DJ Khaled Explained How He Sold Justin Bieber on “I’m the One”
DJ Khaled is riding high, not that he knows any other way, but especially so lately with the success of the Justin Bieber-Chance the Rapper-Quavo-Lil Wayne-featuring “I’m the One.” The song debuted at #1 last month, and it’s still hanging on at #3 this week. How do you convince four music A-listers to appear on your track, particularly mainstream Midas Justin Bieber? Khaled’s new Billboard cover story today explains how this came to be, and it involves Khaled driving over to Bieber’s place with a PA system:
[Khaled] got the beat from — “Lemme see his name,” says Khaled, checking his phone, “I want to make sure I get it right” — Los Angeles producer Let Me See You (aka Nic Nac). He took out some drums to highlight the groove and suddenly realized he had something worthy of pop’s hook-man of the moment. He and Bieber were longtime pals, but he had been waiting to ask him to collaborate until his own career was on the level, “so I don’t play myself” (a “Major Key” to success). It was early January, his first day in his Beverly Hills mansion, and he made the call. Bieber invited him to his place. “I hung up, jumped in the Rolls and brought a PA just to make sure I presented it right,” says Khaled.
They wound up listening to the track in Bieber’s truck, which, Khaled wonderingly says, “has stars in it, a reclining fur seat, shit like a movie.” The Biebs started bobbing his head. He liked it. Bieber said he’d play around with it. Before Khaled could leave, he made him play ground hockey. “I took the beating for the song,” says Khaled.
With Bieber onboard (Khaled’s directive: “I want a big, anthematic call-out hook”) the names of the would-be MCs came to Khaled all at once. Chance the Rapper was staying in Malibu, eating barbecue with his family when the DJ showed up. Chance recognized Khaled’s vision and was sold. Migos were coming to Los Angeles in mid-January to tape Jimmy Kimmel Live!, so Khaled booked a post-show room with them at Westlake Studios (where Thriller was made, because the track’s melody reminded him of “Human Nature”) and Quavo did his verse in five minutes. Then Khaled called Lil Wayne. The two met, famously, when Wayne was 12 and Khaled, 19, was a NOLA record shop clerk. “He’s never told me ‘no,’ ” says Khaled. Weezy knocked it out, and that was it — except Bieber wasn’t done. “I’m calling every day like, ‘Do you need me to bring you tea? Is the AC good in the house?’ Then he sends it. I’m not going to lie. I shed tears.”
DJ Khaled would’ve called every A/C guy he knows just to make sure Justin Bieber was comfortable enough to finish recording that hook. His new album Grateful is feature-packed (Beyoncé and Jay Z, Drake, Rihanna) and out June 23. Read Billboard’s full story here.