DJ Khaled is bringing his We the Best imprint to Def Jam, leaving Sony Music, where he was signed to Epic Records, for a joint venture with Universal Music Group. In addition, the rapper-producer has been named Global Creative Consultant for UMG, working across all labels at the world’s biggest music company. The news was shared at a press conference in Miami today (Feb. 9).
As an artist, he’ll release future music through Def Jam, marking a full circle moment for Khaled, whose career included an early stint as an A&R executive at Def Jam South. The move also reunites Khaled with LaTrice Burnette, EVP at Def Jam, who was a key architect of his success at Epic, where he released five albums, four of which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
Speaking to Variety ahead of the presser, Khaled said of Epic Records chairman Sylvia Rhone, “I want to thank Sylvia for our beautiful friendship and making history together. The entire Epic Records team, we did amazing things. Great true friendships are forever.”
Relationship-building is a guiding philosophy when it comes to Khaled’s career, and he applies it to Def Jam chairman Tunji Balogun, whom he calls “an incredible A&R man.” As for UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge, “Lucian and I, we always talked about me coming back home,” says Khaled. “So I felt like it was it was written for me to come back where I’m at in my career as an artist, an executive and as a producer, I felt like this is beautiful. I could have went anywhere in the Universal system and I chose Def Jam because of Tunji and LaTrice.”
“DJ Khaled is a great artist, hitmaker, mentor and cultural innovator,” said Grainge in announcing Khaled’s deal. “It gives me great pleasure to welcome him home to UMG where we look forward to working together to amplify his brilliant creative instincts and unique vision.”
Added Balogun: “Beyond a proven hitmaker, incredible producer, undeniable artist, and consummate showman, DJ Khaled occupies the rarified air of cultural icon. His uncanny ability to continuously have his finger on the pulse of the culture and to reach audiences all over the world in innovative yet authentic ways, his remarkable savvy for marketing, promotion and eventizing everything he touches is absolutely second to none. We are thrilled to partner with DJ Khaled and We The Best, both as a multi-platinum, award-winning artist and as a valued executive. Without a doubt, Khaled can only make us better.”
Speaking to Variety, Khaled continued: “It’s about connecting, and getting ready for a new chapter with new energy and excitement. Because that’s what it’s about in this music business. We all cross paths, and we make history connecting that love for music.”
Asked if he considered going the independent route, Khaled says, “I believe in a team. I have an independent mind and I run an independent structure. From from the beginning to where I’m at now, I’ve always invested in myself and pushed my brand to different heights. But the way I structure my deals, it’s a blessing and a benefit for both partners. I believe having a great partner is a beautiful thing and I encourage the world: anytime you can partner up with someone that has love for your vision, because teamwork makes the dream work.”
In terms of Khaled’s new center role at UMG, he explains it was Grainge’s suggestion. Says Khaled: “Since I’m coming back home, we were like, ‘Let’s spread my talent and my greatness.’ I know everybody in the Universal system, and I can help the whole universal system, not just musically, but for TV, films, marketing. I have relationships with every artist. I have relationships with everybody behind the scenes, from A&Rs to executives to radio to marketing. I’m here to spread my talent. I feel like I can help everybody. … Lucian wanted me to add me to the team as a global creative consultant, and I was honored. Sir Lucian, if you look at his track record, he’s a big winner.”
All of which is to say that Khaled, who landed multiple Grammy nominations this year — and closed out the Feb. 5 show with an all-star performance of song of the year contender “God Did” — is gearing up for big things. In addition to announcing his joint venture deal, Khaled continues his partnership with Air Jordan and is newly aligned with streetwear retailer Snipes, with plans to open a location in Miami. Khaled is a longtime resident and was honored with the key to the City of Miami and to Miami Beach in recognition of his philanthropic work, not limited to Khaled’s own We The Best Foundation, which just announced its inaugural scholarship program, in partnership with Roc Nation.