Orange County’s Steve Aoki lays one of the newest bricks in the foyer of American culture on his fourth studio album, Kolony — a project he refers to as an “American album.” The pioneering producer and mega DJ uses each of his latest LP’s 10 tracks to craft the next anthology in Americana, pairing his EDM foundation with the stud-like omnipresence of Hip-Hop in 2018. Aoki has once again aligned himself with the coolest kids in class, as he did hosting the most popping functions in IV during his time at UC Santa Barbara.
This time, the Newport Harbor High School grad is in cahoots with Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, Lil Yachty, Migos, Makonnen, and Rich the Kid — all products of the Georgia, the state most responsible for Rap’s recent reign. The result is a meld of everything America’s youth can’t yank their ears away from. As a result, over half of Billboard’s Top 20 Year-End 2017 songs fell into either the Hip-Hop or EDM categories.
Aoki first officiated the marriage of these two worlds on his debut album — 2012’s Wonderland. The project cobbled Kid Cudi, will.i.am, Chiddy Bang, and Lil Jon together with Rivers Cuomo and Travis Barker under the guise of Aoki’s beaming, modulated sonics.
He later cemented himself as the hitch of Rap and EDM on collaborations with Machine Gun Kelly, Kid Ink, and the Waka Flocka connection “Rage the Night Away” that appears on every “Top Hip-Hop/EDM Collab” list you’ll find. Still, his Kolony takes listeners to a place they’ve never been.
“This is the first Hip-Hop/EDM album of its kind where every song is influenced by Hip-Hop and EDM,” Aoki says about the album he worked on through all of 2016 before dropping it in July.
In the six years following “Cudi the Kid,” Aoki and music fans have watched artists like Destructo, Carnage, Calvin Harris, and Marshmello slide their instrumentals under rappers’ vocals and concoct career highlights.
The Kolony creator calls the more recent linkups “the culture of club life,” adding that “if you can make a wild fucking beat with some crazy samples that no one’s heard and you’re able to get in front of Lil Pump, Uzi, or Migos and connect and create a hook out of that — man, that’s the goal.”
His fervor for the current scene cuts through during the conversation. Aoki rattles off young rappers and talks about the movement like a kid who’s spent substantial time watching them in the Constellation Room. Virtually every artist he’s tapped on his latest LP has summoned swells of adolescents to OC’s Observatory in the last year or so.
“It’s an exciting time for DJs that are able to work in all different genres and work with different artists,” he says of his peers like Marshmello, who he outs as a “Hip-Hop kid from LA”.
While jazzed about this surge of unification he pioneered, Aoki’s comfort with the rowdy, raucous regime dominating today’s streaming stats predates his Hip-Hop hookups from earlier this decade.
“When I am in the studio with these guys, it’s very true to the nature of where I came from — this like punk rock attitude of working outside the lines and finding your own lane,” he comments.
That attitude makes even more sense of Aoki’s decision to bring Brooklyn’s giddy, jaw-jacking, emcee Desiigner on tour with him, where fans can watch the two go wild to their chart-topping remix of Korean group BTS’s track “Mic Drop”.
The energy perpetually pulsating through the music industry popped up in East Asia last year and the beatsmith found himself amidst yet another bubbling bastion for hot tracks. But Aoki’s Forest Gump-like fortune might not be as flukey as it seems and could lead to him sitting front seat when the next “it” sound departs.
“I’ve been lucky to DJ and have fans from all over the world. I’m influenced by so many different cultures. Whether I’m playing in Korea, Germany, or back in the OC, I’m always going to be influenced by what I’m hearing that’s different to me that’s like ‘woah, what the fuck’s this?’ This is insane!”
Steve Aoki plays LA’s Shrine Expo Hall March 9th
I listen to music. I write about it. I like hot sauce on my chicken.