DJ Khaled’s Strategies for Success


The Musician Khaled Mohamed Khaled, known as DJ Khaled, has given himself a new nickname: Billi. It stands for “billionaire,” and it’s what the DJ and record producer wants his friends and fans to call him until he makes a billion dollars. “You got to talk it to existence, you know what I’m saying?” he asks. “You’ve got to bid yourself up, because if you wait for someone else to bid yourself up, you played yourself,” he says.

“Don’t play yourself” and “glorify your success” are both strategies described in Mr. Khaled’s new self-help book, “The Keys.” With it, he aims to share some of the tips that have brought him to the heights of the music world. He has collaborated with stars such as Drake, Jay Z and Kanye West, and last summer, he opened for Beyoncé in some shows on her big tour. His latest release, “Major Key,” made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Earlier this month, it was nominated for a Grammy for best rap album of the year.

Mr. Khaled figures that talking up your own success is a way to get more recognition. For instance, people might not know about his Grammy nomination, so “I can’t expect you to tell me ‘Congratulations,’ ” he says. “But I’m going to make sure I make it known, so when you see me, you got no choice but to say, ‘Congrats.’ ”

He is also one of the most popular celebrities on Snapchat; some of his videos—filled with stories, advice and personal moments—have racked up more than two million views. (In a video two months ago, he documented the scene in the hospital delivery room as his fiancée gave birth to their son.) A few weeks ago, he spoke to a class at Harvard Business School about the advice he gives in his book and on social media. He later wrote on Instagram, “They said I would never go to Harvard!!”

He also likes to talk about winning. (Another strategy for success in his book: “Win, win, win, no matter what.”) But the day we meet, Mr. Khaled, 41, doesn’t look like he’s winning. He is sick, suffering from a bad cold, as he sits in his midtown Manhattan hotel suite amid a hectic swirl of activity. He is surrounded by a doctor attending to his ills, his baby, his fiancée, some friends, his publicist and rolling tables of partially eaten room-service meals.

Looking exhausted at the end of the en-suite dining table, he says that he tries to stay focused on “not letting negativity stop the journey of winning.”

The son of Palestinian immigrants who had a clothing store in Orlando, Mr. Khaled was raised in a Muslim household. His love of music drew him out into the wider world. In his late teens, he started selling mixtapes from his car. He kept getting tickets for driving with a suspended license, and after he got four tickets in 27 days, a judge decided to teach him a lesson and sent him to jail for a month.

After his release, he arrived in Miami in 1994 with only $20 in his pocket. At night, he slept in cars and motels. During the day, he tried to get DJ gigs and eventually got a time slot at a Miami radio station. Mr. Khaled moved in to the station, literally.

As his name and reputation grew, so did his presence in the nightclub scene, which led him to the music business. He has produced for musicians such as Kanye West and Snoop Dogg, and he has released nine albums of his own, with guest stars such as Jay Z and Nicki Minaj, who do most of the singing and rapping while he handles the music.

In those early days, Mr. Khaled says, he focused on “securing the bag,” one of the keys to success in his book. What that means, he says, is having enough money in the bank to live comfortably. “Don’t do anything foolish before those numbers hit your bank account,” he writes.

Today, Mr. Khaled lives with his fiancée and son in Miami, where he performs frequently in South Beach nightclubs. He earns enough that he can now take care of his parents, he says. He adds, “The new talk is ‘protect the bag,’ because that’s when it gets tricky.” That means not spending money haphazardly, making good investments and continuing to work hard and grow.

Mr. Khaled often invokes God in his book and talks about the demands of morality, especially in respecting others. How does he reconcile those values with his sometimes crass and vulgar lyrics? “It’s the way sometimes we express ourselves,” he says. “Sometimes it might sound vulgar, but we’ll be telling a real-life story.” The stories in his songs are not necessarily his own, he says, but they reflect the experiences of people he knows.

He hopes to continue extending his brand. He is part owner of a soul-food restaurant in Miami, Finga Licking, and is doing endorsements, including for a line of cocoa butter. He likes to encourage his team to take it up a notch. “I always tell people around me, ‘Hey, I’m proud of y’all, but you need to do more.’ ”

As motivation, he might tell them, “I don’t know about you, but I know about me: I love the big house with the big backyard. I love marble floors and marble showers.” But it is not all about making money, he insists. “Winning to me is being happy and having joy.”