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DJ Khaled Talks ‘Til Next Time,’ Mark Wahlberg Project, Drake, More

todayNovember 7, 2023 5

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L
ately, DJ Khaled
has been listening to a lot of Jay-Z. Namely The Blueprint, the 2001 opus that helped solidify Hov as a commercial juggernaut in hip-hop. On an August afternoon in Miami, in the living room of the more-than-12,000-square-foot South Beach mansion he’s affectionately dubbed “the Resort,” Khaled cues up “Heart of the City.” He says it’s the type of energy that he wants from his upcoming 14th studio album, Til Next Time. The kind of music people play “to motivate themselves, to sing or rap along to,” he says. “Anthems.” 

Khaled, 47, has made a life out of motivation. In the rap community, he’s been a reliable source of hits rooted in the rags-to-riches ethos of the genre. All he does is win, as he emphatically told us in 2010, and his hustler’s intuition has laid the foundation for a decades-long career working alongside some of the biggest names in music, from Jay-Z and Beyoncé to Drake, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna. Khaled’s relentless positivity is by now a part of the DNA of popular culture. When you hear him chant his name — stretching the syllables in the word “DJ” to their phonetic limit — you know it’s going to be a banger. 

Despite being something of an architectural marvel, Khaled’s house manages to still feel cozy. Across the room, there are kids’ toys for his sons Asahd, six, and Aalam, three, within view, and the family cat, Coco, shuffles pensively around the back hallway. Photos of the family occupy space on pretty much every surface. It’s like being at your uncle’s house if your uncle had a handful of certified platinum records under his belt.

SUNGLASSES BY PRADA. SHIRT BY MARNI. PANTS BY LOEWE

At home, Khaled makes sure to get dressed up for the occasion of our interview, wearing a Loewe button-down shirt and black trousers, along with a pair of J Balvin Air Jordan 3’s. He and the Colombian star collaborated on a single from Balvin’s upcoming album called “Dientes,” featuring R&B legend Usher. “He’s the biggest hype man in the world,” Balvin says of Khaled, before jokingly adding, “And the way he dances is amazing, too.”

Khaled wears a pristinely lined haircut. His beard follows sharp angles that enforce a perfect symmetry along his face. When he’s trying to muster up the right word, either for clarity or comedic timing, his eyes carry a piercing seriousness, like an athlete laser-focused on a play. But he’s largely instinctive in his delivery — in plucking whatever he’s trying to convey from his brain and placing it into yours. Before we start our first interview, he gets inspired to film a clip for Instagram, pausing for a moment before a new catchphrase comes to him: “Call me tangerine!” he says, referring to his new factory-diamond Rolex with an orange bezel the color of a tangerine. He does a few takes before landing on the one that his 37 million Instagram followers will eventually see.

Khaled excels at bringing his deep well of playful energy to social media, where his witticisms have the same staying power as the hip-hop hits he’s so astute at constructing: “Another One,” “Major Key,” “Cloth Talk,” the list goes on. Since his first posts on Snapchat, in 2015, Khaled has tapped into the zeitgeist by simply being himself. Lately, he’s been on another hot streak, as his musings from his home and, more recently, the golf course have become social media sensations. “I was just telling everybody that’s been around me, I’m like, ‘Yo, is it me or this energy is happening again?’” he says. “Because I don’t plan this. This is just God. I’m watching all my fans going, ‘Tell them to bring out the whole ocean,’ or ‘Cappuccino.’ I’m seeing bootleggers making T-shirts.”

There’s certainly an abundance of material for people to latch onto. Like the video of Khaled asking his private chef about each of the dishes on his plate before abruptly interjecting, “Have you ever played rugby?” Or the clip of Khaled at home one night faced with a bountiful spread of seafood leftovers. As he squeezes a lemon onto some lobster, he turns the camera around and shouts, “Tell ’em to bring out the whole ocean!” Or, perhaps the best of Khaled’s recent clips: the one where he casually swings a golf cart around on the beach, two of its tires briefly leaving the ground, before driving up to the camera to declare that “life is roadblocks” (except his pronunciation lands closer to Roblox, the popular video game for children).

But is it all an act? How is it possible for a human being to radiate so much absurd positivity? “My energy is always at a great level, high level, and I’m a go-getter and nothing is going to stop me,” Khaled says. “I feel like God gave me a purpose to find a way to make the world better, and that’s a big responsibility. But I’m going to do my best. If you wake up every day and show gratitude, that’s how you find happiness.”

It’s a familiar refrain from Khaled, who’s gone so far as to turn his unbridled optimism into a New York Times bestseller in The Keys: A Memoir, published in 2016. Coming from anyone else’s mouth, it might even sound corny or disingenuous. But in person, Khaled doesn’t seem to have the capacity for fakeness. His larger-than-life personality and unwavering belief in “spreading love” are reflections of the man’s interior. In many ways, it’s the reason he’s been able to team up with top-flight talent for so long. DJ Khaled might be the purest soul in all of music, something like hip-hop’s Ted Lasso. “I promise you, everyone, I don’t sit there and think, ‘Let me think of something,’” Khaled says of his jokes. “It just comes out. That’s just me being me. I’m not scared to be me.” 

KHALED’S OUTLOOK HAS been a winning formula for years. His studio debut, 2006’s Listennn … the Album, premiered at Number 12 on the charts and quickly established Khaled as the kind of hitmaker who could bring together a who’s who of cross-regional collaborators like Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, Fat Joe, Rick Ross, and Pitbull, all of whom appeared on the single “Holla at Me.” “DJ Khaled is one of one,” Wayne says. “He’s produced so many memorable tracks. There’s no one like him.” The next year, Khaled followed up his debut with We the Best, introducing the name of his future label imprint to the masses. In 2009, Khaled was named the president of Def Jam South, bringing We the Best Music along for the ride. In this position, he oversaw albums from Young Jeezy, Ludacris, and Rick Ross before leaving in 2011 to work under Cash Money. 

All the while, Khaled’s releases have flowed consistently every year or so, building out a star-studded universe through accretion. His relationship with Drake has been uniquely fruitful, as the pair have collaborated on hits like “Greece” and “Popstar,” both from 2021. He teamed up with Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Future on 2018’s “Top Off,” and sampled Santana on 2017’s Rihanna-assisted hit “Wild Thoughts.” That same year, he landed his first and only Number One hit when he teamed up with Bieber for “I’m the One” (not to be confused with 2011’s “I’m on One,” featuring Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne).

Trophies and awards from throughout Khaled’s career surround us in the living room — another necessary flourish for an interview of this magnitude, he explains, as his team lays out his Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award alongside a few Grammys and VMAs. As Khaled would say, these are all blessings that warrant celebration. You get the sense, sitting next to him, that a part of him still can’t believe the extent of his successes, that these tangible reminders serve as a necessary grounding force.

Even so, there’s not much left for Khaled to conquer musically, which might explain the sense of finality that looms over this next project. In the official album trailer, a promotional tool perfected by Khaled, he alludes to questions of retirement. He also executes a perfect soccer bicycle kick that he swears isn’t CGI. “I’m treating it like it’s my last album. But it’s not a goodbye,” he says. “You’re going to start seeing and hearing about all these new things that I’m doing. I’m going to be doing more TV and film. We taking over the TV and film. That’s what Til Next Time is —  it’s like, I’m going to give you an incredible album, but also while I’m giving you that incredible album, you’re going to see all these big new moves that I’m doing and new categories that we going to take over.”

One such new category is golf, a sport that Khaled says he’s started to get serious about in the past few years. He adheres to a daily regimen of playing at least nine holes to clear his head. Of course, the internet is well aware. Khaled’s love of the sport arrives in frequent video dispatches featuring his new catchphrase: “Let’s go golfing!” He’s known to deliver the line with an exaggerated, cartoonish drawl. He tells me he’s seen the phrase on merch at golf tournaments. And his love of golf is helping to break barriers, with rappers like 2 Chainz and Offset among the celebrities following Khaled’s lead and getting more involved in the historically stuffy, white pastime. Khaled even recently landed on the cover of Golf Digest

A few days after our first interview, I meet Khaled for breakfast at his house before setting off to the Miami Beach Golf Club for a few holes. Unlike in his videos on social media, Khaled is familiar with each dish on his plate and needs no explanation. The ocean, for now, will stay in its place. There’s little time for antics, because Khaled has a meeting back at the house this afternoon, and he wants to be sure to get as much time on the course as he can. Khaled is indeed as lighthearted and fun-loving as he seems on social media. But he also doesn’t play about his golf routine. After breakfast, his driver pulls the cars out front and we get into the back of Khaled’s Maybach, one of 150 special-edition models custom-designed by the late designer Virgil Abloh, which Khaled has named the “Cappuccino.” 

It’s a quick drive to the course, where we’re greeted by staff who seem overjoyed at our arrival. As we get settled, I notice Khaled pull a few hundred-dollar bills from a green Goyard bag — tips for all the staff, which maybe explains their excitement. After we load up the cart and get onto the course, I quickly learn that all of the things fanatics tell you about golf are true. There is a certain serenity that envelops you as soon as you arrive. The air feels lighter, and you can hear a calm flutter of wind breeze through the grass. The course is sprawling and lush, with winding hills and a lake that snakes through the landscape, which is bordered by dense trees. The environment is relaxing enough to make you briefly forget the devilish August heat dome we’re under in Miami. 

Khaled is joined by his videographer as well as his content manager, the creative force behind his endless stream of candid videos. The operation is pretty no-frills, and Khaled is a natural in front of the camera. He warms up with his first swing and lets out an animated celebration that’s on its way to becoming a new catchphrase: “Right down the middle, let’s go!” I briefly feel like I’m behind the scenes on a TV show, except instead of actors, this is a man’s real life. Khaled is playing well today, as far as I can tell. While controlling his body so that it moves sort of like a pendulum, he hits the ball extremely hard, causing it to make a very satisfying sound, and it lands pretty close to the hole on his first try. This, I believe, is supposed to be the main point of the sport.   

Another group of golfers ahead of us, who look more like your typical golf crowd in that they are old white guys, notice us and wave at Khaled to say hello. It’s like watching an inverted code switch, as they recite his catchphrases with a cool swagger surely indebted to rap’s decades at the forefront of American popular culture. Later, I ask Khaled if he knew the men, and he shrugs, saying he had no idea. Anyone watching would have been forgiven for thinking they were old pals.

Sunglasses by Prada. Shirt by Marni. Pants by Loewe

DJ KHALED WAS BORN in New Orleans but raised primarily in Florida, where he’s lived for the past 30 years. “I grew up at a special time,” he says. “I got a chance to be the young kid in the Nineties that heard all that music. And in the early 2000s, I got a chance to live my dream.”

Both of his parents are Palestinian immigrants to the U.S., and they ran a clothing store throughout Khaled’s childhood. He has memories of spending time in the store, getting to hold the pouch of money that came in each day. As he’s told it, the store fell on hard times at some point while he was in high school. By then, he’d already begun DJ’ing at parties around Miami before he was old enough to walk into a bar. He dropped out of school and started living on his own around age 17, at first taking on any number of odd jobs. At one time in his youth, he says, he was “heavy” in the bootleg-cellphone game, the closest thing to the underworld he’s ever been involved with. He was also a ball boy for the Orlando Magic, remembers Shaquille O’Neal’s iconic seasons with the team, and maintains a relationship with the Hall of Famer to this day. 

All the while, Khaled’s main focus was on music. He would DJ on a pirate radio station that showed love to the burgeoning local rap scene, and eventually, Miami legend Uncle Luke invited him to spin on 99JAMZ, the city’s biggest rap station. “He let me co-host and be the DJ while I was doing pirate radio,” Khaled recalls. “We was doing it big — I was doing both.” He also took several trips to Jamaica around this time, learning about sound-clash culture and solidifying his DJ bona fides.

In the early 2000s, he connected with Fat Joe and Terror Squad, who were becoming a heavy force around Miami after getting started in the Bronx years earlier. Fat Joe recalls being immediately taken by Khaled’s sincerity — a rarity in the rap game. “When I first met Khaled, he had an advanced copy of my album on vinyl that I didn’t even have,” Fat Joe recalls over the phone. “He got nervous because I was Fat Joe, the gangster, at that time, but I fell in love with him immediately. I just saw his charisma, and how sincere he is as a person. And I had him all to myself before the whole world figured out how much of a beautiful person he is, how much of an uplifting character he is.” 

Khaled started making beats under the name Beat Novocaine, producing a handful of cuts that share the distinct anthemic feeling that’s become his staple. He was also a key player in Terror Squad in other ways. “When we did ‘Lean Back,’ we did it in a studio in his house,” Fat Joe says. “I remember when it came to be remix time, I would’ve never thought I had a chance in the world of getting Eminem. He told me, ‘You could get Em.’ And I went all out and I got Eminem because Khaled had pushed me to.” 

Khaled’s formative years in radio also made an impression on someone who would become one of his longest-running collaborators, Rick Ross. Khaled produced a song on Ross’s 2006 debut, Port of Miami, and the two have been close ever since. “He knows what’s going to get me excited,” Ross says. “He’ll run in the room yelling, ‘I got some shit, Rozay!’ — and nine times out of 10, when he’s that excited, it’s something that’s going to end up feeling good. That’s always been the dynamic, since ‘I’m So Hood,’ and the list goes on.”

Ross says that the Khaled that fans see on social media is the same person he’s been since the early days of their careers. “When we both had Escalade trucks, before we would go to the clubs on the beach, if we stopped and got gas, he would fucking run up — he would pull up, jump out his truck before you, just to stunt,” Ross recalls. “So what you watching him do on golf carts and on Jet Skis and all that shit? That’s something that’s been going on for many years.” 

FOR ALL OF HIS boundless energy and enthusiasm for winning, Khaled has experienced setbacks, even if he’s more reticent to talk about them. “You never heard me say somebody gave me a fucked-up deal,” he says. “You never heard me say, ‘Fuck this person, fuck that, this, that, and that,’ because that’s not who I am. Because I never look at any situation as a bad situation, even if it’s bad. Because it’s a learning situation for me to do better. Right? And I’m a guy with gratitude.” 

Still, he admits that he hit a crossroads around 2015. Despite all of the overt successes he’d experienced by then, he says, he was “hustling not smart.” For one, he was still renting his home, and after investing his own money into We the Best, he recalls having trouble paying the bills, to the point where he feared losing his lease. “I remember I had like a month to come up with this [large] amount of money,” he says. The ordeal triggered a perspective shift for Khaled. “I kept saying, ‘There’s no way in the world that we worked this much this far and we don’t have nothing to show for it.’ I changed that right away.”

Glasses by Cartier. Jacket by Louis Vuitton. Shirt by Alexander McQueen.

Around the same time, he realized he wanted to take a major step in his life. “I was like, ‘Yo, if I want a family, I got to get my shit right.’ And I gambled on myself. I always bet on myself from day one. But I tripled down that day.” 

Khaled began firing himself up with what we now know as his “Major Keys.” Those keys were more like exercises in staying present at first. In the videos Khaled would post to Snapchat at the time, he was doing mundane things like taking vitamins, getting manicures, and tending to his garden, all with the bravado and charisma of rap’s leading hype man. There’s an allure to treating your daily life as worthy of a DJ Khaled producer tag, and to do anything less, according to Khaled, would be to play yourself. (The most important key is to never, ever play yourself.) “I was just talking my shit,” he says. “I was going through trials and tribulations. I was talking to myself, and obviously, it was allowing me to feel my feelings. I didn’t know who was following me. This was brand-new for me. I didn’t realize the whole world was fucking watching.”

When Khaled famously got lost on his Jet Ski in 2015 — trying to get back to his house after a visit with Rick Ross, still out at sea as darkness fell — he posted through the chaos with a familiarity you don’t typically get from celebrities. After all, this was social media, where the primped and pruned presentations of our lives tend to embellish even the most humble of lunch spreads. Khaled, meanwhile, had found a way to connect to the masses by offering up his authentic self. Even if his life was more extravagant, it contained the same raw ingredients. Who among us hasn’t gotten lost, staving off panic with boisterous optimism? “The key is to make it,” Khaled shouted as he struggled to find his way home that fateful evening, as the world watched.

On the back of his newfound viral fame, Khaled signed a partnership with Epic Records in 2016, releasing his Major Key album with the label that same year. The record found Khaled rising to the forefront of a changing mainstream, as artists’ social media presence became a critical force across the music industry. On the album’s cover, Khaled sits stoically next to a lion in front of a robust den of flowers, evidence of his keys’ effectiveness. The album features one of Khaled and Drake’s biggest hits, “For Free,” and was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammys. Not long after, Khaled found a way to buy the house he was renting, and a few more for good measure. He also welcomed his first son, Asahd, who was given an executive-producer credit on Khaled’s 2019 album, Father of Asahd.

Khaled chalks up much of his success to instincts, believing in the power of what you can feel. “You got people that work behind these desks, they hide behind their desks, and they’re not even in the field,” he says as he drives the golf cart to the next hole. “If you’re not in the field, how are you going to feel something? Some people work off of analytics. I work off of heart, blood, sweat, and tears.” This year, Khaled returned to his early home at Def Jam, signing a partnership deal with the label to bring his We the Best empire back to where it all began.

Somewhere around the eighth hole, Khaled realizes he’s running late for a meeting, so we hop back in the Cappuccino and make our way to his newly opened We the Best sportswear store, a partnership with the retailer Snipes. In the car, Khaled tells me about meeting his wife, Nicole Tuck, 19 years ago, and how on their first date she was joined by her mother. He says he knew right away that he wanted to marry her.

As he’s telling me this, I notice onlookers craning their necks sideways to get a view of who might be inside the custom Maybach. One thing about driving such a rare car around town is that people quickly recognize you. Khaled seems at ease; when I ask if he ever worries about security or the possibility of an overly aggressive fan, he seems to not even comprehend the danger. 

Sure enough, as we pull into the store’s parking lot, a swarm of kids follow us up the block and ask for photos, and Khaled obliges. Earlier in the day, maybe around hole six, he’d posted an Instagram story from our golf cart, letting fans know he’d be going to the store later that day. The fans heeded his call, though I’m told the scene was even more chaotic on opening day. Nonetheless, Khaled stops for what seems like 100 different photos before making his way to his office in the back of the store. 

Our visit is something of a pit stop. Khaled wants to show his fans love, but he also has a call scheduled with a handful of radio stations to promote his new single. While we’re in his office, a cleanly decorated space adorned with platinum plaques, some fans stand outside by the window hoping to get an autograph or a photo. After the 15 or so minutes of the conference call are up, Khaled is back on the move, shaking hands and signing sneakers. 

Glasses by Cartier. Denim shirt by Dior/Denim Tears

Once we get back to the car, Khaled tells me he needs to return a FaceTime call from Mark Wahlberg, who was trying to reach him while he was on the other line. The actor is calling about plans they have for the following week, and both of them allude cryptically to an upcoming film that will be a major move for Khaled once it’s announced. When informed that a reporter is listening, Wahlberg says to make sure I tell everyone I’m “talking to one of the best entertainers in the world.” 

Khaled takes my eavesdropping as an opportunity to tell me more about his new interests. These days, his focus is on horizons unseen. “I’m going to work my ass off to make sure that my kids is good forever, and my queen’s good forever, and I’m good forever, and my friends are good forever, and my family’s good forever,” he says. “I want to see every kid have the world. One of my biggest, proudest accomplishments is that the We the Best Foundation continues to grow. So that’s part of the next level. Giving more to the kids.”

Khaled’s foundation hosted its inaugural golf tournament earlier this year, bringing out more than a dozen superstars in music, sports, and beyond, and raising thousands for programs that help Miami’s youth. Diddy alone reportedly donated $150,000. The foundation is a big part of the Khaled household’s day-to-day activities. “Me, my wife, and my team, our rule is to find a way to help the kids seven days a week,” he says. “It’s about giving back. The more blessings you give, the more love in the world there will be.” 

Khaled says his parents sometimes joke with him about running for president, but he’s never been interested in that sort of thing. “As far as politics, I never got into it,” he says. “It’s a never-ending conversation of back and forth. There’s never an answer. I’d rather be the person that focuses on the solution of being good at all times and working hard and spreading that love, because you can do that.”

ORIGINALLY, KHALED TELLS me, he was going to name his new album Love All, Trust Few. It’s a bit of a darker mood than fans might be used to — if he’d gone through with it, it would have been his least-ebullient album title since 2013’s Suffering From Success. “I live my album titles, so I was kind of being careful,” he says. “Love All, Trust Few is good, but it can get crazy. I had to make sure I stopped myself early because I was about to get into that zone. I still want to be able to make a record to speak what I feel, too. But it doesn’t have to be a whole album of it.”

We’re back at Khaled’s place, in the home studio he’s built out in the guest house. Fun fact: Drake and 21 Savage put the finishing touches on their 2022 joint album, Her Loss, right here at Khaled’s house. Drizzy’s stay even inspired the invention of a new cocktail by Khaled’s chef — a delightful white-peach spritz. 

Once we arrive, Khaled tells me he’s roughly 75 percent done with his album. He plays me a few works in progress, including the track that ended up with the title “Love All, Trust Few,” on which Khaled is indeed on the cusp of a much darker zone. He says he’s just gotten vocals in from Drake on another track that he assures me will have the world going crazy.

“Working with Drake is so dope because Drake is just a genius,” he says. “And I have this thing called ‘I like what Drake likes.’ So working with Drake, the ideas flow incredibly. I know it’s going to be great because I love Drake’s vision, and I don’t question it and I listen, you know what I’m saying? And the same way, he loves my vision. That’s why we work with each other.” 

He’s also got Burna Boy on the album, and he says he’s been feeling inspired lately by Afrobeats, finding a similar spiritual connection to the one he feels with dancehall: Khaled’s time in Jamaica early in his DJ career gave him a special affinity for Caribbean culture. He also tells me he’d like to work with Tems and, surprisingly, Tyler, the Creator, with whom he says he has a good rapport, despite a social media tussle when Father of Asahd was beaten out by Tyler’s Igor on the charts in 2019. (He says they chopped it up at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation brunch earlier this year.)

He’s got more songs with Lil Uzi Vert on the way, too. He plays a few more tracks he’s working on, including another boisterous appearance from Ross that is sure to deliver plenty of goose bumps. Despite my best efforts, though, he keeps the Drake vocals under wraps. About a month after I leave the Resort, he announces a new target for the album release in the most Khaled fashion possible: by posting a series of photos and videos to Instagram in which he is following Drake through the corridors of a sports arena, smiling widely and holding a giant sign that says “I HAVE 2 DRAKE SONGS ON MY NEW ALBUM / COMING 2024.“

I ask Khaled several times if he is, in fact, retiring, and while he’s committed to the gnomic response of Til Next Time, a more accurate answer might be that he doesn’t know yet. What seems abundantly clear is that Khaled is approaching a shift in his life, one that he seems to grow increasingly aware of each day. 

Back inside on the couch, Khaled tells me about going to Mecca at the end of last year, a trip that, he says, set this next chapter of his life into motion. “It was my first time in the Middle East since I was a kid, since 1984,” he says. “I was with Mike Tyson, and I was crying, and he seen the tears coming down my eyes, and he grabbed my shoulder. He goes, ‘I did the same thing the first time I was here too.’”

Khaled spent most of his career avoiding flights after a bad experience on a plane from Jamaica years ago. He’d even gone so far as to charter his own bus that shuttled him around the country during the height of his fame. In recent years, partly thanks to the birth of his two children, he’s begun to take planes more often. 

When he first got to Saudi Arabia, he performed for thousands of fans at the Soundstorm music festival in Riyadh. “I just remember feeling at peace,” he says. “It was almost like a missing key that I needed to make a decision to say, ‘Let’s do some more and go next-level.’”

A few days later, he went to Mecca to perform Umrah, a rite of passage within Islam. That’s when the tears came. “It felt like I was light as a feather, and then I started walking towards the middle, and I was just crying,” he says, recalling his words to God. 

“I was just telling Him how much I love Him,” he says. “‘Thank you for taking care of me and my kids and guiding us and showing us light.’ Showing my gratitude.”

Photography direction by EMMA REEVES. Styled by TERRELL JONES. Grooming by MARK MARRERO. Tailoring by GALINA. Photography Assistance by SAM ROBLES, OSCAR JORDAN, and DANNY CONDE. Digital Technician JOHN LYNCH





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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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