By no means a new face in the realm of Hip-Hop production, DJ Khalil still exudes the energy of a rookie who just landed their first placement. Perhaps its because after a decade of recording, hes only now reaching his prime, and beginning to receive the recognition his peers feel he deserves.
Underground enthusiasts will recognize the young man as one-half of L.A. duo Self Scientific, and those more amused by Billboard topping artists can see his signature on recent albums from 50 Cent and The Game. At this moment in time, Khalil Abdul-Rahman is as busy as any studio guru on the left coast. Along with his in-house production duties for Aftermath Entertainment and work on a new album with partner Chase Infinite, Khalil has been expanding his musical repetoir to include film scores and alternative rock.
With a keen business sense and strong artistic integrity, Khalil brought an honest and open approach to his conversation with AllHipHop.com that can be appreciated by all.
AllHipHop.com: Hows everything with you Khalil?
DJ Khalil: Its been so crazy today man. Im running around back and forth to the Guitar Center, starting to DeeJay again so Im trying to get back into that and Im so behind. Im in the Specialist Crew, so theyre helping me get caught up with DJ stuff. So Im doing that, plus trying to turn the score in for this made-for-TV film.
AllHipHop.com: Whats that all about?
DJ Khalil: Man, I just get work like that. Im trying to do film stuff too, like I had a song in the movie Derailed, and now Im working on this animated feature called Blockheads. They had a comic that was in the back of every XXL for like a year, and now theyre doing a film so Im doing all the music for that. Its a dope concept, and theyve got the trailer up on YouTube already with music that I did for it already. AllHipHop.com: After a decade of producing, one of your beats has hit major radio rotation. The 50 and Akon track Ill Still Kill is killing it right now with the video and everything. Is that a big deal for you?
DJ Khalil: Its a dream really. Even when I see the video I cant believe it, I have to pinch myself. Ive been dreaming of getting a single, thats a big deal for me. And actually, thats not even my official first single. Nobody really knows that I did Keith Murrays Candy Bar, and they did a video and everything for that. But this was a big deal, to have a single with two of the top artists in the world, and to have a song that lyrically everybody likes. My mom likes the song, and so does my older brother who doesnt even listen to Hip Hop. I havent had a song that universally likes, where its their favorite song on the album. I cant tell you how many times Ive heard that, from executives to kids or whoever. My nephews think Im like God right now because I produced that song. Its just the best feeling man, Im so happy to have that and for people to really accept it and like it. And I love the song. You know, sometimes you do songs and they wont come out exactly how you wanted them to. But the song is really dope, and Im glad people appreciate it.
AllHipHop.com: Seeing as Candy Bar was the single from that Keith Murray album, theres obviously a big difference between Def Jam promoting that and Interscope pushing 50.
DJ Khalil: You know, 50 is worldwide. Keith Murray was just getting out of jail then, and that was supposed to be his comeback record. Def Jam was really hyped on it, and it was like a different stage for him. But the funny thing is, people really know that song. When I say that I did that song, people are like You did that? and theyll sing the hook to it and everything. So as much as it may not have been promoted, people do remember that song.
AllHipHop.com: I was thinking, when people first see this interview on the site they might think they were getting DJ Khaled. Has that two-letter difference in names ever been mistaken in a business or media situation?
DJ Khalil: I get that all the time, but it hasnt been on a major level. People have mixed the names up a little bit, but its never been too big. Nothing where its been a mistaken identity. People will just say it sometimes like Khaled? Im like No. Khalil, Kha-lil.
AllHipHop.com: It looks like youve got a serious hustle going on between all your various roles and projects. How do you keep yourself focused on one project, with so much else going on?
DJ Khalil: Im really goal oriented, and my management is always on top of me. I set plans for what I want to do, people I want to work with and where I want to go. I have specific goals for what I want to accomplish and we just go according to that. I just want people to hear music from me all the time, and have music everywhere. The only way you can do that is keep working on various projects, and I dont even care about money half the time. I just want to be a part of a lot of projects, and I want to be a part of a lot of TV and film stuff too.
I have an alternative group that I just started called the New Royales, and we have like 30 songs done. Its a blend of different styles of music, from Portishead to Stereolab, White Stripes to Bjork. Its all that in one, but its got a Hip-Hop base to it. Its a really different sound, but creatively its the best project Ive worked on in my whole life. Im having a lot of fun doing it. So I just want to build my name up some more, get on more projects and keep working with Dre and everybody. Dre is responsible for every major placement I have to this point, he really endorses everything I do and hes really behind me on everything. Even with my alternative group, hes met them, heard their music and worked with them. Were not signed or anything, right now were just mixing and getting ready for the new year. Were going to try and get on compilations, and then put out an album with 12 or 13 songs on it. So Ive been working with this group, trying out other styles of music and trying to expand my base a little bit. I love doing Hip-Hop, but sometimes after a while you stuck in a formula and youve got to mix it up a little bit.
AllHipHop.com: That makes sense. I know DJ Muggs did something similar with his album Dust a few years ago.
DJ Khalil: Muggs and Dre are like my mentors, and I look up to them as legendary West Coast producers who started movements. Ive just been learning from them this whole time, and Muggs just loves alternative music and working on rock projects and everything. I picked up a lot of that from him.
AllHipHop.com: So wouldnt it make sense to drop the New Royales album on Angeles Records?
DJ Khalil: The thing with Angeles is, its a money issue. If we could promote it right, because this group has to be promoted the right way. I havent decided where Im going to put it out yet. Muggs and I are trying to get these projects out that were working on right now like Self Scientific and Soul Assassins. Were mainly a Hip-Hop label, were not really doing alternative music and catering towards that audience. Im not ruling it out, but we havent really got to that point yet. If me, Chase and Muggs decide on that its definitely a possibility, but we havent talked about it yet.
AllHipHop.com: Are the three of you happy with the way things have gone so far with the GZA/Muggs album and other releases?
DJ Khalil: Yeah, just to be able to get our music out there and be able to tour off of it, were happy with it. But its just hard to sell records right now. Every record label is hurting, major labels are axing people off, theyre firing people, taking pay cuts. Its rough on everyone right now in the music industry. Getting money to promote records is probably the hardest thing. You can spend months working on an album and putting your money, effort and time into it, but if it doesnt get promoted right, what are you doing?
So just running a label in general is hard right now. We can put out records with the best of them I think, but if we dont have the right push and money to promote them, its really hard to carve your niche in the market place. Thats been our concern, trying to figure that out. But putting music out is my whole thing, and you cant get too caught up in what the industry is doing. People still want music, its just a different time.AllHipHop.com: I think a lot of people are curious what kind of stipulations are in place for a production deal like the one you have with Aftermath. When Dre brought you over there, did he outline the number of beats you need to contribute to label projects, or like time spent working in the studio?
DJ Khalil: Well its like me, Focus, Mr. Porter and Hi-Tek, and weve all been working with him for a while. When he sat me down, and this is almost like four years ago, he told me that he wanted me to be part of the family over there, and basically we work for him. He gets to hear our music first so thats it, without giving all the details of the deal, because I really cant do that. But were free to do whatever, but we work for him. Were his staff producers, were part of the production team. Whatever project hes working on, were responsible to deliver for them, and thats our priority. Which is what weve been doing for everybody that he signs, and for his record too.
The thing about it is, were all competitive. We all admire each others work, know what Im saying? Im a huge fan of Hi-Tek, and I look up to all those guys. They have classic records and theyve been doing it for a long time. Were all really cool and were good friends and theres mutual respect, but theres also competition. We all want to impress Dre, know what I mean? We all want to impress him, and we all want to make him proud. Thats really where its at. I consider him my mentor and the reason why Im really doing this.
When you get that approval from him, and he looks at you like Thats what Im talking about, thats the greatest feeling. Thats like the architect of Hip-Hop telling you Youre killing it right now. Thats the best feeling you can get as a producer, those are the times and moments that you dream of. To be in the studio working with him, for him to respect your work and want you to be a part of his movement, is incredible. As a producer, who wouldnt want to be signed to Aftermath working with Dr. Dre?