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How DJ Khaled Rolls: Hip-Hop’s Boldest Star Shows Off His Major Keys

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As DJ Khaled careers through the midday traffic clogging New York’s Columbus Circle – one hand on the wheel of a black Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible, the other raising an iPhone to stream his exploits via Snapchat – he lays out the aggressively optimistic, blustery, motivational, tautological and oddly compelling philosophy that guides his vehicular preferences and his life in general.

“You can want a Hyundai, if that’s what you want. Me, I want a Rolls-Royce,” he explains. “I want the drop-top Dawn. I want a Wraith with stars on the roof. I want Phantoms with footrests to massage my toes. That’s what I want, and that’s because we the best.”

As the car pulls up to a stoplight, Khaled looks back at his phone. “Forbes magazine wants to talk to Billy,” he enthuses, using his latest self-assigned nickname, meant to signal his billionaire ambitions and music-chart prowess. “Billboard Billy!”

I gently note that the light has turned green.

“I was ready, my brother, I was ready,” he says, lowering his phone. “So where we going?”

He already knows, of course. We’re off to go car shopping at the Porsche and Bugatti dealerships a little farther downtown. Khaled’s career, meanwhile, is going the opposite direction: all the way up. His last two albums, Major Key, in 2016, and this year’s Grateful, have both gone to No. 1, thanks to collaborations with Drake, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. He also owns several businesses named after his We the Best catchphrase, including a record label, a publishing company and a headphone line. He collects six-figure nightly fees for DJ gigs and millions more from deals with Mentos, Champ Sports, Apple and other brands -arranged by himself and Jay-Z, who signed on as his manager last year after seeing Khaled become a social media superstar with more than 15 million followers across Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.

“What we are seeing from Khaled now is really who he is; the cameras are just capturing his natural state,” Jay-Z wrote in a section of Khaled’s new bestselling book, The Keys. “That’s why the world is so drawn to him.”

READ MORE: The World’s Highest-Paid Hip-Hop Artists 2017

With that success comes scads of cash – $24 million over the past 12 months alone – more than enough to nurture his Rolls-Royce habit. Khaled’s collection, spread across homes in Los Angeles and Miami, includes a 2017 convertible Dawn like the one he’s piloting today (“I always want to feel like I’m at home”), a 2017 Arabian-blue Wraith coupe (“It’s my everyday car”), a 2016 metallic-black Ghost sedan (“I sit in the back seat… that’s when I’m my business”) and the recently unveiled $430,000 Phantom VIII, which claims to have the “most silent” interior of any car in the world (“I’m gonna be one of the first to get it,” Khaled says proudly).

“What I love about Rolls-Royce is, you look at me, it’s like you’re looking at a Rolls-Royce,” says the bearded, barrel-chested 41-year-old Khaled. “It’s just powerful; it’s smooth; it’s iconic.”

It’s that sort of unbridled self-assurance that has fueled his steady rise and enabled his late-blooming trajectory. Born Khaled Mohamed Khaled in 1975 to Palestinian immigrants in New Orleans, he grew up in Florida, where he started DJ’ing and selling mixtapes as a teenager. Employing the fake-it-till-you-make-it ethos often celebrated in the hip-hop world, he made a down payment on a new $30,000 red BMW M3 in 1991, tricking it out with a state-of-the-art speaker system.

One day, Khaled was cruising around Miami when he started to smell smoke. He pulled over and got out of the car, thinking one of his amps might have blown. It was a good thing he did: The car soon caught on fire, he says as we weave through midtown in the Dawn. (“DJ Khaled, we the best, baby!” screams a passerby. “That’s right, we the best!” he replies, barely interrupting the flow of his story.) “The car blew up,” he continues. “No lie. Like a movie.”

For his next car purchase, Khaled scaled back considerably, buying a used Honda Civic for about $12,000. By 1995, he was gaining traction as a DJ and producer, opening for legends like Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, and he soon got himself back into an M3 – this time a blue one. “Even if I couldn’t make the payment, I just had the mentality – I gotta be in that whip,” he says. “Image is everything.”

READ MORE: The 10 Most Bankable Artists In Africa

For Khaled, that meant retiring cringeworthy aliases like Terror Squadian and Arab Attack and settling on his current nom de DJ. After hosting radio shows in Miami in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he released his first solo record, Listennn … the Album, in 2006, featuring appearances by stars such as Lil Wayne, Kanye West and John Legend. The album underscored Khaled’s primary talent – not singing, rapping or even producing, but bringing together an ensemble cast of popular performers – and went to No. 12 on the charts.

Khaled celebrated by buying a Bentley coupe and then almost immediately upgraded to a baby blue Rolls-Royce Phantom, which cost him $400,000. He supported his new hobby by churning out platinum singles such as the 2010 earworm “All I Do Is Win,” which featured T-Pain, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and Rick Ross.

“My Phantom was the hottest Phantom in the game,” he says. “After that, I didn’t stop. I’ve been Rolls-Royce ever since.”

DJ Khaled sits in the back seat of one of his three Rolls Royces with his son Asahd. (Photo by Ethan Pines for Forbes)

Khaled says the reason he loves the brand is that he feels equally comfortable driving or being driven in a Rolls; he usually has a driver operate his Ghost and pilots the Wraith himself. And, yes, there are stars on the ceiling; contrary to popular belief, it’s a standard option, not a custom request.

While some ultraluxury brands have alienated hip-hop’s new elite (in 2006, one of the executives behind Cristal champagne famously told The Economist, “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it,” prompting a Jay-Z boycott), Rolls-Royce has wisely embraced its popularity among rap stars. The company sometimes provides Khaled with vehicles when he’s traveling for high-profile events, and Rolls has been rewarded with product placement in his videos and social media feeds.

“He’s an enthusiastic, evangelical Rolls-Royce owner,” says Gerry Spahn, head of communications for the Americas at Rolls-Royce, “and we’re thrilled that he wants to be associated with the best of the best.”

If Khaled’s automotive preference isn’t clear from the composition of his collection (his only luxury cars without a Flying Lady on the hood: a Cadillac Escalade and a Range Rover), he makes it clear as we pull up to the Bugatti dealership. He refuses to go inside, despite the fact that we’d planned test-drives ahead of time. (“I’d rather be in a Rolls.”) After some prodding, he agrees to visit the Porsche showroom next door.

Upon entering, I ask Khaled what he thinks of the mahogany Cayenne E-Hybrid SUV on display. “What’s that?” he inquires. I point to the vehicle next to him and explain that its motor is powered by both gasoline and electricity. His response: “I don’t know nothing about it.” We stroll through the showroom, shifting gazes from a gleaming Panamera 4 sedan to a lean Macan GTS SUV to a menacing 911 GT3 that goes from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. But he doesn’t even want to go for a test-drive.

“I’m a big boy,” he says. “That interior got to be fit for a big boy, you know what I’m saying? … Maybe you should buy me one, and I’ll tell you how I like it after that.”

The only car Khaled really wants is the one he’s already ordered: the new Phantom, redesigned for only the eighth time since its debut in 1925. The mansion-on-wheels comes with a 7.5-liter, 563-hp, V12 twin-turbo engine, Eames-chair-inspired seats and even a dashboard “gallery” designed to accommodate slivers of bespoke artwork.

For DJ Khaled, though, it’s not just the physical appointments that inspire his loyalty to Rolls-Royce. The company impressed him, he explains, by sending him a free Rolls-branded child seat when his son, Asahd, was born last winter.

“When he turns 16,” Khaled says, “I’m getting him a Rolls-Royce out the gate.” – Written by 

Entrepreneurs

Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business

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Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.

Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.

“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”

Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking ediblesher celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.

Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.

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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.

The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.

“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”

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Life

Here Are All The Crazy Things People Are Betting On In The Absence Of Live Sports

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TOPLINE With most live sports suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, online gamblers have turned to different contests like Russian table tennis and Korean baseball, while also betting on everything from video games and reality television shows to political news and even the weather.

KEY FACTS

  • “[English] darts and esports have had big increases in betting volumes, along with football [soccer] leagues that have kept playing like the Belarusian Premier League,” says Pascal Lemesre, a spokesman for U.K. betting exchange platform Smarkets. “Horse racing remains our most-traded sport and has made up two-thirds of volume since the lockdown began.”
  • Many betting companies, like DraftKings, had to really dig and get creative with new offerings during the pandemic, says Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook for DraftKings. “We went out and found whatever we could… we wanted to keep our customers engaged.”
  • A charity golf match with Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickleson and Tom Brady, for example, has drawn massive interest and could surpass the betting volumes DraftKings saw in last year’s major golf tournaments.
  • Betting on esports has also seen a huge uptick and has really “made its mark,” he says: Virtual NASCAR races proved to be immensely popular, along with daily fantasy for video games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. 
  • There has also been a lot of interest in betting on politics, including who will win the 2020 U.S. presidential election, who Democratic nominee Joe Biden will choose as his vice president and how long UK prime minister Boris Johnson will stay in office. 
  • According to data from Smarkets, almost $2 million has already been traded on the election, with Donald Trump retaining a 5% lead over Joe Biden; Kamala Harris is frontrunner to be Biden’s VP, slightly ahead of Amy Klobuchar.
  • Since the Democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in mid-March, DraftKings has offered free-to-play betting pools around many political events, along with reality television shows like Survivor and Top Chef, and even the weather in certain states.

SURPRISING FACT

Bettors have certainly shown interest in gambling on the outcomes of their favorite TV shows: According to data from BetOnline, there was even a flurry of betting on the final episode of The Last Dance, with odds on things like whether Michael Jordan would cry while being interviewed or how many people would be shown with a cigar in their mouth.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Sportsbooks are seeing huge pent-up demand as some major sports like NASCAR and German Bundesliga soccer start to resume. Soccer, which normally makes up 45% of the Smarkets’ betting volume, fell to 23%, maintained largely by interest in the Belarusian Premier League and Nicaraguan soccer, both of which continued to play games amid the pandemic. With the German Bundesliga resuming last weekend, betting volumes increased 428% compared to the previous round of fixtures before coronavirus, according to Smarkets.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“When you don’t have all the normal content, customers will migrate,” Avello says. “That’s the positive that’s going to come out of this—we’re always looking for additional content.” 

KEY BACKGROUND

DraftKings reported record betting during the NFL Draft last month—13x the volume from last year—and has also seen strong interest in the recent return of Ultimate Fighting Championship events, the company said. “We got good action on the stuff we did, but now that we’re starting to get back to core events, demand should rise even higher,” Avello predicts. If the NBA and NHL start playoff seasons this summer and the MLB returns, for instance, “it could be one of the bigger summers that we’ve ever had.”

Sergei Klebnikov, Forbes Staff, Markets

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Quote Of The Day

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“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,”

–  Vladimir Lenin, Russian Political Theorist

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