Genre-blending is a sign of contemporary music making. As Steve Aoki will put it in his interview, it goes farther than mixing and matching music genres, but all forms of expression and knowledge- mixing science with electronic dance music, hip-hop with rock, long hair with Bad Brains t-shirts. Inevitably the outcome is going to stray down a path of innovation above all else. On his latest venture, Steve dabbles in the already intersecting genres of hip-hop and electronic music and adds his own twist to it. Kolony has guest appearances from many of hip-hop’s prominent figures; Lil’ Yatchy, Migos, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, amongst others.
As aforementioned, the blend is always going to stray down a different path than what’s typically heard. Many of Steve’s tracks are dirty; heavy distortion on top of heavy bass that emphasizes the trap influence. The latest single, “Lit,” with Gucci Mane and T-Pain, features a drop that aggressively drags itself across the record, with the wobble’s distortion being the most noticeable effect. The entire track-listing won’t be one big head band (despite Steve’s clear affinity for punk-rock), since the next track, “Without U,” is much softer in tone, though still emphasizes rhythmic structure and fast pacing over a peaceful aesthetic.
“How Else” features a beat that “jumps,” a style known and popularly used by ILoveMakonnen, and sees Steve Aoki dabbling more in different vibes of trap. He very much so has slow bangs and head bangs on this record. Rich The Kid adds to this with his usual energy and charisma. The hook on “Night Call” features Migos crooning over it, alongside bars from Yatchy, similar to those off his recent drop Teenage Emotions.
An entire career making EDM hits, and popularizing his name through the sound of that world, it isn’t surprising Steve Aoki would want to switch up the vibe. Hip-hop just passed rock as the most popular genre in the U.S., with some of the most popular sounds including the trap-esque sound dabbled in on the album, Americanized dancehall riddims, and autotuned R&B crooning over dark, slow instrumentals. Steve’s album is a sign of the times; a blending of genres, though very much geared toward “the now.” It’s abundantly clear that he can do hip-hop; after all, both popular EDM and popular hip-hop are very much geared toward finding and maintaining a consistent atmosphere, most of the time being an upbeat one. All in all, the album does exceptionally well for its purpose, which is mainly to turn up to. It’d be doubly interesting to see Steve try out hip-hop production for rappers and singers whose main focus is lyricism and aesthetic; the Kendrick‘s, the Frank‘s, the Tyler‘s.
Steve sat down with RESPECT. to discuss his fears of scorpions, musicians being influenced by non-musicians, and his lack of care for critics.
RESPECT.: What are you afraid of?
Steve Aoki: What am I afraid of with this album?
That, sure, but I meant, like, generally speaking.
So in life then? Uh… scorpions. Definitely scorpions (laughs). In Las Vegas there’s a lot of them, especially by my mom’s house. And one scorpion walked up my brother-in-law’s leg and it just, like, attacked him. He didn’t even know what was in his leg, and he felt the creep and started freaking out, and so did the scorpion, so it just attacked him.
He’s okay though, right?
Yeah he’s good (laughs). I always remember that story and, like, I don’t want a scorpion crawling up my leg but you don’t have to worry about that in New York City.
Alright, we got rats over here, though.
Yeah I mean, maybe a big rat that like jumps on you, you know with like teeth coming out- I don’t know about that. Alligators too, and swamps and stuff.
Sounding like you don’t like animals too much.
No I love animals! I just don’t want any of the ones that are gonna eat me in any sort of way; I don’t wanna go in their territory and like, be their prey.
I definitely wouldn’t wanna fuck with that either, I understand. On a different note, the list of collaborations on your album is extensive, and it also stretches across genres; Louis Tomlinson all the way to Lil’ Yatchty. I wanted to know what you think your average listener looks like.
Well, when you think about how music is listened to now, there’s not a barrier between genre to genre. I think the same fan that loves Migos loves Louis Tomlinson, along with Martin Garrix or Steve Aoki. And they may not know all the music from all the artists, but they can hold a conversation and say “yeah, I fuck with this, I can definitely sing along to that,” you know? And I’m lucky because I’m living in that kind of climate, especially with streaming music and how accessible it is, you know? It’s like, what is the underground anymore? As soon as a song is out in the internet, it’s just there and accessible. It allows the underground to be heard, like, all the time. Then it goes back to genre bending because so much music is out there, which means an average listener can look like anyone.
I want to work with everyone. People that inspire me. I’m not even talking about only musical artists; I wanna work with scientists and the like. Having JJ Abrams on a song was a big deal to me. I got Ray Kurzweil, the guy who popularized the idea of Singularity, on a song by me (and on an interview). Those songs don’t get talked about but they’re, like, humongous deals to me. If I could choose, living or dead, someone to do a record with me, it would be Bruce Lee. I love to do records with people who inspire me no matter what they do.
Not even rapping or singing on there. Just, like, to be on the record.
Yeah! I even hit up Elon Musk to do a record with me. And I mean, Neil deGrasse Tyson already did a record with Logic, but I hit him up too. I got Bill Nye on my next record. I just want that energy, ’cause at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Energy will spawn creativity, and the thing about that is you don’t know where it’s gonna go. You might be one particular kind of producer, or musician, or artist, but if you’re inspired by something that’s like, outside of your norm, it’s gonna lead you down a path that’s gonna surprise people.
So many artist nowadays, to add on, say they’re inspired by movie directors. I forget who it was, but someone I was watching said they were inspired by Quentin Tarantino, and somehow incorporated elements of his filmmaking into their music.
Yeah, when you think about Quentin Tarantino and the feel of his movies, you immediately think of the soundtracks too. So you think about Django Reinhardt and you think about how he played an impact on that movie. Or Hans Zimmer in Interstellar. You know? You can’t watch that film and be moved without Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for that. Which goes to show how everything’s interconnected.
It’s like, what you see, what you hear, what you feel, and whether it’s what you wear, or how you represent yourself, or… how you have your hair- your hair like that (very long up top), or my hair being very long- or the shoes you wear: it’s all connected, it’s all just playing connect the dots and figuring out the person.
Totally. Relating back to all the people you just listed- Neil deGrasse Tyson, JJ Abrams- have you ever felt, because of your international exposure, creatively stunted? Like, not experimenting with a certain sound/aesthetic, or wanting to put someone you were personally inspired by on there but feeling like you’d get judged by fans for it?
I stopped caring what people thought I really long time ago. I mean, of course it does hit me, and my team weighs in and gives me insight on if something doesn’t sound right, so I keep my ears open. But, the critics out there, if I worried about what they thought, I wouldn’t be here.
Your sound would be totally different.
Yeah! And of course I’m gonna have critics, especially for this album. People that loved my previous work but don’t like the new stuff- it happens all the time. But I can’t let that guide my decisions and what I wanna do.
So I’m very much “in the now” you know? Like, whatever’s a part of me now is what I wanna make, because whatever you make is like a timestamp. It’s like your tattoo of this time period, and 25 years later I’m gonna be thinking about something else. Even six months later, I’m gonna be inspired by something else, and I’m gonna act on that in that moment. And it’s funny too because you’ll go back and listen to your old music and be like “Oh God, oh God! I can’t believe I was like that!” And I stopped doing that too. Because that was a very important point in time, where you made that, and of course it’s gonna be different.
Everything is a timeline. Genres included.
Yeah exactly. I also think about, like, old tattoos. I tattooed a band’s logo (Gorilla Biscuits) on my back when I was 18. And I don’t listen to them as much anymore, but it’s what I fucking loved when I was 18!
Check out Kolony (most of it) below, and keep up with Steve Aoki on Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud.
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