For someone so omnipresent in pop music today, witnessing an actual DJ Khaled concert is akin to seeing a unicorn.
The exuberant Palestinian-American hip-hop star and producer put on a rare concert performance — taking in an even scarcer long-distance flight — from the US — to headline the second night of Riyadh's Soundstorm festival on Friday.
“I flew 16 hours to be here with my people,” DJ Khaled said on the main Big Beast stage. “So tonight will not go down, but up, in history.”
More than 150,000 revellers responded with acclaim, perhaps aware of their good fortune at being able to watch the artist transform from his usual background role of hip-hop producer to centre of attention pop-star.
This is down to the canny synergy between Khaled’s public persona and sound, with both being loud, brash and in some cases, motivational.
While he has perfected the approach in the studio through 13 albums — including the latest Grammy Award-nominated God Did — and a slew of hits, it has been a challenge to transfer that energy onto the live stage.
His reported fear of flying is a key reason for his physical absence, while another explains the paradox of his success.
As a producer, Khaled possesses a brilliant ear for bringing artists together, having worked with everyone from Drake to Mary J Blige on hit collaborations.
As others perform his tracks, Khaled often chimes in with catchy phrases and mantras such as "we the best" — but live solo performances have been reduced to DJ sets in ritzy clubs, and supporting Beyonce and Jay Z’s joint US tour in 2019.
If he was waiting for the right opportunity — and the budget — to create the live experience he dreamed of, then Soundstorm fit the bill.
Performing a set dubbed DJ Khaled and Friends, he treated the crowd to a frenetic 90-minute set that resembled a festival within a festival, with a line-up featuring performances by hip-hop stars.
Beginning with a medley of his greatest hits, including All I Do is Win and We Takin Over, Khaled introduced his first guest, Future.
The duo tore through a number of tracks from the latter's catalogue including Wait For U, Commas, Mask Off and a particularly rowdy take of Pushin P.
Up next was Rick Ross and Fat Joe, who kept the hits coming with Hustlin’ and Lean Back, before a show-stopping appearance by Busta Rhymes.
Flanked by onstage collaborator Spliff Star, the flamboyant duo — dressed in matching purple tracksuits — blitzed through anthems Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See and Break Ya Neck, which were full of Busta Rhymes's trademark speed raps and intensity.
Weaving throughout the festival set’s two decades’ worth of hits is Khaled who fulfilled the role of both ringmaster — constantly declaring “and another one” to transition to the next track — and motivational coach epitomised with constant refrain “they didn’t believe in us, but God did".
It is these euphoric vibes that tie all the disparate elements together to make the whole experience a rare treat, and hopefully laying the seed for a world tour matching his status.
Earlier in the evening, regional pop-stars also featured at Soundstorm with Egypt’s Amr Diab and Lebanon’s Nancy Ajram performing separate sets backed by DJ Salvatore Ganacci.
Meanwhile, the Down Beast stage continued to deliver the goods with some wonderful low-key performances.
For Pakistan's Arooj Aftab, her debut Riyadh set was a homecoming. "I am finally here," the singer remarked when taking the stage. "I was born here, so this makes me from here".
Mostly basking in silhouette and backed by duo on double bass and violin, Aftab delivered a sultry set taken from acclaimed 2021 album Vulture Prince, and a bewitching rendering of Udhero Na, a song nominated for Best Global Music Performance for next year’s Grammy Awards.
Australian singer-songwriter Chet Faker also delivered a virtuoso solo performance as he constantly transitioned from jazzy piano playing to electronic percussion synthesisers for luscious tracks like So Long, So Lonely and Trouble With Us.
Soundstorm festival concludes on Sunday with headline performances by Bruno Mars, David Guetta and Egypt’s Mohamed Ramadan.
Tickets cost from 109 Saudi riyals ($29); more information is at mdlbeast.com