The common high school social scene is comprised of jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, preps, and just about any clique you can think of. However, there was always that one, cool chap that everyone liked regardless of the crew they generally socialized with. He transcended the stereotypes. LA-based producer, Valentino Khan, is that guy – but on the music industry playground. His style can’t be confined within the synths and drum beats unique to electronic dance music. In 2011, Khan combined his hip hop beat making background with EDM to create Mark The Throne – a full remix album of JAY Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne. The album included house, electro, moombahton, dubstep, and other electronic fixings without the use of acapellas or stems. Just last year, he and Diplo partnered up on “Bubble Butt” – the Major Lazer, Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic collaborative track that still serves as a party anthem. Khan has an extensive rolodex of records produced (B.o.B. and T.I. included) under his black belt. What’s next? After inquiring about the hardstyle track he’s tweeted about for some time, Khan says, “I am actually almost done with that hardstyle song. It’ll end up on an EP of mine that will come out this year.” He is the example of what results when an artist takes advantage of the unlimited musical mediums to produce something matchless – a trait that serves as the beacon that’s captured fellow musicians and fans.
Life+Times: This week, Felix Cartel wrote an ode about being an electronic producer. Regarding EDM he said it’s “a style of music that is championed by its ability to evolve as quickly as the technology that creates it.” I concur. In what specific way have you seen electronic music evolve?
Valentino Khan: When I first got into it – which was around 2007 – it was really more like the typical definition of what “electro” is. I’ve seen it evolve a much more heavier sound into a much more melodic sound. It then evolved into bringing on a more hip hop aspect into the music. You see Lil Jon doing vocals on songs and stuff and not having that traditional 4/4 beat. It’s a little bit different than when at least I first started. I think that’s a really cool thing because it just shows how limitless this genre – if you want to call it a genre – is. It’s taken a different direction where you really can basically make whatever you want make and that’s incredibly cool to have within a certain particular genre or structure of music.
L+T: What I admire about you particularly is the fact that you don’t stick to one style. You did a remix of Watch The Throne (Mark The Throne), “Rukus” was moombahton, and now you’re working on a hardstyle track. You don’t stick to what’s safe. Is the hardstyle track almost done? Can you tell me more about it?
VK: I am actually almost done with that hardstyle song. It’ll end up on an EP of mine that will come out this year. Yeah, I just wanted to make something really weird and something really different. I think part of not sticking to one particular genre is it always lets me catch that breath of fresh air. At the same time, it’s probably a longer road for me to, like, stand out by not doing one thing and gain momentum within that lane. I think people that supported me and people that are my fans really appreciate the fact that I stay versatile – I don’t pigeonhole myself into one definition of who I am as a producer. I produce hip hop, at the same time I’ll make a complete electronic spin on a trap, hip hop flavored electronic record, then I’ll go and be able to do house next week. I think being able to do all that stuff – it’s sort of what you talked about in your first question – is limitless. That’s what makes it all so exciting.
L+T: I agree. We’re in a time where you can do so much as an artist. When I hear the name of certain producers, I associate them with a single genre. While with other producers, particularly you, I can’t really say ‘Valentino is the dubstep guy’ or ‘He’s the trap guy.’ You produce a little bit of everything, so that’s cool. In a past interview you cited Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, and Timbaland as your introduction into producing. Considering you come from a more behind-the-scenes vibe and are now doing more live gigs, what would you say was the biggest challenge with that transition?
VK: To tell you the truth, I think it’s just a matter – for anybody – of getting comfortable when you’re on stage. Now I’m at a point where I feel very comfortable. I would never say I felt uncomfortable when I was on stage, however, there’s a certain way you have to be able to read a crowd and interact with them – especially me because I talk a lot on the mic to engage the crowd when I perform and they appreciate that – at least from my experience. It’s no different than doing anything else. You have to get into an actual rhythm and once you have that rhythm, then it’s about playing with that rhythm. If you can get through live shows, then even better. I think that’s pretty much how it was for me. It’s just an adjustment that you go through.
L+T: Have you ever created a track while you were in the middle of a live show?
VK: No, I don’t think I get creatively inspired during a live show really. I tend to just get creatively inspired when I’m just by myself super late at night, like, in the AM. However, at a live show you’re watching a DJ. It’s great if you make a new song – it’s a great test to see if a song you just made is gonna resonate with people, resonate with fans, just watching people’s reactions when you play on a couple of nights out. I wouldn’t say it’s ever inspired me to write a song, but live shows are definitely a useful tool to see what works and what doesn’t.
L+T: I’m always curious whether or not a producer makes a track on the fly during a set. So, that’s a new thought for me. Earlier you mentioned your EP that will come out later this year. Do you have any dates in mind? Are there any collaborations you can talk about or are they hush-hush?
VK: Most is hush-hush for now, but the EP – what I can tell you – will come out sometime in the first few months of this year. I don’t have an actual date. I am working on some lyrical collaborations, but they’re still in the beginning stages. I wish I could tell you more, but…
L+T: I understand. I know how it goes. I figured I’d try. You’ve produced a ton of tracks and worked with Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, and the list goes on. From those experiences, what have you learned about yourself when it comes to producing?
VK: When I first started – even when I was first starting to make beats – I knew eventually no matter what I’d be able to make tracks that sound different from one another; and not all in one particular style, but make stuff that actually suits the artist. My vision from the start was in fact correct – I’d be able to make music that would connect with these particular artists and it would be a good fit for them. More than learning anything, it was just confirmation that I could make a song and leave space for a vocalist on there and it’ll all work.
L+T: I haven’t produced anything obviously, but that must be a great feeling being able to see the fruits of your labor over time. For my last question, I thought I would go into 2014 not asking it, but it always gets a fun reaction. I like asking it. For you – do you think a DJ is a musician?
VK: (Laughing) I think it depends on what you’re doing up there. It depends on what you define as a DJ. Do you define a DJ as someone that produces their own music? Do you also think of a DJ as someone like DJ Craze, A-Trak, Laidback Luke, or guys that can be up there and actually scratch, do something very rhythmic and musical, take something, and create something different on the fly? To me, that’s really impressive. I always consider myself a producer over a DJ first and foremost. Guys that are turntablists like the guys I just mentioned, I will always hold them in high regard. It’s obviously difficult technically and it’s something completely unique and fresh every time that you can just do on the fly. You can’t discount anybody that scratched on early hip hop records or something like that – it all depends on your definition. Without a doubt anyone who’s a turntablist is musical and is contributing something musically.