Tarek Chaudhury
May 11, 2017

Why Miami music mogul DJ Khaled is millennials’ 'messiah'

How has this 40-something unlikely icon been so effective in communicating to his beloved ‘young world’?

A photo from DJ Khaled's Instagram
A photo from DJ Khaled's Instagram

In an age of real uncertainty, we’ve witnessed the arrival of a new kind of deity for many young people. A guiding light that has captured imaginations, garnering a million-strong follower count in the process.

His powerful proclamations and sage advice are being spread around the world, and amplified by his many acolytes. A largely anonymous figure before he started populating his Snapchat story, his global reach is now instant and his influence messianic. Like many, I’d initially dismissed him and his unique form of rhetoric.

That was, until the day his recently published scripture was in my hands. Illuminated in gold lettering, The Keys has been an insight into this man’s devotion and passions. So too, understanding how this 40-something, unlikely icon has been so effective in communicating to his beloved ‘young world’.

A child of Palestinian migrants, DJ Khaled is a Miami-bred music industry mogul, rap mega-producer and now social-media motivational speaker. It’s forgivable to think him a joke on first impression. Fixating on the negative forces in the world, to which he broadly refers to as ‘they’, he berates these forces with powerful lines like ‘they don’t want you to win’, ‘they will try to close the door on you; just open it’, and my personal favourite, ‘they don’t want you to eat breakfast’. Understandably, you may take him in jest.

Though as much as the crowd might laugh, his skill in connecting with his audience, and the staggering viewing figures his content garners is a marketer’s dream.

A brief trawl through his Snaps will show you that on the surface, Khaled’s messages do not match a traditional idea of high level, erudite thought. Nonetheless, for an audience struggling with the unrelenting self-pressure to get ahead with the constant comparisons they are bombarded with, his inspirational messages are appealing to waves of young people.

In 2013, following Obama’s second inauguration, POTUS 44 arrived on stage to the tune of DJ Khaled’s ‘All I Do Is Win’. Yet, the confident tone of the song, and of the presumed confidence of Khaled himself, belies the story told by his Snapchat account. He will often relate to followers with his own experiences of failure, struggles with anxiety and even body confidence. He offers a motivational route to ‘win, win, win no matter what!’, a unique guide to superhuman stature that celebrates a human honesty. In this instance, ambition and the desire for self-improvement transcend his particular style of articulating ideas. He uplifts millions with a tone that a relatively intellectualised TED talker may struggle to.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

What’s perhaps more interesting is his relationship with book ghostwriter of The Keys, Mary H.K. Choi. She goes further to carry the raw power of Khaled’s philosophy, packaging it in a way that amplifies his message without compromising its core. Choi reminds me of the important role researchers and marketers must endeavour to play in respectfully understanding the people they talk to; whatever section of society they are engaging with, and whatever their style of articulation might be.

Choi offers a pertinent reminder of the need for empathy and the deeper understanding that comes with it. It’s essential that we work as hard as ever to understand the variety of modes and styles through which people articulate, so that we are better able to understand them.

Ensuring an empathetic approach will go a long way to improving the breadth and quality of research for the campaigns our insight inspires, and the strategy it informs. It will show a deepening respect for parts of the public that may otherwise be left unheard, underrepresented and left susceptible to the appeal of more drastic figures professing to meet their unmet desires and needs.

Tarek Chaudhury is research executive with Flamingo London.


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