Exclusive: Waka Flocka and Steve Aoki share their mutual admiration and explain EDM's appropriation of the word trap.
By his own account, the Rap industry hasn’t been consistently enjoyable for Waka Flocka since he initially parlayed the regional success of 2009’s Salute Me Or Shoot Me mixtape into a commercially viable solo career. Flocka drew the ire of Hip Hop purists during an interview with DJ Whoo Kid by candidly admitting, “I ain’t got no lyrics.” The downward spiral began when he was shot during an attempted robbery in January of 2010. Eleven months later, authorities searching for weapons raided the Atlanta rapper’s home. Flocka’s tour bus was shot at multiple times in February of 2011 during a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. On December 29, 2013, Flocka’s younger brother, KayO Redd, died of what authorities ruled to be a self-inflicted gun wound. Despite placing five singles on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart (including the triple-platinum “No Hands”), Waka Flocka repeatedly expressed a desire to quit Rap.
Somewhere between the repeated commercial success and personal tragedy, Waka Flocka met the person he’d later describe as his EMD equivalent. Steve Aoki ran across Waka Flocka’s music while hearing MGK’s “Wild Boy,” and Flocka knew about Steve Aoki after seeing a wheelchair-bound fan voluntarily get smashed with a sheet cake during one of Aoki’s shows. The pair bonded over dogs; Aoki enlisted “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan for help with his dog Coco, while Flocka lamented his daughter once bringing the family dog back from a neighbor’s yard with fleas. In the midst of an industry Flocka repeatedly called fake, he organically struck up a friendship that not only improved his musical reach but his quality of life.
Waka Flocka Says He Was Disgusted By The Politics Of Rap
HipHopDX: Steve, you change up your DJ sets pretty often. Waka, your first hit was recorded by walking in a garage. How important has spontaneity been in your careers?
Steve Aoki: This track was pretty spontaneous. We did a tour together last year across the US, and we were vibing from both of our shows. We wrote a song that was in between both of our worlds, and it was kind of heavy, intense and aggressive. He was laying it down… This is definitely a record that was spontaneous, but it defines both our worlds coming together.
Waka Flocka Flame: I love it. I can even lie—Steve is the reason I’m doing this Electronic Music. He is the man to blame.
DX: How have you evolved since meeting Steve?
Waka Flocka Flame: Honestly? Steve put life back in me musically. I was disgusted with the politics and the people in general. It wasn’t the essence of music, just the people in it.
When I got to the Electronic world, it was just like, “Fuck everything. Just let it go.” So when I let it go, I was like, “Damn! This is it.” I had so much energy and so much love for Electronic Music, that it just put a spark back into my Hip Hop.
Steve Aoki: For the tour we did together—from all the tours I’ve ever done—this was my favorite tour. I remember I was telling you about the tour with Kendrick [Lamar], and you were like, “Wait until we tour together.” The energy we have together as friends, and how our whole crews got along together…
Waka Flocka Flame: Oh, yeah. I’m down with Dim Mak.
Steve Aoki: It was a really good synergy, and I always like to bring something new to the table for the whole audience. He just turned it up more than a lot of DJs turn it up. People left all the shows with an experience they’ll never forget. You have Waka Flocka, Borgore and myself all coming together, and we have this song that we’re debuting now. Waka did Ultra Music Festival, and we debuted our record out there for the Dance world to finally hear something from both of us.
Waka Flocka Flame: I can’t wait.
How Steve Discovered Waka Flocka On MGK’s “Wild Boy”
DX: Where does the turn up come from? That seems difficult to tap into hundreds of nights each year.
Waka Flocka Flame: I don’t know. See, Steve reminds me of an Electronic Waka Flocka; his show is turnt up! Usually, when I go do shows, it’s like, “Alright. I’m the most electrifying person on this tour.” No. That shit was hand-in-hand from me, to Borgore to Steve. People really got their money’s worth. I’ve seen Steve’s show, and after my first time seeing him, I was literally like, “What the fuck? He gets away with this shit? Yo, I gotta jump off the ceiling!” I ain’t gonna lie. I ain’t never seen anybody perform like that. Ever.
DX: You two interviewed each other for Fuse, and Waka mentioned the Run-DMC/Aerosmith collaboration “Walk This Way.” What attracted you both to that kind of genre-bending?
Waka Flocka Flame: Like he said, it was just spontaneous. It wasn’t like, “Let’s mix Electronic with Hip Hop.” It was like, “Let’s just do us.”
Steve Aoki: I think at the end of the day, it’s just energy. Before, when I was putting together this tour, I was thinking, “Who would I tour with that would bring the level up? It doesn’t matter what genre.” Waka kept on coming up. For me, it’s less about what’s commercial or mainstream. It’s more about what’s viral and underground. What are people really talking about? Waka is definitely beyond just the streets. People love talking about his show and his songs. It was just a perfect fit for what we’re trying to do, so we really had a tour no one ever saw.
Waka Flocka Flame: Yeah, and I hate touring with people too. I can’t even lie, and I’m not trying to act like that guy. But when I heard Steve Aoki wanted to tour, I thought, “Steve Aoki? Get the fuck outta here.” I did a double take.
DX: So you were already familiar with Steve’s music?
Waka Flocka Flame: Fuck yeah! The first thing I ever saw Steve Aoki was him with like 40,000 people. About 80 or 90 feet away, the crowd lifted a guy up in a fucking wheelchair. He threw a cake, hit the guy in the wheelchair, and the crowd went crazy. I said, “That’s my kind of guy.”
If it wasn’t for Steve, I probably wouldn’t have shed this much weight. Steve made another incident happen in my life. While you’re on tour with Steve, you can’t eat no fat foods. So I’m like, “Fuck!” But it was good though. That’s what I loved about it; going on tour with Steve, I lost like 15 pounds. It was great.
DX: Steve, when was the first time you ran across Waka’s music?
Steve Aoki: Your song with MGK…
Waka Flocka Flame: “Wild Boy.”
Steve Aoki: Yeah. I mean, obviously your commercial records I already knew, ‘cause everyone knows that. But that record just hit the underground like an earthquake. It is a commercial record, but that record is like our anthem. I have songs that have commercial strength, but they don’t last as long as some of my underground records that can last my entire lifetime. I remember when you guys performed that song too…
Waka Flocka Flame: Oh my God! And we don’t get perform a lot, because our tours are hectic, but we ran into them…
Steve Aoki: God! Everyone was jumpin’ at the same time, and you get the chills going on. It’s like, “Fuck!” It’s all about that moment and capturing that. I was waiting for that. I was waiting to get to Ohio when those two got together to perform one of my favorite songs. It is one of my favorite songs.
Waka Flocka Flame: That was it…that shit was wild. I can’t lie. Steve’s show? That shit is wild.
Waka Flocka Calls Trap The New Word For Underground
DX: Waka, you represent Riverdale. Just in terms of music, how has the word “trap” evolved?
Waka Flocka Flame: Trap? Man, that shit is crazy. I feel like genres got they own trap. When people say, “Trap,” they mean underground. It’s like a new word for underground music. So when I hard Trap/Electronic music, I was like, “What the fuck [laughs]? What is this?” Then I heard it.
This is how I found out about it: a producer named Mayhem did a song called “Brick Squad Anthem,” and I started getting booked for EDM shows. I’m like, “What the fuck is this? This is Techno.” But it wasn’t, because the beat was harder. I was fuckin’ confused until somebody broke it down to me and said, “Bro, this is EDM. This is the Trap of Electronic.” I had to get down with it.
DX: What about you, Steve? You’ve previously pointed out how Trap has different BPM levels.
Steve Aoki: Yeah, what Waka’s talking about is funny, because Trap is a Hip Hop term. Electronic producers took it, and they called their music Trap taking from that term but without any vocals…
Waka Flocka Flame: That’s the most amazing thing about it…
Steve Aoki: Right. I think it was like you said, this kind of, “What the fuck?” reaction. I could see that happening, where people would go, “Wait, there’s no rapper on this shit? It’s just samples.” But now it’s turned the corner where it’s accepted…
Waka Flocka Flame: I made it acceptable…
Steve Aoki: Yeah, we can all work together…
Waka Flocka Flame: Me and Steve made it acceptable. And Borgore is wildin’ out with us too. That broke the barrier for people to say, “Oh shit! It is cool to do. Let’s do it.” We’re trendsetters.
DX: Even though the beat is harder and the tempo is different, do you approach it the same way?
Waka Flocka Flame: Nah, no different. I feel that’s why Steve messed with me and I like Steve. I don’t try to be nothing I’m not. If somebody thinks about Waka Flocka, the first thing they think about is turning up. So I’m thinking, “What’s the difference between turning up on this genre and that genre? It’s no different! We all party the same; we all have fun; we all drink…whatever you like.” So, shit…same difference. I like partying, so it don’t matter [laughs].
Waka Flocka & Steve Aoki On Technology & Mixing Genres
DX: This is somewhat unrelated, but what necessitated you developing your own Serato software, Steve?
Steve Aoki: Well I could’ve gone the USB route, which was the easiest route to take for DJs going back-to-back on these festival gigs. But I wanted to do something different with my video, because they don’t have USB video yet. Tractor doesn’t have that option, so Serato was the only way to do real time video and deejaying. It’s a lot of prepping, and it’s expensive to make these videos and update them so they’re not playing the same thing. Next year, I can’t do the same video around “No Beef” or whatever it is.
So I just wanted to have cohesion throughout the set with the video for people. It’s all experiential at the end of the day, right? It’s about the experience. The music is part of the experience. What you’re seeing is part of the experience, along with what you’re feeling, the contagion—the lights, the lasers, the video, the music—all that.
Waka Flocka Flame: I love that!
DX: Well in line with that, you were just in front of a green screen with two twins doing synchronized dancing around you. How important is the visual element?
Waka Flocka Flame: I don’t even really shoot videos. If somebody sees my videos, they’re good. This shit is a lot of thinking in this video. This video? This shit could turn into a movie—like literally. It’s a movie full of non-stop partying, but on some next level shit. This is 100 years down the line; it’s a 2104 video. The things I’ve seen…ah, man!
DX: That’s crazy. The ‘80s and ‘90s were very compartmentalized, but we’re seeing a lot of genre blending now. What kind of climate do you guys thing that will create going forward?
Steve Aoki: It’s about artists like Waka and myself trying out new things and taking those risks in order to break down barriers and pave new roads. With this video particularly, we’re doing that. We’re setting a club scene in the future where you have to take a note and put it in your head. All of a sudden, you’re in this different world experience.
We’re taking concepts that are actually being developed in theory now. It’s not fantastical like a science fiction idea. This is gonna happen, and then you’re gonna see one of the craziest dudes out there, Waka Flocka, fuckin’ raging out. So you can experience one of the best rave/club experiences out there, and I’m glad we’re finally doing this.
Waka Flocka Says “Flockaveli 2” Is Hardcore, Underground Hip Hop
DX: All these new experiences, fans and genres—plus health improvements. What do you take from all that when you start your next solo album?
Waka Flocka Flame: I’m done. I finished Flockaveli 2, and it’s no different. I’m still going hard. I’m a fuckin’ pitbull. I’m a red-nosed pit. Still. With Hip Hop, it ain’t no different, and there’s no sugarcoating with me. Flockaveli is still hardcore, underground Hip Hop, so that’s what I’m targeting. I ain’t looking for no single on my album. Now if the radio and fans pull it and grab it, thank God. But I’m approaching underground every time I rap. That is my whole philosophy in music, and even with this record, I approached it underground.
If I had have went commercial, Steve would’ve been like, “Ehhh.” Steve is gonna tell you, “Yo, go this way.” That’s what I love about him. I love constructive criticism, because it puts you back into your character. You have to say, “Okay, you right. I got out of line trying to jump off the roof. I should’ve just peeked over the balcony.” So I approach that shit like the underground. At the end of the day, I gotta be myself. When you’re onstage, it’s hard to perform something you’re not, because your soul doesn’t gravitate toward that. So I have to be myself.
DX: This is an industry full of yes men and followers. How common is it to find someone that provides that constructive criticism?
Waka Flocka Flame: It’s still here, but you have to be a person that accepts it so it comes to you. If you’re a person that doesn’t accept it, then it doesn’t come to you. So I like getting it, and if I was not getting constructive criticism, I wouldn’t be here today. If someone was like, “Waka, you’re the only person besides Lil Jon who could cross that line.” I saw Lil Jon, and he was like, “Dude, fuck with it.” And I said, “Fuck it, Jon told me.”
Before that, I never did it because it never was original. I wanted to be original! You can’t just call a DJ. A couple of DJs hit, but it wasn’t original. With Steve, we just turned up. It all happened like that…so quick. I still feel like we’re on tour; that tour did not end. It’s crazy, because I’ll bump into him in Russia and say, “What the fuck? This shit doesn’t end! Look what you created.”
DX: What about this era seems to lend to that collaborative spirit?
Steve Aoki: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of the barriers are coming down with how you speak with other artists. It’s easy to tweet at someone and hit up other people…
Waka Flocka Flame: No more secrets…
Steve Aoki: Yeah, it’s more transparent than it was before. There were so many roadblocks before to get into that major, big studio with an artist. You don’t even need those big studios anymore, because you can record in your fuckin’ bathroom…
Waka Flocka Flame: Right on the laptop.
Steve Aoki: So the communication and access to music has changed. I’m always listening to new shit, and we’re always telling each other, “Yo, check out this new beat.” As we’re walking up here, he was telling me about some new dude that no one’s heard of. That’s what we all want to know. We always want to find out about the next level sounds so we can find ways to bring out the new shit.
Waka Flocka Flame: He got a good group too called Chain Smokers…Fuck!
Steve Aoki: Yeah, for us this record in particular is a Dance record. But it’s charting top 10 on iTunes, and it’s hitting radio hard. There’s no big vocal—just some banter talking about a satire on popular culture. It’s the idea of the selfie, and it’s all over radio in America. It’s beating big, vocal songs you hear on the radio, and it’s underground. We’re selling like 15,000 daily on iTunes alone just in America, and it’s beating stuff by people like Katy Perry. This is a proper dance record with a drop and some banter, so it’s great to see that type of thing happening in 2014.
The tide is turning from where you would only see pop artists breaking into the commercial space. Now you have underground artists getting there, right next to them.