During a busy trip to New York in late summer, the Florida-raised rap mogul swung by the FN offices for a photo shoot before heading to record an appearance on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” alongside Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and French Montana.
Although the clock was ticking, Khaled made sure to meticulously scope out the footwear selections to ensure they were to his liking. As he looked them over, his facial expressions telegraphed instant approval or disapproval. But Khaled’s fondness for two looks was clear: Air Jordan retros and the Timberland 6-inch boot.
His choices have been staples in hip-hop fashion for almost as long as the genre has existed, so it’s not unusual for the artist and label exec to be drawn to them. But what may surprise some is Khaled’s seemingly overnight transition from popular Miami DJ to hip-hop power player and go-to brand partner.
He released his debut project, “Listennn … the Album,” in 2006, and has since produced eight more full-length collections. But his best medium is arguably Snapchat, where Khaled has garnered a massive following thanks to his exuberant persona and an abundance of quotable catchphrases (i.e., “major key” and “bless up”).
That social media following and fan accessibility helped the 40-year-old rap veteran secure several recent sponsorship deals with Apple Music, Sabra Dipping Co., Silk and Zappos.com.
He also has close ties with Jordan Brand and has developed a strong relationship with his onetime employer, Champs Sports, which produced numerous digital spots with him — and will open a private Miami storefront this week dedicated to the DJ.
According to a survey from The NPD Group Inc., Khaled is a worthy ambassador to push footwear: He has an estimated U.S. fan base of 16.5 million, and about 60 percent of them are highly coveted millennials.
Within his following, one in eight wears Jordan Brand, and an even larger percentage buys shoes from its parent company, Nike. Other popular brands among his fans are Vans, Timberland and Airwalk.
On set, the founder of the We the Best Music Group shared his personal thoughts on hip-hop fashion and why the sneakers he is wearing on our cover — a pair of Air Jordans inspired by the always flamboyantly dressed NBA reporter Craig Sager — are so meaningful.
How did you get a pair of the Craig Sager-inspired Air Jordan 1s?
DJK: It was a gift — shout-out to the Jordan Brand team — they blessed me with a gift. They only made two: Craig Sager has one, and I have one. I’m sure with the response out there, they’ll probably want to make more. We all love Craig Sager; he’s a legend.
If you love basketball, you follow him and his amazing outfits that he wears, and it’s great that Jordan made him a shoe, and I’m happy to have it. Have I had lunch or dinner with him? No. Have I been on the basketball court and seen him? Of course I have. I’ve met him, but I don’t know if he knows me. [Ed note: Sager is currently battling leukemia.]
You have a huge collection of Air Jordan sneakers. Which one do you like best?
DJK: My favorite Jordan model is the 3s — it’s classic. All of them are classic, though. I just love the cement print, and I remember the posters with Jordan wearing these. Also, they’re comfortable, and I like the way they look on me.
What was your biggest splurge for a pair of sneakers?
DJK: Red Jordan 3s from Justin Timberlake, the “Legends of the Summer.” I spent like five bands [$5,000] for those. I wanted them so bad.
How did you develop your personal style?
DJK: I’ve got a great stylist — his name is Terrell Jones. And at the same time, growing up in hip-hop, you just automatically grow into fashion. Sometimes I might just wear a white tee with the dopest sneakers ever — that’s a look, that’s the cleanest look ever.
Sometimes I might want to throw on a Versace shirt with some Timbs or some Js. It depends on the vibe. There are so many flavors. Me, I wear suits, I wear jumpsuits, I wear jeans, I wear T-shirts — I wear it all. The older I get, the braver I get. I love fashion, and I’m excited to try something new because I know inside I’m beautiful.
Is the workboot look still as relevant in hop-hip?
DJK: Of course — Timberlands are forever. For the Timberland 6-inch boots, I’ve got to have me some wheat-colored ones, some black ones — a fresh pair at all times. The Timberland 6-inch is an iconic boot. I wore them today! I think everybody that wears sneakers also has a pair of Timberlands.
How do you tend to wear your Timberland workboots?
DJK: Today I wore a little black-and-gray vibe and threw on Timberlands, but I like wearing Timberlands with cargo pants or some jeans or camouflage. I wore Timberlands with a suit before. It’s how bold you are. Me, I’m not scared to wear nothin’.
What other footwear labels and designers do you really like?
DJK: I love Air Jordan, and I’ve got all the Gucci loafers and also the Versace loafers.
Do you want to get in on the product collaboration game?
DJK: I’m down to collaborate with anybody that represents greatness, or anybody that represents love and positivity, and at the same time represents the people.
What would you say is your fondest sneaker memory?
DJK: My tour bus blew up, and a lot of my sneakers got burned up. I called every Flight Club, every Shoe Gallery — I even called Jordan’s team. Other artists were offering Jordans to me because they felt my pain. But we got everything replaced. I couldn’t believe it. It got replaced in a week.