DJ Khaled has been giving his keys to success all year through his Snapchat account, music, motivational speeches and interviews. But shortly before the semester’s finals week, Ivy League students in New York City got to see him drop jewels in person.
On Thursday night, Columbia University hosted a talk that featured DJ Khaled and Arianna Huffington, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Huffington Post. The two became friends after attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner together in May. Huffington went through each of the “keys” — bits of advice and motivation — Khaled listed in his new bestselling book, The Keys, and let Khaled expound on each point.
The event comes near the close of the most successful year of Khaled’s career. His ninth studio album Major Key debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and received a Grammy nomination for best rap album this week; he performed on Beyoncé’s historic Formation Tour; and he landed endorsement deals and partnerships with Apple and Ciroc. There’s also the newfound Internet fame: He became the most followed user on the social media platform Snapchat, taking devotees along with him as he jet-skis, DJs, praises his plants, makes motivational quips — even as he stayed in the hospital room with his pregnant wife to witness the birth of his child.
As a result, Khaled has become not only a successful artist and celebrity, but a case study in brand-building, and for his followers, self-actualization. Or, as Huffington said at one point on Thursday night: “For me, you’re not a music producer. You’re a modern-day philosopher.”
Khaled’s celebrity was on full display at Columbia University. The students cheered as Khaled’s fiancee Nicole Tuck walked into the classroom, pushing a baby stroller with their son Asad, recognizing her from his snaps. And they roared even louder when Huffington and Khaled walked in, as Khaled held his cell phone camera toward the crowd to record them on a Snapchat clip.
Huffington listed different “keys” from Khaled’s book, and the producer/exec had an explanation for each. He sheepishly smiled during bits of the interview, as if he was still surprised and grateful for the moment. “I feel like I’m in a movie right now,” he said near the beginning of the event. But for the most part, he displayed the bravado and charm that has drawn in so many followers.
“Stay away from ‘they’” is Khaled’s encouragement to avoid negative people.
“I’ve actually had people come to me and say, ‘Khaled, you’re going to be nothing.’ ‘You’re going to just be a local DJ.’ ‘You’re not going to be able to put albums out.’ These are real stories. Everything I’ve accomplished, I was told I wouldn’t,” Khaled said. “…’They’ are people who are just very negative. These people will pull you down to the point where you’re ruining your own life.”
“Sometimes, they don’t even want you to have Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal,” Huffington added, referencing Khaled’s cereal of choice as shown on his Snapchat. The media mogul consistently kept up with Khaled’s lingo.
She then listed “secure the bag,” Khaled’s mantra that translates to making the right decisions to ensure one’s success and well-being. As an example, he painted a hypothetical situation where Huffington drinks and drives the night before she’s scheduled to sign a $100 million deal.
“That’s not securing the bag at all,” he said. “I’m just telling a story; she would never do that. But I’m just trying to give you examples. Sometimes, it’ll be the little thing that’ll mess up the biggest thing.”
“I’m a father now. My son is my biggest blessing ever in my life. I’ve been searching for happiness and joy my whole life, and I am happy and joyful for life, but this is something I can’t explain, I can’t put in no words,” Khaled continued. “I’m going to make sure I secure the bag on another level, to make sure he’s good. Be humble, be confident, take care of your family, do the right thing.”
Other keys included “respect the code,” “glorify your success,” “don’t deny the heat” and “win win win, no matter what.” Aside from expanding on the book’s bullet points, Khaled played up his signature catchphrases, spoke about the importance of caring for one’s personal health, and signed copies of The Keys after the event. He also revealed that he knows the title for his next album, but that he wasn’t announcing it quite yet.
“My new album that I’m working on right now, I’m not going to tell you the title, but you’re going to love it,” he said, after breaking down how the titles to his other albums applied to his life at the time. “You’re going to love it because I mean it.”