EXCLUSIVE: Steve Aoki Explores How Bright The Future Will Be With Sophomore Album
Over the last several years, the two distinct genres of Hip Hop and Electronic Dance Music have intersected in various musical forms. Steve Aoki has been one of the leading artists to forge that alliance between the two styles. The Grammy-nominated producer/DJ put his EDM spin on records by rap stars like Drake, Kid Cudi, and Snoop Dogg, and his debut studio album Wonderland featured appearances by Cudi, Lil Jon, and Chiddy Bang.
Aoki continued exploring his compatibility with Hip Hop on his latest project Neon Future I. The California native connected with Waka Flocka Flame for the party anthem "Rage The Night Away," tapped Machine Gun Kelly for the red-pill promoting " Free the Madness," and teamed with Kid Ink for the Top 10 Dance hit "Delirious (Boneless)." The album also features collaborations with will.i.am, Fall Out Boy, and Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele as well as other EDM acts Chris Lake, Tujamo, Afrojack, and Flux Pavilion.
The entire collection comes together to provide a symphonic vision of the club life that awaits the world in the coming decades. Aoki furthered the futuristic theme by book-ending the album with dialogue from authors Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey. Kurzweil is a noted futurist and proponent of artificial intelligence. Grey wrote 2007's Ending Aging - a book that argues aging as a cause for death can be eliminated in this generation's lifetime.
AllHipHop.com spoke with Steve Aoki about Neon Future I, the second installment of the LP, his early Hip Hop influences, and what the future holds.
What inspired Neon Future I?
Neon Future is inspired from a lot of different authors, writers, and mainly futurists that introduced me to looking into more of a utopian way. As a kid I was obsessed with science fiction. Now there are real trajectories that are shooting toward a world that sounds like science fiction, that’s becoming more real science. That’s why I have Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey opening and closing the album to give it that context.
Do you consider yourself a futurist?
Yeah, I do. When I think of futurists, I think of scientists. I’m an avid science enthusiast, but I’m by no means a scientist. But I am a proponent for the positive future.
On the album, you have rappers Waka Flocka, MGK, and Kid Ink. How did you first get introduced to Hip Hop?
Before I even got into punk and hardcore, I was living in Newport Beach in Southern California listening to rap music. It was the complete opposite of my surroundings. I memorized all of Eazy-E’s lyrics on Eazy-Duz-It. I was a huge N.W.A fan, and this was when I was like 13, 14. My intro in Hip Hop was really West Coast rap culture.
Besides rappers, you also have a lot of artists from different genres on the album. When you’re putting your project together do you have a particular process when deciding which artists to put on certain tracks?
With Neon Future, I wrote the bulk of the ideas that became the songs all in the same time frame. To keep it diverse and keep the direction wide open, when I think about going into producing a song, I think about different artists I want to work with.
So I have a huge plate of different people I want to work with, and then among those people I try to fit them in with the song. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it does. Sometimes the musical process has to change.
Like the song I did with MGK, I wrote a song specifically for him, but it just didn’t vibe with him. It took us like five studio sessions to nail down “Free The Madness” - to the point where we just started it from scratch together.
The song I did with Waka Flocka, we were on the road for two months. So our teams really bonded. It’s a good definition of two of our worlds colliding on one song. And Kid Ink, that’s a whole different story. “Boneless,” as the instrumental to “Delirious,” was already a really popular electronic song. I wanted to cross over to radio. Kid Ink was a perfect fit for breaking into American radio.
This album was your most successful one on the charts.
Yeah, as far as radio charts, it’s my biggest record I’ve ever had in America. Actually creating a song for radio really makes the difference. I never did that before. Even with my song with Iggy Azalea - “Beatdown” - I never arranged or treated it as a radio record, so it’s not like it reached the potential it could have gotten on radio.
This was definitely the first time I said, “You know what? I want to evolve as an artist. I want to keep growing and see where this can take me.” I never thought about it before “Delirious” to be honest.
Now that you’ve been able to do that, what has been the impact for you personally and professionally?
It just makes me think outside the box of what I used to think as far as producing music. I produced music almost entirely just for my fans. The people that come to the shows, that are already electronic dance music connoisseurs. But now I’d love to reach a broader audience but still keep the core happy. That’s the new balance.
A lot of today’s music listeners seem to be more open to be fans of different types of music. What do you think has attributed to this generation's willingness to embrace all different types of music?
This generation’s access to music has completely changed. It’s no longer coming from just two sources which were radio and television. Now it’s the internet. Kids are well aware of Odd Future and at the same time well aware of acts like The Bloody Beetroots or Boys Noize. These artists don’t necessarily need the two big institutions. Now it’s not so difficult to find alternatives.
I saw an interview where you said part two of Neon Future is more emotional and deeper. Can you describe the themes or concepts you covered on that project?
Just to give you an idea, there’s a lot of new names on there. I did a new song with Linkin Park which really emphasized that darker element to the album. The song with Snoop Dogg is something totally different than I’ve ever produced before. There are a couple of curveballs to what people might think of as a Steve Aoki production.
I have this song with a new artist named Walk Off The Earth that I think is really going to raise a lot of eyebrows in a good way. There’s a lot of exploring and experimenting with new sounds, new genres, and new arrangements with Neon Future II.
I’m actually more excited about getting that out there. Neon Future I is more obvious. Some of the songs are a bit hedonistic, and Neon Future II does not have as much of that going on.
You talked about how Neon Future I ends with a track featuring Ending Aging author Aubrey de Grey. If you had the chance to live forever, but you were told you could never make music or perform again, would you do it?
[Laughs]. That would never really happen. I’m trying to imagine a world like that, because possibly we will no longer be in sentient bodies. We’ll be like consciousness that’s roaming interwoven in some space that doesn’t need bodies. So you’re not performing anymore.
Of course, now the way I think of that world is kind of absurd. Who’d want to live in that world? But maybe when you get to that world, you’ll look back and say, “Who’d want to live in these bodies?” So, I’ll accept it when it comes.
Purchase Steve Aoki’s Neon Future I on iTunes.
Stream Neon Future I below.