Although his personal output is few and far between, DJ Khaled is a celebrity within hip-hop, and is widely regarded as one of its most influential figures - a track endorsement via his musical watermark is essentially a free pass to radio airplay (such as the brilliant 'I'm On One' released last year). Khaled's fairly uninvolved role in the musical process means his albums are compilations, and his latest effort, Kiss The Ring, is no different.
Boasting a plethora of today's biggest rappers, Kiss The Ring features verses from the likes of Kanye West, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa over beats made by in-demand producers such as Boi-1da, Hit-Boy and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. Album opener 'Shout Out to the Real' is all foreboding klaxons and in-your-face bass rolls as if to signal the ensuing carnage - here MMG's Meek Mill is the first to stamp his mark as one of the project's standout acts. The following 'B*tches and Bottles' alludes to a return to form for Lil Wayne, but the YMCMB chief disappoints with a weak and uninspired verse.
With the exception of a few, every verse on Kiss The Ring is a formulaic tale of said rapper's rise to greatness through adversity. Other usual topics such as cars and girls also feature, but perhaps this isn't a bad thing - DJ Khaled's album is one for parties and clubs and is not, say, a social commentary, so artistic imagination is not integral here. Having said this, Nas delivers an outstanding verse on the equally impressive 'Hip Hop'. A damning of the genre's current commercialism, the track is an odd inclusion considering the highly commercial nature of the project, but a welcome one nonetheless. Kanye West and Rick Ross both also provide assured features on 'I Wish You Would', with the latter impressing throughout his recurring involvement in the compilation.
Kiss The Ring's weakest track is 'They Ready'. Kendrick Lamar is an artist best known for the thoughtful content of his raps ('HiiiPoWeR', for example), and although his flow remains intact on this cut, his contribution feels somewhat hollow. The same fate meets the similarly individual Big K.R.I.T. - both rappers feel out of place on such a mainstream-based work.
Production throughout the album is brash, polished and gloriously over-the-top - much like its roster of hip-hop stalwarts. As a recipe for commercial success, there are few more potent; each track sounds as gratuitously massive and radio-friendly as the last. Booming bass and dramatic strings create the stage for each rapper to shine, and most take gleeful advantage. The best example of great production and rapping meeting is on 'Don't Pay 4 It': Kirko Bangz's hook is smooth, Wale offers a solid opening verse and the often-rubbished Tyga arrives strong over The Runners' beat.
It may lack substance but DJ Khaled's Kiss The Ring is an energetic, entertaining album featuring immaculate production and offerings from a spectrum of currently relevant rappers. Kiss The Ring is an education in the commercially effective rapping of now, however frequently recurring themes wear thin and shorten the album's longevity after several listens.