Hip-hop producer DJ Khaled stays grounded with his love for gardening

Famed DJ Khaled uses his garden to stay grounded and often takes conference calls among the flowers.
Famed DJ Khaled uses his garden to stay grounded and often takes conference calls among the flowers. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA (NYTIMES) - On the first day of summer, two days before the release of his new album Grateful, hip-hop producer DJ Khaled was sitting in a powder room in his mansion.

As a barber tended to him, he scrolled through comments from his 6.7 million Instagram followers and waxed poetic about gardening.

It is the pastime that has kept him grounded during his ascent from Miami disc jockey to auteur of ubiquitous club bangers such as Wild Thoughts (featuring Rihanna and a Carlos Santana sample) and I Got The Keys.

"Don't forget, if we didn't have this house built, these streets, what would be here?" he said, gesturing at the cobblestoned driveway where two workers were cleaning his bright blue Rolls-Royce.

"Trees, flowers, Mother Nature."

Khaled, 41, has loved the outdoors since he grew up in Florida.

His parents, who were Palestinian immigrants, worked in the clothing business. When suits fell out of fashion and his father had to close his men's store, Khaled turned to DJing to support his family.

Aligning himself with marquee emcees and singers (Jay Z, Rihanna, Drake) and avoiding tracks that put down people in crude terms in favour of coining positive catchphrases such as "bless up" have given Khaled a golden reputation.

In his spare time, he takes care, along with some hired help, of lush gardens at this home and another in Miami, or at least looks at them while doing other things.

"Say I had to get on a conference call, I'd go outside by the hammock, by the flowers, and just sit there. If it's a stressful call, I really get close to the flowers," he said. "People say, 'Respect your mother.' I say, 'Respect Mother Nature'."

Khaled, who is Muslim, prays immediately after he wakes up. He then takes his eight-month-old son to a grassy plateau that borders the master bedroom.

"I'm going to make some bonsai trees, get the grass better, I'm going to get some flowers," Khaled said.

On this June afternoon, he bent down to caress the yellow petals of a marigold.

"I always feel my flowers, I touch them and I tell them I love them," he said.

"This flower right here, I remember when it wasn't looking as beautiful. I see them grow and I put that in life perspective. If you take care of something, look what happens.

"It's like eating healthy, it's like working out."

In the courtyard was a waterfall-laden garden of hydrangeas and poppies that Khaled called Jerusalem "because I feel like I'm not in America right now", he said. "I feel like I'm in the Holy Land."

His free-form manner is part of his appeal to marketers trying to reach millennials who roll their eyes at traditional, polished media.

He has acted as a spokesman for Ciroc vodka, ride service Lyft and Silk's plant-based milks ("I do plants," he said in a 2016 Silk advertisement, holding up a smoothie of almond milk and bananas).

While new endorsement offers come in "all the time", he said, he works only with companies that accept him as he is.

"I only know how to be me. Say I misspelt something on Snapchat or social, that's just me.

"If it's me loving my flowers, me in the studio, me with my son - I'm just being me. I don't know what else to do."

But of course authenticity, as just being oneself is called these days, requires a lot more effort.

Back in his house, back on Instagram, Khaled watched a day-old video of himself dancing at a radio station, jovial and blustering.

"People don't realise the work behind the scenes. They just get to see the victories and the finished product, but it's a lot of work and not everybody can handle it," he said.

"A lot of people can't handle success either. I can."

Even while holding a watering can. And oh, by the way, Grateful topped the Billboard album chart last week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Grateful for nature'. Print Edition | Subscribe