Note: the author of this post is not a philosopher (technically).
DJ Khaled released his seminal hit “All I Do is Win” in 2010. Since then, it's become a staple of sports teams and mid-level party scenes across the country. While the song may seem quite straightforward, there is actually much to unpack regarding how humans relate to the concept of success, and what it might mean for humanity. The main function of the song is DJ Khaled's claim that, in fact, all he does is win:
All I do is win, win, win no matter what
Got money on my mind, I can never get enough
Thus, the entirety of the work functions as a dialogue on the nature of ‘winning’ in relationship to quality of life. As humans, we crave success, but what does it do for us, and what are we willing to do for it? For Khaled, a taste of winning means he ‘can never get enough’ (of winning). However, his coauthors Ludacris (verse 1) and Snoop Dogg (verse 3), offer alternative perspectives on what 'winning' might mean.
Here, I ask the critical question: DJ Khaled may claim that all he does is win, but is it actually possible for him to win, all the time?
What follows is a philosophical analysis, in the style of a mathematical proof. If DJ Khaled claims that all he does is win, to critique this claim we must establish what Khaled's conditions for winning are - (a) what is Khaled winning, and (b) what is the state of the world such that he gets it?
What does DJ Khaled win? There are a few contenders:
Got money on my mind, I can never get enough
We come together holdin' hands and holla "Thug life"
3. Life itself?
Because DJ Khaled is (allegedly) winning… ‘No matter what’ external conditions are at play, theoretically he has achieved godlike status in society and is no longer affected by its whims.
On this point, the facts are relatively unclear. The answer may be 'all of the above,' which is why we must turn to the second category.
How does DJ Khaled win? This is fairly straightforward if we consult the text. The chorus of "All I Do is Win" describes the mechanism by which DJ Khaled continuously wins:
And every time I step up in the building
Everybody hands go up
And they stay there and they say yeah (Yeah)
And they stay there, up, down, up, down, up, down
'Cause all I do is win
And if you going in put your hands in the air
Make 'em stay there
If we do a deeper reading of this language, the first item that becomes apparent is that there is a direct correlation between hands in the air and Khaled’s winning capacity.
But understanding this link raises a serious question - is the status of DJ Khaled’s winning actually tautological? Khaled is winning because people’s hands are in the air - per the chorus, winning appears to be contingent on this fact! But he then commands his audience to keep their hands in the air, so that he can keep winning. By his own construction, he has defined a 'win condition' (people's hands in the air) that he must then perpetuate indefinitely. Taken to its logical conclusions, by demanding they keep their hands in the air, DJ Khaled is actually exploiting the labor of the capitalist underclass so that he can continue to win.
While Khaled presents a clear, yet complex take on what it means to win (at all times), this framework is not unchallenged. We can expand our view beyond Khaled's chorus to the rest of the song for a wider analysis. Each verse of ‘All I Do is Win’ presents a dialogue on power, and how the speaker relates to it. Ludacris and Snoop Dogg also claim to be winning ('Cause all I do, all I do is win (Ludacris); Just win, baby win (Snoop Dogg)). However, their descriptions of what ‘winning’ means for their lives differs strongly from DJ Khaled’s, and neither relies on active audience labor.
Ludacris provides an alternative ‘winning’ interpretation, which is similar to Khaled's in that winning does correlate specifically with financial gain. Ludacris, however, goes a step further and brings specific examples of his financial success, e.g., Got 20 bank accounts/ Accountants count me in. As bank accounts typically require a minimum deposit amount of $100, Ludacris has at least $2000, and that's definitely a win. But how does Ludacris define the means by which he wins? He claims he's winning Cause [he's] ever been defeated, which, upon assessment, means Ludacris does not have to be actively 'winning' to win – he’s simply not losing. Unlike Khaled, Ludacris sets a more manageable bar, meets it, and is satisfied with it.
By contrast, Snoop Dogg questions whether winning is a continuous cycle or an end state. In contrast to Khaled, who is trapped in his hands-up winning loop, from his perspective Snoop Dogg has already won, and feels he doesn’t have to continue winning: I been running this rap game since I was 20 years old. Snoop Dogg is free to move on to other activities, knowing that his achievements will still exist as he does so. In this framework, there's no maintenance necessary (whereas Khaled's definition requires him to keep it going). Snoop Dogg has found inner peace by defining victory as a life-defining event, rather than a state of being that requires constant effort.
From this analysis, we can develop An Economic Theory of Winning as applied to DJ Khaled, and assess the feasibility of his claims. DJ Khaled has set himself up to need to always win – a state which is falsifiable! In contrast to Ludacris and Khaled, all he needs to do to stop winning is to lose once. He is in an unstable state, only preserved by the recruitment of more and more audience members to keep their hands in the air. The game must always be played, and the participants are always Khaled (Player 1) and the entire audience (Player 2, en masse). In contrast, Snoop Dogg is set up because he’s won in the past, and makes no claims towards any future winnings. As a result, he is not trapped in the game loop.
But can DJ Khaled actually win at all times? We know that DJ Khaled’s power is derived from (a) his songs being played and (b) people putting their hands in the air. What is the probability that somewhere in the world, at any given time, both conditions (a) and (b) are satisfied, i.e., that a DJ Khaled song is playing and there are hands in the air?
We can run the math on this, too. DJ Khaled has ~25 million monthly listeners on Spotify every month. There are ~2.5-2.6 million seconds in a month. On average, Khaled may have at least 9 people listening to his music at any given second, assuming his listenership is semi-uniformly distributed across time zones. Some of those listeners are probably putting their hands up. Which means – there is a very good chance that both winning conditions are met for most hours every day.
Thus, DJ Khaled is probably winning, under most conditions. Whether this is good enough for him remains up for debate.
In summary: this simple analysis suggests DJ Khaled’s claim that 'all [he does] is win' may be likely under the terms that Khaled himself has defined. Given DJ Khaled’s current catchphrases of 'we the best music' and 'another one,' he is continuing to bolster his chances at winning. However, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg prove that there are much easier ways to win.
All that being said, it's a pretty catchy song.