DJ Khalil: Moving on Up!! From Self Scientific to Dr. Dre

By no means a new face in the realm of Hip-Hop production, DJ Khalil still exudes the energy of a rookie who just landed their first placement. Perhaps it’s because after a decade of recording, he’s only now reaching his prime, and beginning to receive the recognition his peers feel he deserves. Underground enthusiasts will […]

By no means a new face in the realm of Hip-Hop production, DJ Khalil still exudes the energy of a rookie who just landed their first placement. Perhaps it’s because after a decade of recording, he’s only now reaching his prime, and beginning to receive the recognition his peers feel he deserves.

Underground enthusiasts will recognize the young man as one-half of L.A. duo Self Scientific, and those more amused by Billboard topping artists can see his signature on recent albums from 50 Cent and The Game. At this moment in time, Khalil Abdul-Rahman is as busy as any studio guru on the left coast. Along with his in-house production duties for Aftermath Entertainment and work on a new album with partner Chase Infinite, Khalil has been expanding his musical repetoir to include film scores and alternative rock.

With a keen business sense and strong artistic integrity, Khalil brought an honest and open approach to his conversation with that can be appreciated by all. How’s everything with you Khalil? 

DJ Khalil: It’s been so crazy today man. I’m running around back and forth to the Guitar Center, starting to DeeJay again so I’m trying to get back into that and I’m so behind. I’m in the Specialist Crew, so they’re helping me get caught up with DJ stuff. So I’m doing that, plus trying to turn the score in for this made-for-TV film. What’s that all about? 

DJ Khalil: Man, I just get work like that. I’m trying to do film stuff too, like I had a song in the movie Derailed, and now I’m working on this animated feature called Blockheads. They had a comic that was in the back of every XXL for like a year, and now they’re doing a film so I’m doing all the music for that. It’s a dope concept, and they’ve got the trailer up on YouTube already with music that I did for it already. After a decade of producing, one of your beats has hit major radio rotation. The 50 and Akon track “I’ll Still Kill” is killing it right now with the video and everything. Is that a big deal for you? 

DJ Khalil: It’s a dream really. Even when I see the video I can’t believe it, I have to pinch myself. I’ve been dreaming of getting a single, that’s a big deal for me. And actually, that’s not even my official first single. Nobody really knows that I did Keith Murray’s “Candy Bar,” and they did a video and everything for that. But this was a big deal, to have a single with two of the top artists in the world, and to have a song that lyrically everybody likes. My mom likes the song, and so does my older brother who doesn’t even listen to Hip Hop. I haven’t had a song that universally likes, where it’s their favorite song on the album. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that, from executives to kids or whoever. My nephews think I’m like God right now because I produced that song. It’s just the best feeling man, I’m so happy to have that and for people to really accept it and like it. And I love the song. You know, sometimes you do songs and they won’t come out exactly how you wanted them to. But the song is really dope, and I’m glad people appreciate it. Seeing as “Candy Bar” was the single from that Keith Murray album, there’s obviously a big difference between Def Jam promoting that and Interscope pushing 50. 

DJ Khalil: You know, 50 is worldwide. Keith Murray was just getting out of jail then, and that was supposed to be his comeback record. Def Jam was really hyped on it, and it was like a different stage for him. But the funny thing is, people really know that song. When I say that I did that song, people are like “You did that?” and they’ll sing the hook to it and everything. So as much as it may not have been promoted, people do remember that song. I was thinking, when people first see this interview on the site they might think they were getting DJ Khaled. Has that two-letter difference in names ever been mistaken in a business or media situation? 

DJ Khalil: I get that all the time, but it hasn’t been on a major level. People have mixed the names up a little bit, but it’s never been too big. Nothing where it’s been a mistaken identity. People will just say it sometimes like “Khaled?” I’m like “No. Khalil, Kha-lil.” It looks like you’ve got a serious hustle going on between all your various roles and projects. How do you keep yourself focused on one project, with so much else going on?  

DJ Khalil: I’m really goal oriented, and my management is always on top of me. I set plans for what I want to do, people I want to work with and where I want to go. I have specific goals for what I want to accomplish and we just go according to that. I just want people to hear music from me all the time, and have music everywhere. The only way you can do that is keep working on various projects, and I don’t even care about money half the time. I just want to be a part of a lot of projects, and I want to be a part of a lot of TV and film stuff too.

I have an alternative group that I just started called the New Royales, and we have like 30 songs done. It’s a blend of different styles of music, from Portishead to Stereolab, White Stripes to Bjork. It’s all that in one, but it’s got a Hip-Hop base to it. It’s a really different sound, but creatively it’s the best project I’ve worked on in my whole life. I’m having a lot of fun doing it. So I just want to build my name up some more, get on more projects and keep working with Dre and everybody. Dre is responsible for every major placement I have to this point, he really endorses everything I do and he’s really behind me on everything. Even with my alternative group, he’s met them, heard their music and worked with them. We’re not signed or anything, right now we’re just mixing and getting ready for the new year. We’re going to try and get on compilations, and then put out an album with 12 or 13  songs on it. So I’ve been working with this group, trying out other styles of music and trying to expand my base a little bit. I love doing Hip-Hop, but sometimes after a while you stuck in a formula and you’ve got to mix it up a little bit. That makes sense. I know DJ Muggs did something similar with his album Dust a few years ago. 

DJ Khalil: Muggs and Dre are like my mentors, and I look up to them as legendary West Coast producers who started movements. I’ve just been learning from them this whole time, and Muggs just loves alternative music and working on rock projects and everything. I picked up a lot of that from him. So wouldn’t it make sense to drop the New Royales album on Angeles Records? 

DJ Khalil: The thing with Angeles is, it’s a money issue. If we could promote it right, because this group has to be promoted the right way. I haven’t decided where I’m going to put it out yet. Muggs and I are trying to get these projects out that we’re working on right now like Self Scientific and Soul Assassins. We’re mainly a Hip-Hop label, we’re not really doing alternative music and catering towards that audience. I’m not ruling it out, but we haven’t really got to that point yet. If me, Chase and Muggs decide on that it’s definitely a possibility, but we haven’t talked about it yet. Are the three of you happy with the way things have gone so far with the GZA/Muggs album and other releases? 

DJ Khalil: Yeah, just to be able to get our music out there and be able to tour off of it, we’re happy with it. But it’s just hard to sell records right now. Every record label is hurting, major labels are axing people off, they’re firing people, taking pay cuts. It’s rough on everyone right now in the music industry. Getting money to promote records is probably the hardest thing. You can spend months working on an album and putting your money, effort and time into it, but if it doesn’t get promoted right, what are you doing?

So just running a label in general is hard right now. We can put out records with the best of them I think, but if we don’t have the right push and money to promote them, it’s really hard to carve your niche in the market place. That’s been our concern, trying to figure that out. But putting music out is my whole thing, and you can’t get too caught up in what the industry is doing. People still want music, it’s just a different I think a lot of people are curious what kind of stipulations are in place for a production deal like the one you have with Aftermath. When Dre brought you over there, did he outline the number of beats you need to contribute to label projects, or like time spent working in the studio? 

DJ Khalil: Well it’s like me, Focus, Mr. Porter and Hi-Tek, and we’ve all been working with him for a while. When he sat me down, and this is almost like four years ago, he told me that he wanted me to be part of the family over there, and basically we work for him. He gets to hear our music first…so that’s it, without giving all the details of the deal, because I really can’t do that. But we’re free to do whatever, but we work for him. We’re his staff producers, we’re part of the production team. Whatever project he’s working on, we’re responsible to deliver for them, and that’s our priority. Which is what we’ve been doing for everybody that he signs, and for his record too.

The thing about it is, we’re all competitive. We all admire each others work, know what I’m saying? I’m a huge fan of Hi-Tek, and I look up to all those guys. They have classic records and they’ve been doing it for a long time. We’re all really cool and we’re good friends and there’s mutual respect, but there’s also competition. We all want to impress Dre, know what I mean? We all want to impress him, and we all want to make him proud. That’s really where it’s at. I consider him my mentor and the reason why I’m really doing this.

When you get that approval from him, and he looks at you like “That’s what I’m talking about,” that’s the greatest feeling. That’s like the architect of Hip-Hop telling you “You’re killing it right now.” That’s the best feeling you can get as a producer, those are the times and moments that you dream of. To be in the studio working with him, for him to respect your work and want you to be a part of his movement, is incredible. As a producer, who wouldn’t want to be signed to Aftermath working with Dr. Dre?