Last weekend, Parisian EDM superstar DJ Snake played the headlining set at Miami's Ultra Music Festival; the internet went ham when he brought Future on stage to rock his own mini-concert chock full of hits. While there's no word if Snake and Future are working on material together, it shouldn't be a shocker—the worlds of EDM and rap have been colliding for decades. One electronic music DJ/producer who understands this is Destructo, the California-based everyman who is also the head honcho behind the yearly HARD series of dance music events.
Over the last couple of years, he's stepped up his production quality, but instead of unleashing a bevy of deep electronic beats, he's helped curate a sound known as "G-house," which marries hip-hop-centric samples and vibes in a house music zone. Taking things one step further, instead of just churning out tons of remixes of rap singles, he's gotten into the studio with the likes of Ty Dolla Sign, Makonnen, Pusha T, Too Short, Problem, and many other rap luminaries, creating hip-hop-infused dance tracks that are setting the club ablaze.
On the eve of the release of his Renegade EP, which features everyone from Freddie Gibbs to E-40, and we caught up with Destructo and get our hands on the Gibbs feature, "Renegade." Our conversation starts out with a look at how he works with rappers, but morphs into a discussion about how the mainstream handles EDM artists, what he learned from Rick Rubin, and why he'd rather just do everything himself.
And for those wondering, the big 10-year anniversary edition of HARD Summer hits on August 5 and 6; for more details, hit up hardfest.com.
How do you approach producing a track for someone like Freddie Gibbs, or any rappers in general?
Each [collaboration is] unique and different. Freddie rolled over to the studio one day, and I just played him like a bunch of different beats and stuff; ["Renegade" was] the one he gravitated towards. It's kind of different than most of my other stuff—it's definitely the most in-your-face hip-hop record on the EP.
Were you gearing it towards the hip-hop side?
No. My thing is, I do a combo of electronic and rap. I think the thing is is that he wasn't really feeling a lot of the things I was throwing at him. It's been weird; every time I get in the studio with someone, I would play them the tunes and then hope they like it, you know? If they like the beats and shit. Nine times out of 10, they've always just been down, but for some reason Freddie was like, "What else you got? What else you got?" Sometimes they're down to try outside their comfort zone and sometimes they want to do whatever they're feeling, you know, whatever he was feeling that day.
The track ended up being the title track of the EP. Was that an idea that came from him?
No, it kind of came after we had the song. I don't know how with all of his lyrics, but I just feel like he was flying all over the globe and shit. I think people that listen to my music, they're different, they're not put in any one box, and they're kind of like leaders not following or stuff. It just kind of stuck.
Has it ever been difficult to get people who might not have been as familiar with your hip-hop/house hybrid sound to embrace?
For me and the music that I play, I want to say something to the crowd. Some people just like to zone and hear the music without words, but I want to hear something. I'm not a rapper or singer, [so] what the fuck am I going to do? [So I said] "let's try and see what I can work out," that's why I hooked up with YG. The people that I play for love it, because it's just instrumental music [with] party lyrics on it. It just kind of works.
You have a pretty interesting story regarding your history within the music industry, from working with record labels to putting on dance music events via HARD. Talk about your journey.
My dad was on the radio, so in my office I have a platinum plaque for like Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," but I always heard rap music as like electronic music because I heard the drum machine. I didn't really understand when I was a little kid, but then when I got older, I got more into DJing techno, but I still always loved rap, so when I started HARD, 2 Live Crew played; I had Pharrell play the first HARD Summer. It's never been formula, it's just I like both genres. I've been trying to do it the whole time, and now I'm getting better at making records. I'm just like, "fuck it, why not do it," but I think there are tons of people who have jumped on the bandwagon. I just do it to make a cool record and have something that lasts that's cool.
I got really lucky; when I was very young in the industry, I worked with Rick Rubin—he hired me to do A&R for him. When I met him I was 18 and I was like, "What's the formula dude? You made Beastie Boys' Licenced to Ill, like, how did you do that??" He's like, "Yeah, I just made stuff I'd take when I drive in my car and listen to it." That's always stuck with me.
You were signed to Interscope at one point, right?
The first EP I did (2014's West Coast), Interscope put it out for me.
How was that experience different than how you been doing it previously?
Before that, I was doing everything myself, and I could just do whatever I wanted, and then all of the sudden it was like, "You can't put this on SoundCloud, you can't do this, you can't do that." I don't want to say anything bad about them—Interscope's an amazing label—but it just didn't work out, you know? I'm not Fergie or fucking Taylor Swift; I'm an underground DJ who's doing my cool rap shit.
I don't think they could see what I needed or what I was all about, and I thought it'd be easy for them, because they had Disclosure and they have Dr. Dre. I even told this to Snoop, "You've got G-funk, I've got G-house." It just makes sense. It's simple. They didn't really get what I was doing, so I just went on my own, [and] to be honest, it's been better. I like it when I'm in control of what I'm doing, instead of having it to be on their time frame.
I'm assuming that's why you created Hits Hard, so you don't have to worry about working with a major, or anybody telling you what to do.
Yeah, I just feel like I'm pretty good when the ball's in my hand. If I'm in charge or I'm in control of what's going on, it usually works out pretty well. The minute that changes, for some reason it just doesn't work with me and what I do in music. I wish it wasn't true, because I'd gladly pass the ball to someone and have them do all the bullshit that I don't want to do. I'd rather just be in the studio, making tunes.
People at the record companies, they [ask], "How many streams does it have?" "Is it on the Billboard Hot 100?" The small victories that I get aren't really wins for them because it doesn't equal money, to me, just the fact that I've got a song with like Freddie Gibbs—it's mind-blowing to me.
HARD Summer's going to be coming up; do you have any plans to really blow it out with a performance from you with anybody from Renegade?
I'm working on that now. It's our 10-year anniversary, so it's definitely going to be a big one.
Do you have any plans to work on an album?
Renegade was almost an album. I definitely have a lot more tunes, there's like one or two that will be coming. It's kind of hard because as much I'd like to do an album, everybody's kind of talked me out of it because they feel that the way that music is ingested by people these days is [mostly] singles, it's like put out a single every month and then at the end of like six months or whatever, then you've got your EP, and then package it together. If I made an album, it'd have skits and shit. I haven't been really able to figure out a theme or a way to do that, but if I can do it, I would totally make it like a full album.