“I like making music that people say cannot be done, or a collaboration that cannot be done,” says DJ Khaled in an interview with Fast Company. “That’s what I’m great at, is pulling people together and making magic together.”
Khaled has made the all-star “posse cut” his signature as a producer. In 2007, six of the most sought-after hip-hop names of that decade–Lil Wayne, T.I., Akon, Rick Ross, Fat Joe, and Birdman–came together to record “We Takin’ Over,” a made-for-club hit with an addictively repetitive synth and thumping bass. Since then, he’s recruited such crowd-pleasing acts as Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Nas onto an average tally of 31 guest features per album.
For Khaled’s latest collaboration, he’s venturing out of the music world and into fashion. The producer has been named the chief creative officer of Snipes, a German sportswear retailer that’s “inspired by hip-hop, streetball, dance, and action sports,” according to Sven Voth, the CEO of the company, which has existed in Europe since 1998.
Snipes, which sells its own branded apparel alongside that of Nike, Puma, and Vans in its retail locations and e-commerce platform, is a rising player in the global streetwear business, particularly in the United States. “Snipes is very well regarded in Europe,” says Matt Powell, a sportswear business analyst at the market-research firm NPD. In Germany, Snipes has 130 stores, but in the first quarter of 2019, Snipes acquired Philadelphia-based retailer KicksUSA and moved assertively into the U.S. market. Snipes has also sponsored the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers and was a partner for Jay-Z’s Made in America festival, headlined by Cardi B and Travis Scott. “Our goal for our expansion in the USA is not only growing bigger as a retailer but being relevant in culture,” Voth says.
Culture is where Khaled feels that Snipes is a natural fit, because he already reps it. “I really live the lifestyle of sneakers and apparel,” he says. “I lived that before I met Snipes.” Growing up, Khaled worked in a sneaker store and used to slip free mixtapes into shoeboxes before handing them over to customers. Nowadays, the lifestyle is visible in how he dresses. “If you know Khaled, that’s part of his whole thing,” he says, about himself.
Birth of a collaboration
Astute streetwear watchers have had a clue this relationship might have been in the works. Khaled was the face of an April advertising campaign with Snipes—”I was blessed to do a campaign with Snipes,” he says—and on two occasions this year, Khaled visited New York Snipes stores in East Harlem and Jamaica, Queens. He signed autographs and posed for photos with fans. Voth says those in-store appearances drove such awareness to the brand that it led them to think about deepening their relationship with Khaled. “He doesn’t just talk a good game,” Voth says. “He’s the best at playing it.”
He does talk a good game. As is his usual wont, Khaled speaks vaguely and loftily about his Snipes role (the company won’t discuss investment specifics), but one goal will be marketing collaborations with artists. Snipes has run campaigns with Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan, and currently has one with Meek Mill, who appears on billboards and in a video spot where he discusses his North Philly roots.
The influence that Khaled brings, in having a listener base that Snipes wants to capture as consumers–the “street culture community”–is a pull for the retailer, which has tapped Khaled to help evolve the company’s products, events, and content. Each quarter, Khaled says, the face of the brand will change to best reflect the new season’s clothing line. “It’ll be everything they’re doing now, but on steroids,” he says.
For Snipes, the introduction to artists through Khaled will be invaluable. Voth says his collaborative approach is just as relevant in fashion as in music, pointing as an example to Virgil Abloh’s artistic-director partnership with Louis Vuitton. “Khaled’s knack for getting the right people together to create something unique will translate perfectly into the world of fashion,” he says.
Voth was impressed with Khaled’s tendency to overdeliver on projects. “We’ve worked successfully with many other stars in the past, but Khaled is unique in wanting to really deepen the relationship,” Voth says. “You ask him to send one post out to his fans, and he ends up crafting a multipost story.”
The power of fatherhood
Musically, Khaled’s collaborations are still as star-studded as ever. On his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd, he brings Jay-Z and Beyoncé together—for the second time. He puts Justin Bieber back on a track with Chance the Rapper and Migos’ Quavo. Lil Wayne’s appearance is his 16th on a DJ Khaled album. “I don’t work with you just one time,” Khaled says. “When you work with someone more than once, you know you’re doing something right.”
He recorded with John Legend and the late Nipsey Hussle on the stirring “Higher,” a single that’s earned Khaled his third Grammy nomination. “It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it,” Khaled says. “[Hussle’s] voice cuts through music, and you can hear it forever.”
That album is the second that spotlights his son, Asahd, on the cover; he matches his dad in vibrant Floridian floral shirts, and Khaled also dons his favorite bright-blue suede sneakers that he made in collaboration with Nike, called Air Jordan Father of Asahd 3s. On the previous album, Grateful, Khaled listed the then-1-year-old Asahd as executive producer. “There’s no word that’s been invented yet that describes how amazing this love is for my kids.” Kids, plural, because he and his wife, Nicole Tuck, are expecting another one.
Khaled says that being a father has had an inspirational effect on his work. “The music I make is different,” he says. “The sounds are coming out stronger. The way I walk is more powerful. When I put on my shirt, it just looks better. Everything is different.”
The family man says he was in part drawn to working with Voth because he, too, is a family man. “You think I’m working hard now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” he says. “I’m about to go to another level, because it’s not about me no more. It’s about my queen and my son.”
Khaled is in two upcoming movies with Will Smith, Bad Boys For Life and the animated Spies in Disguise. He’s made a foray into community work with young people through his We The Best Foundation. And he expects a lot of travel for his Snipes work—to U.S. cities and overseas.
Does all this mean that music will take a back seat?
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Khaled replies emphatically. “The music is always first.” What’s more, he won’t deviate from his tried-and-tested collaboration formula. He’s resolute on “making more hits with the greats” and securing collaborations with icons he still hasn’t worked with, specifically name-dropping André 3000, Dr. Dre, and Eminem. He’s certain he can cinch those because, well, did we mention his track record?
The Snipes work will fit into his tight program effortlessly, Khaled says, with his signature magnetic fanfare that could reasonably form the lyrics of his next posse cut. “When it’s time to show up,” he says, “I’m gonna be there. When it’s time to be great, I’ll do it. I have many hats. I do this for real.
“That’s why I’m great. I do it.”