he history of official DJ compilations that rise above the for-promotional-use-only mixtape market is dicey at best. In the past, New Yorkers like DJ Clue, Funkmaster Flex, and DJ Kay Slay have issued retail albums, and even today tastemakers like DJ Drama are getting major label deals. But the days of Clue going Platinum are over, and with street mixtapes more prevalent than ever, such albums tend to wind up in a weird middle ground, like a soundtrack with no movie to cross-promote. They rarely get glowing reviews, have a short shelf life, and are put together by leak fiends who end up spilling most of the good material on the street well before the real thing hits stores.
With those factors stacked against him (not to mention being signed to Koch Records), DJ Khaled has built an impressive buzz for his first official release, Listennn...The Album. It helps that he's got connections to a respected crew (Terror Squad), has a monster single ("Holla At Me"), and represents a city on the rise (Miami). Miami may end up stealing 2006 from the Bay Area, with heavily-hyped albums from Rick Ross, Dre (of Cool & Dre), and Pitbull dropping in the next few months. All three of them have multiple appearances on Listennn and a hand in "Holla At Me," along with Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, and part-time Miami resident Fat Joe.
Although the Palestinian-American Khaled a.k.a. Beat Novacaine proved his production skills on Fat Joe's All or Nothing, he presents Listennn primarily as a DJ, and only produces three tracks, one of which is a brief intro. One of those tracks, however, "Where You At" by Freeway and the Clipse, is one of the hottest tracks on the album, all humming organs, regal brass, and watery wah-wah drama. For his part, Khaled doesn't do much to distinguish Listennn from a mixtape, shouting over tracks with a tremendously annoying voice, bizarrely reminding you of the release date of the album you're listening to, and pronouncing Listennn by stuttering the L, but not the three N's. Even the cover is by mixtape artwork king Miami Kaos.
The most consistent sound on the album comes from Cool & Dre, who produce five tracks. One of the best production teams in mainstream hip-hop at the moment, they're a welcome presence right up until "Movement" by Dre, perhaps the most dreadful producer-turned-rapper yet.
In addition to the ridiculous roster of guests, Listennn boasts a handful of interesting collabos. On "Problem" he unites the formerly beefing Beanie Sigel and Jadakiss, and "Destroy You" features the also formerly beefing Twista and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Aside from a few posse cuts, though, most of the bigger stars on the album bring their own entourages and stick to their usual sound. Young Jeezy brings Slick Pulla and Bloodraw with him on "Gangsta Shit," Young Dro and Big Kuntry tag along with T.I. on "Dip Slide Ride Out," and Kanye West shows up with Consequence and John Legend in tow. Kanye in particular stays on his A-game with "Grammy Family," an unexpectedly dark banger for a track ostensibly about all the statuettes on his mantle.
Khaled constantly represents Miami and Dade County throughout Listennn, not the least on the all-star anthem "Born N Raised" featuring Trick Daddy, Pitbull, and Rick Ross. Surprisingly, that track's thunder is stolen by the no-star album closer, "The Future of Dade," a 6-minute parade of lesser known locals Brisco, Dirt E Red, Dela, Lunch Money, Co from Piccalo, Hennessy, and P.M. Most of the track's success is owed to the amazing beat by Pitbull associates the Diaz Brothers, but several of the up-and-comers shine.
Executive produced by Khaled, Fat Joe, and "The Streets" (presumably not Mike Skinner), Listennn ultimately does little besides sum up the state of rap in June 2006 with a sizable number of its most ubiquitous artists. There are several bangers that have a good chance of becoming summer anthems, but "Holla At Me" could just as easily be the album's only hit. Or it may open the floodgates for a Miami hit parade. In an era wherein even mixtapes only have a buzz for more than a couple weeks if they're the work of a single artist or crew, a DJ compilation has to be better than just pretty good. Luckily, Listennn is.