – now that would be truly blessed – Mom and Dad are the creators of @asahdkhaled. The idea to launch the account came after Khaled struggled to find images of himself as a kid. “This way, when Asahd gets older, he won’t have that problem. We only put up moments. I think it’s so beautiful if you put out love and positivity. I don’t want to get too deep but I feel like Asahd is a prophet. When anyone is around him, they are happy.”

Cardigan, Gucci

DJ Khaled wears Cardigan, Gucci. Photographed by Michael Schwartz for Vogue Man Arabia, Fall/Winter 2018

Already starting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Asahd is also named as “executive producer” on many of Khaled’s records. “He’s has a lot going for him,” explains Khaled, who is grooming his son to become a mogul. “He is so blessed. He is going to accomplish more than I’ve accomplished in 25 years. The way we’re raising Asahd is with pure love and greatness.”

He’s quick to point out that it’s not about spoiling his son but rather educating him about how hard work and belief can help you achieve it all. “Whatever he decides to do when he grows up, he can do. I will guide him forever. He is going to build his own empire one day. He’s going to work hard for himself and take care of Mommy and Daddy.”

Khaled is so positive, he’s like a living Hallmark card. When it comes to life mantras, his is: never give up. “One day I woke up and said: ‘Khaled, get rid of all the negative energy and start loving yourself. If you can’t love yourself, how can you love someone else, how can you take care of someone else?’ At that time I had financial problems, I had people turning their backs on me. Everything around me was like a cloud but I refused to stay in the fog. I’m a fighter, I’m a winner, I am blessed.” It was following this epiphany that they decided to try for a child. “I started having real conversations with Allah. I pray all the time. Me and Allah have the most amazing relationship. I told him my plan: I’m going to have a baby. I was like, I don’t care, as long as I have my family and kids and a barbecue and swimming pool. That’s my happiness. I don’t need anything else.”

For a multimillionaire who owns houses in Miami and LA, his idea of happiness is simple – it’s not about the money. “I’m all about the love,” he adds. Even when it comes to his career, he claims it doesn’t feel like a business but a celebration. Dubbed “the Oprah of hip hop,” he has sold more than 15 million singles, with his projects including collaborations with Kanye West, Drake, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne. In 2006, he founded We the Best Music Group, encompassing a record label, management, publishing, and production companies, and a studio. Two years ago, his former idol, Jay-Z, became his manager.

T-shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren

DJ Khaled wears T-shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren. Photographed by Michael Schwartz for Vogue Man Arabia, Fall/Winter 2018

“Jay-Z is my brother, my friend, and my partner. I don’t like to use the word ‘management’ because we do a lot of great things together. Our connection is so amazing – not only does he give me advice in terms of business, we’ve accomplished a lot over the years. He’s someone I respect and love. We the Best and Roc Nation together are unstoppable.” His success is made more distinct by the fact that he has risen through the ranks with his friends. “We came from the bottom, you know. I remember being in some Holiday Inns with these artists and now we are at the Ritz-Carlton in the Presidential Suite. It’s humbling.”

That’s the thing about DJ Khaled. He’s incredibly grateful for everything he has. “I always look forward, but when I glance back I say, man, you’ve come a long way. I remember when I couldn’t even pay for a hotel room and once getting into an argument about having to pay for fuel for the bus. When you go through hard times, you say to yourself, don’t ever give up. I feel like I’m one of the hardest working people in the world. Don’t ever complain. If you complain, it’s a step back, it’s a waste of an emotion.”

His faith and heritage are prominent drivers in his life – so what’s his message for the Middle East? It’s simple: love. “Love is the key, love is the most powerful thing in the world. When we all come together with love, we are unstoppable. Don’t let anybody tell you anything else. We are very blessed and Allah is the greatest. We are beautiful people, we are beautiful families, we have a beautiful culture and heritage. We have a beautiful homeland, the Holy Land. Nobody in the world can stop us.”

DJ Khaled is currently touring and working on his new album, Father of Asahd.

Now Read: A Change of Art: Four Arab Street Artists That Are Changing The Game

Photography: Michael Schwartz
Style: Terrell Jones
Photography assistants: Eric Bouthiller, Amanda Yanez
Digital tech: Merlin Viethen
Shot on location at The Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
With thanks to Sarah Hobson and Neal Hamil

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