The Art Of Being Self-Made: A Conversation With DJ Khaled

Photo by Ivan Berrios

If you study many of the most prominent pioneers to carve out a place in history, what you will find are stories of intense struggle and sacrifice buried beneath each of their most monumental achievements.

Every revered moment in the spotlight is marked by many years treading through darkness. From self-doubt and rejection, to paying dues and perfecting your craft — those who aspire to be great must confront opposition. Thus, chasing a dream requires grappling with the growing pains that accompany adversity. Beyond developing a bulletproof sense of belief, overcoming these inescapable challenges demands a tireless work ethic, unwavering passion and a deep appreciation for the process.

When the odds are stacked against you, it can become difficult to trust the timing of your life. It takes courage to invest countless hours alone, building brick by brick without any immediate return. Yet, what sets innovative creators and disruptive entrepreneurs apart is an unmatched relentlessness to follow through and assure everything they envision becomes a reality.

Few respected figures in music embody this theory more than DJ Khaled. The Miami native pours every ounce of passion into each project, heightening anticipation and cementing his position as a staple within pop culture. Whether giving a glimpse into fatherhood, taking you into his meetings and sharing the keys to success, or cruising in his car to preview tracks, showing fan love and walking followers through a day in the life — Khaled is the definition of interactive.

While his social presence and digital savvy are required to engage a mobile-driven generation, the essence of his brand remains true to the golden era that groomed him. DJ Khaled proudly does the groundwork needed to reach the people; whether in the streets, on the road, or taking over your timeline.

That’s why there’s no surprise that the master collaborator boasts a resume of multiplatinum hits, upholding a track record of radio anthems and cult classics that feature an all-star set of superstars. From Jay Z, Drake and Justin Bieber, to Rihanna, Chris Brown and Chance The Rapper — Khaled has crafted an impressive career fueled by a growing momentum that shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to gracing the cover of Forbes Life and landing at No. 9 on this year’s Highest-Paid Hip-Hop Artists list, his latest album Grateful is certified platinum. Its success earned DJ Khaled his second No.1 album on the Billboard Hot 100, with both standout singles “I’m The One” and “Wild Thoughts” going multi-platinum. Khaled also released a critically acclaimed book, landed several lucrative endorsement deals and has become a sought-after host for many of music’s biggest awards shows.

In the second installment of their Self-Made Tastes Better series, Luc Belaire CEO Brett Berish sits down with DJ Khaled to candidly reflect on his inspiring 25-year journey to success.  Tapping into today’s thriving spirit of independence, ‘Self-Made Tastes Better’ gives a celebratory nod to unapologetic change-makers across creative industries. Directed by Ivan Berrios, the episode explores Khaled’s come up story, motivations, and the importance of taking your dreams into your own hands.

This series is about reflection and taking the time to embrace where you are and your path to getting here – How would you define being self-made and what does that term mean to you?

DJ Khaled: God is the greatest, and being self-made is one of the most amazing feelings ever. I come from being in a garage with two turntables, a mixer, a beat machine, keyboard, a lot of vinyl records and a microphone. To see where I’ve come now, it’s all because I was self-made. I put it on myself. I invested in my own vision. I started as a DJ around 13-years-old. I’ve been in Miami over 25 years. It’s my home, and I’ve put in a lot of work in Miami. I believe in doing things that I love to do, and I love to make music. I’ve also always been about growth, even going from being a DJ, to becoming a music executive.

When you look at how your career has expanded and evolved since you started – Is everything you’re doing now exactly what you envisioned for yourself?

DJ Khaled: I already knew that I was going to be great. Everything I’m doing now, I knew I was going to do it. Obviously, over time, as I developed more goals and I turned more of my dreams into goals, I knew it would happen. I mean that in a humble way. I knew that if I worked hard and didn’t give up, I could accomplish all of my goals. I was raised by an amazing mother and father who brought me around their work as a kid. I saw how they provided for the family. When I was a kid, they were selling clothes out the trunk of their car. Then, they moved to a flea market. Then, they moved it to a shopping center. From a shopping center, they moved to a mall. So, as a kid, I saw them take all these steps, hustling, then watched them have it all taken away. Then, they worked hard and got it all back. I saw all of that growing up, so I was born with a relentless hustle. I remember throwing my first party, and I didn’t even wait for a promoter to hire me. I thought, why wait for a promoter to hire me when I can do the same thing the promoter can do – get a place, invite people to come out and watch greatness. So, at 15-years-old, I was throwing my own parties. And, the door was mine, so even though we were only charging $3 to get in at the time, it was still going to my pockets. That’s being self-made — having a vision and doing the work to bring that vision to life.

What were your parents thinking back then seeing you hustle and work tirelessly to make your dreams happen?

DJ Khaled: My parents supported me in everything I ever did in my life. Don’t get it twisted, with all of the loud music they would scream for me to turn it down. But, that’s when I eventually moved my equipment from my room to the garage, and they gave me the garage to use.

What was your first major purchase once you reached a certain level of success and did you always have this level of focus?

DJ Khaled: My first big purchase was my first home in Miami. Coming up in Miami, I used to stay in hotels, because I couldn’t afford an apartment. Every time I got an apartment, I got kicked out because of my music. There were times that were so bad, I had to sleep in the car. Then, I got really good with the music. I started making $100 each week. Then, I got better and started making $1,000 every week. From there, it kept getting better and better, to the point where I was blessed enough to buy my first home. I’ve always been focused. Even when I had just a little bread, If I knew it would cost $30,000 for a down payment on my first home, I went and got it. My mentality at that time as a young kid was so focused that I was thinking about buying a home.

For anyone who has followed your career, it seems like the world is just now catching up to DJ Khaled – Do you feel like now everybody gets to see you and really understand who you’ve been your whole career?

DJ Khaled: Absolutely. I’m not a secret anymore. When it comes down to my fans, I’m really passionate, because team work makes a dream work. My fans support me and I support them. I support them, and they support me. I love them and they love me back. They come out to my shows to hear my music. If I put a t-shirt out, they’re wearing it. If I’m making a toast, they’re making a toast with me.

Is it still surreal for you to look back and reflect on how far you’ve come, considering all of the sacrifice and years of hard work you put in?

DJ Khaled: I rarely look backwards, but when I do take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come, it’s unbelievable. Any time you’re in position to take care of the people you love and give them things to show you appreciate them, even if it’s just a hug, or putting a smile on their face by showing love, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about getting the material things, like watches and cars. It’s about being able to have people say you’re doing an amazing job and they appreciate all that you do. It’s about love. You can’t pay for love. My son is my biggest blessing, there’s love all around me, so I’m the happiest man ever.


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