Beyond the Hood

Turn your TVs on/Bet ya all you see is me!" DJ Khaled raps/sings on "Standing on the Mountain Top," his only tangible musical contribution to his third album, We Global (We the Best/Koch/Terror Squad). This boast is not exactly true. When I turn on the TV, I see mostly Sarah Palin. Still, dude has a point; in recent years, his importance in the hip-hop game has climbed high, mirroring that of Miami. He's been in the right place at the right time — considering that influential radio DJs such as he wield unprecedented clout in today's music environment — and has been able to cash in favors by enlisting many of rap's big names on his albums. The results have ranged from decent to awesome. Tracks on his last CD, We the Best — such as "We Takin' Over" and "I'm So Hood" — transcended dance floors and treadmills to approach the platonic ideal of a banger. Much of the credit goes to the Runners, an Orlando-based production team that has helped craft Miami's Zeitgeist-y adrenalized pop/rap sound. The duo was responsible for "I'm So Hood," Rick Ross's "Hustlin'," Ace Hood's "Cash Flow," and, now, some of We Global's best songs. (A clue: The Runners' tracks usually begin with someone saying "Ahh" a couple times and a boxing-match-style bell.)

Though Khaled made a few forgettable beats on his first two albums, he has no production credits here. Still, new winning cuts include the stellar Kanye West-assisted "Go Hard," the laid-back and sleazy "Go Ahead," and "Out Here Grindin'," perhaps the best single of 2008. Khaled has received credit for reviving the hip-hop posse cut, and "Out Here Grindin'" features inspired contributions from Lil Boosie, Trick Daddy, and Akon. Even Plies sounds less strung out on barbiturates than usual. Then the album loses momentum. "I'm On" and "Red Light" don't feature the Runners or many MCs; the former is a by-the-numbers Nas vehicle, and the latter showcases The Game in free-association mode. But the ship is quickly righted with the braggadocio ballad "We Global" and drug-dealing quasi-lament "Blood Money." Like Khaled's previous albums, it's difficult to quantify his exact contributions to these songs. But they certainly wouldn't exist without him, and that would be a shame.


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