DJ Khaled’s eighth mega-collaborative studio album I Changed A Lot features a collection of artists who have won Grammy Awards, sold well over 50 million combined albums and played every stage from Glastonbury to Reggae Sunsplash. However, I Changed A Lot lacks a “We Taking Over”-style smash single to show for the incredible hit-making power of the performers present. Something just feels off in Khaled’s traditional manner of creating ubiquitous pop cultural touchstones. This album is generally solid, but in lacking the groundbreaking moment we’ve come to expect from the artist/producer/chicken wing restaurateur known for being “the best,” it falls short.
While I Changed A Lot doesn’t have a Billboard chart-topping hit single, Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel, Yo Gotti and Trick Daddy are all accounted for on potential smash “I Swear I Never Tell Another Soul.” In fact, when “Al Qaeda Jada” and the “Broad Street Bully” combine with French Montana and Meek Mill for “I Lied,” it’s as if the torch is being passed between generations of The East coast rappers from New York and Philadelphia respectively. French on the hook actually slays here. His laid back cadence spells out a hook lying about having sex with hoes, dealing drugs and not snitching under any circumstance. His voice being pitch shifted and dragged via autotune adds a bonus swagger to StreetRunner’s top-notch pop-rap production.
Of the five already-released singles, “How Many Times” may be the best of the lot. Lil Wayne and Big Sean deliver verses using their trademark flows. Sean’s laconic double-time sex talk about vaginas that are “wet like Aquafina” maybe being one of his most surprisingly “hyper-lyrical” moments of the year. Chris Brown is actually more than serviceable in the bottle-service rap department too. Lee on the Beats’ soulful, swirling, bass stab-boosted production is certainly a winner here.
On an album bearing production from one-time Timbaland understudy Danja, legend on the rebound Scott Storch and StreetRunner, it’s New York City’s Lee on the Beats who may be the album’s standout beatsmith. “Gold Slugs” features the R&B-meets-rap trio of August Alsina, Chris Brown and Fetty Wap. The track both glistens and bangs in a way that makes the autotuned vocals actually not cloying at all. Add in “Purple Rain” Prince-era production for Trey Songz, Jeremih and Future’s love ballad “You Mine,” and the fact that he also produced the already released “Hold You Down” completes a well-rounded group of tracks from the rising production star.
Future is a collaborator on “Hold You Down,” as well as four other singles, meaning that he’s represented on nearly 40 percent of I Changed A Lot. Khaled making his albums showcases for rising to mainstream rap stars worked well in the past for the likes of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Given that Future’s 2015 is proving to be quite the “time to be alive,” the Atlanta-based superstar’s significant presence on the album makes sense. However, none of his warbling sing-song hooks remotely approach the alluded to collaborative project with Drake or DS2. Thus, this is more of a victory lap for Future than him pushing rap’s artistic pace forward.
Eighteen months have passed between the release of the album’s lead single “They Don’t Love You Know More” and I Changed A Lot dropping in mid-October. Within that time, fellow album collaborator Fetty Wap emerged as a mainstream hitmaker, while guest artist Boosie Badazz emerged from a penitentiary in Louisiana, too. Thus, for as much as this album is robust, it certainly lacks cohesion and focus. Perhaps, we’ve heard Khaled scream “we the best” over a star of the moment’s adlib or hook, while helter-skelter synths trill underneath the vocals just one too many times. On album number eight, we may have reached a tipping point with our favorite rap huckster and showman. There’s no number of stars that can save this album from aiming high, falling short, and still somehow being quite entertaining at moments along the way.