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Cassidy Sparrow

Steve Aoki Deconstructs His EDM Evolution With Hip-Hop Infused Album 'Kolony'

Kolony is the perfect mix of hip hop and EDM. 

The inside of Premier Studios, located eight floors above the saturated sidewalks of Times Square in New York City, feels like a vacant sauna turned into an intimate recording oasis designed for steamy vocal sessions intertwined with tantalizing beat production. On this unseasonably brisk June night, EDM’s reigning king Steve Aoki is deconstructing his forthcoming album, Kolony, due out on July 21 --- inside the studio's control room for a group of journalists.

In comparison to his prior work, (see: Wonderland, Neon Future I and Neon Future II) Kolony isn’t just made up of infectious electronic productions. It’s a mix of both the latter --- and hip hop. It’s safe to say every track of the album features one of rap’s most current shining stars. There are Migos and Lil Yachty on “Night Call”; T-Pain and Gucci Mane on the braggadocious “Lit,” and a new comer from Trinidad named Jimmy October. In it’s entirety, the album’s Southern trap sound influence is more then just present --- it's in the project's DNA.

Sonically, the 39 year-old’s new effort sounds like you’re on a all night bender through Atlanta’s club scene while poppin' molly (say no to drugs, kids). For the most part, the project is filled with party-ready singles that are destined to infest radio waves and garner chart topping airplays. By infusing so much hip-hop into the records, Aoki learned a thing or two about production.

“In EDM we have to add everything. We just sprinkle in samples wherever it makes sense, and it’s all about that fire drop,” he explained of what  it's like to produce for an EDM record. “Where in this case I have to take away a lot to give room for the artist.”

Amid this new chapter, it came as organic evolution for Steve to experiment with artists who dominate in another arena of music because of his close personal relationships. He says working with all if his rap friends felt like a tribe of some sort; coming all together to build a colony, and that's what inspired the name of the album.

“The general vibe of the studio when I was working with these artists felt like this room right here, so it’s not just me and the artist working on a song,” he revealed. “This is a colony; this is a vibe; this is something totally unique and different. The energy in the room allows us to work till six in the morning with out drinking five cups of coffee, or whatever I need to stay in the studio. So that’s where the name came from, it’s this over arching umbrella of the energy of the project.”

There were studio sessions in Atlanta that were prompted by prior meet-ups at music festivals with the likes of ILoveMakonnen, and also impromptu FaceTime calls with T-Pain at 3pm in the afternoon. Aoki recalls how he made T-Pain jump in his pool from a high surface of at his house in Vegas as a form of “initiation.” Soon after, they got to work on “Lit,” where the singer interpolated a line from the legendary British band, Queen. Aoki was over the moon about the line, but feared they couldn’t use it. They tried anyway, and Queen cleared it for them.

#aokijump #770. The Aoki x @ShaunWhite Pool Jump. #AokisPlayhouse. LAs Vegas NV. June 23, 2017.

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As much as the album sounds like a complete club record, there are glimpses of vulnerability mixed in. “If I Told You That I Love You” featuring Wale, brings a softer edge to the rest of the songs on it. Wale sounds like he is trying to profess his love for a close female friend on the song. Besides the complexities of love, another attribute, which differentiates the songs from one another is the vocal range from the LP's co-stars. On “Been Ballin” featuring Lil Uzi Vert, his syrupy drawl sounds peculiar, but it sticks to you. The Philly artist sounds like he is drifting away into a haze as he reminds you of his returning triumphs. Both hip-hop and EDM continue to rule the pop world, so it’s a no brainer why Aoki has chosen to combine the two.

You can pre-order Kolony on here 

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Mario Wants Us To Learn Our History And "Rewrite It"

The power of music cannot be denied. From Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" to Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," a soul-stirring melody can galvanize the masses and uplift the spirits of those fighting against societal wrongs like racial injustice. That same energy can be channeled and molded into a soulful number with an impact just as powerful. Enter Mario's smooth single, "Rewrite It."

After the bassline sets the song's tempo and the lyric: "Got in a system that we 'bout to get out," starts the first verse, you soon realize it's a declaration—a melodic proclamation, encouraging our Black brothers and sisters to "uncover your eyes," stand up together, and really see the power we have as a historically oppressed people. "Rewriting the hold damn history/ Rewriting the things that were taught to me," he echoes over the pulsating chorus. "You see the whole damn world/ It's time for us to rewrite it...Rewrite it, yeah, rewrite it."

With movements like Black Lives Matter, it's a stance many have expressed and can agree with. Peaceful protests and calls for change continue to happen around the world, and the Baltimore native has been using this time to not only further educate himself but to also do his part in the form of song. "I just wanted to use my voice and spread a powerful message," he explains during VIBE's Instagram Live Q&A. "I feel like for us, it's another wake-up call. When I say us, I mean melanated people, whether you're in the industry or not in the industry."

The unjust killings of unarmed Black women and men like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have truly caused a chain reaction of eye-opening conversations, learnings, and revelations by Black and non-Black people alike. If you were to ask Mario what the phrase "Black lives matter" means to him, he'd simply say, "It's a call to action to study, to understand, to fight for what you believe in."

He continues candidly, "It's a call to action for us to unite more and do more things that will directly affect our communities. It's a call to action for all of those people that are out there of many different races, fighting for the cause, to show them what our unity can do. It's time for us to really be the change that we want to see."

R&B Spotlight's Cory Taylor sat with Mario to catch up with the multi-faceted creative about today's climate around social justice, where he thinks the solution for change lies, and his upcoming Closer to Mars EP. Watch the full interview below.

On how he's been during this pandemic and days of quarantine:

I've been doing nothing too different from what my normal daily life was like, meditating, definitely was doing a lot more yoga since I was home a lot. And just being healthy, man. I've always been health-conscious, but I just took it another step of studying more and reading a lot more. Just being kind to myself a lot more. Kind of stay and keep my anxiety at a low, because it's just so much crazy energy out there right now. I think a lot of us are reacting right now, we're reacting to what's going on, but I think we also got to be proactive moving forward.

On coming up with the TikTok challenge for his single "Closer":

I was bored in my backyard and one of my dancers came over. I'm like, "Dude, do this little routine to this record I just put out." Then we just put it out as a TikTok challenge. People started doing it, then it started going crazy. We just had fun with it.

On the civil unrest around the killings of our Black brothers and sisters:

There are so many different levels of things that we need to fix. We need to focus on, of course, okay, defund the police. We need to focus on getting convictions, continue to get that. That needs to be our main focus, because at the end of the day. We need immediate convictions. We don't need to be waiting three, four months. We don't need to be.

On the other side of things, we've collectively got to start studying more. We've got to start saving our money. We've got to start building our own businesses, which there's a lot of melanated-owned businesses out there. And we need to just start studying and reading more, and really understanding laws, and understanding what it is that we need.

One of the things that I'm passionate about, and that I want to start seeing more and speaking out more on is critical mass. When you have certain states that are majority melanated people, but then you have a lot of white people in office that are making the choices. We need to be making choices when we're the majority because we know what we need.

On career goals outside of music:

I can't wait until people really get a chance to really know me outside of what they know, because I create across the board—I'm a writer, I'm an actor, I'm a singer, I'm a performer, but I'm just a creative. And it's something that I've really been investing in, my time, so I'm looking forward to sharing this. Y'all going to see movies one day, whether it be Netflix or other platforms that make sense for it. And when y'all see the credits, and y'all see that I'm behind it, you're going to be like, "What?! We had no idea this guy was..." (Smiles) You know what I'm saying? So I'm really excited about that because it's just going to show that we can do anything.

On working on the set of Empire:

It was inspirational to see that a show could last six seasons and still be in the millions, the audience. As a creator, that's a creative's wish. You're working with Terrence, working with Taraji. The fact that we can have that level of success in film. You have multiple, different cultures and people coming throughout the show. It has so many different people. If you look at the cast list over the six years, what it did, it just lets you know how powerful art is, how powerful creativity is. I loved working with Terrence. I learned a lot from him as an actor. Taraji, shout out to the DMV. She's doing some really powerful things in the mental health space.

On his upcoming endeavors as the country is in quarantine:

Mariovip.com is the site I just started, and so I'm going to be doing virtual tours. I've got new merch that I'm putting out called "The Big Payback," that's about to be lit. I'm giving back to a lot of communities and melanated-owned businesses, and just inspiring personal economic growth. But yeah, man, we about to be back out here.

 

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The Musical 'Exodus' Of Brian McKnight

With every grand entry, there usually comes a grand closing. In the case of R&B veteran Brian McKnight, it's no surprise that he has decided to end his 20-album run of compilations with his latest studio album, Exodus. Although McKnight doesn't consider this the end of his musical career, the singer-songwriter has decided to use this time to redirect his energy and time to truly living life and pursuing other endeavors.

"It's not really retirement. It's that I think that I've said everything I need to say as far as original music is concerned," he says in an on-camera interview with VIBE. "And it's funny because I have friends of mine that are calling like, so you're not writing for yourself and well, can I have those songs that you're going to write that you're not going to use?

"I'm like, sure. So that's another way to go, writing songs for other people. I just, there's so many other things that I want to do. I want to wake up every day and my wife and I just do whatever makes us happy."

With his single Earl Cohen-produced "Nobody" and 12 other signature, love tunes on the tracklist, Exodus serves as a solid body of work. The inspiration behind is last album of original work? The love of his life—his wife, Leilani—who he randomly crossed paths with at an event he was attending.

"I think the thing that people need to realize is that when you meet someone and all you want to do is give of yourself to them, then it's no longer about you."

Watch our full interview with McKnight where he talks about his new album, how he's been managing the new normal, quarantine life, why he's been able to stand the test of time and that thing called love.

On his own experience with police as a Black man:

I remember what it was like in the seventies. I remember what it was like in the eighties, in the nineties. I can remember getting pulled over. I mean, as recently as August being pulled over in my own neighborhood, driving an expensive car that a police officer pulled us over, just to see if I was the person that was supposed to be driving that car. Now, it didn't go past that because he realized who I was. But my wife not being black and now learning that she is black now that she's with me. It was something that was foreign to her. And I had to explain to her that this is what it's like to be a black man. And it's sad that that's what we have to grow up with. But at the same time, I think that now we're seeing that because of social media. I remember when Rodney King happened, It was pretty much on the news. It was the news. But now the whole world, because of social media, can see that things aren't as good as we thought they were.

On whether he ever finds himself worried about his sons getting pulled over by police:

I think that what we have to do as parents is also to educate those that although something may not be fair, although something may not be the exact way you want it to be that, it's hard to say this and I don't want to get any flack for it, but sometimes it's better. And this isn't anything to just turn the other cheek and do what you got to do and stay alive at the same time.

On his cover of a song by Sting:

I did a cover for the first time in a long time. I very rarely talk about how much Sting has influenced me and I wanted to do something to show him the homage that I haven't shown him. And I covered his song "Fragile" because I think that song really speaks to what I'm trying to talk about as far as how we treat one another. That it's fragile, what we have here. And let's not take it to the point of breaking. We can bend, we have bent, we've been bending, but let's turn that thing around. And get back straight again.

On how his love for his wife inspired his album:

Since I met my wife, she has been the subject of every song I've written. And the funny thing about that is I'd never written anything about anyone. I'd never cared about anyone. I didn't know love on any level till I met the love of my life when I was 42 years old. And I never believed in it. I know I wrote about it extensively. I know that I was the love man from Borneo when it comes to music, but I was really just faking it. I had listened to a lot of songs and I knew a lot of music and I could take from a book or I can take from a movie. This is the first time in my life where actual personal experience is coming out in the music. And it's all because all I have to do is look at my wife, be around her, and she is the essence of everything that I want to say, everything that I want to be. And it's a wonderful thing to wake up every morning with the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

On advice to himself as a new artist starting out:

The advice I would say to him is, is that when you're 42 you're going to meet a woman that's going to change your life. You need to wait on everything till then. Don't waste your time doing anything but counting the days until she shows up, because that's when you're going to start to live. That's when your life is going to become everything you want it to be, period.

On who he'd take part in Verzuz battle/celebration with:

To me, the verses battles aren't necessarily about going up against each other. It's about the celebration of the music. And there are several artists. I think Joe and I could do a great Verzuz because I'm such a fan of him.

Stream Brian's Exodus album on Apple Music, Spotify, or Tidal.

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DJ Cassidy

Watch: DJ Cassidy Debuts New Digital Music Show 'Pass The Mic' Featuring Legendary Music Greats

When we think of good times from back in the day, it's usually with some type of musical soundtrack that accompanies the action we think of fondly. Another layer to those scenes are usually the songs from the legendary artists that celebrity mixmaster, DJ Cassidy has on speed dial and in his new digital music show, Pass The Mic.

From the golden era to now, the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, Jeff Red, Patrice Rushen, Ricky Bell & Bobby Brown of New Edition and many more, take turns passing the mic virtually over an impeccably timed mixed version DJ set by Cassidy, all from the comfort of their homes.

Having secured the social platform Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/djcassidy) for the debut run on Thursday (July 2) to the huge success of over 20k viewers, Cassidy reposted the 24-minute soul session in full through his Instagram TV (watch below).

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DJ Cassidy explains the idea and inspiration for the program:

"This week is my birthday week, and since I’ve been known to celebrate by uniting my friends in droves and surprising them with legendary performances by iconic artists, I wanted to find a way to revisit that tradition in light of the times. One evening, during the heat of the quarantine, I FaceTimed with my dear friend and mentor, Verdine White of Earth Wind & Fire. While we were catching up, his classic record, 'That’s The Way Of The World,' came on my speakers. Hearing that song, while on the phone with Verdine, put a smile on my face and brought me some much needed calm. I thought about how fortunate I was to have friendships with many of my heroes and how lucky I was to be able to enjoy their music in their company.

I wondered if I could find a way to share that special feeling with others, so I sat at my turntables in my living room and began Zooming with my musical heroes of 1970s and 1980s, literally passing the mic from one home to the next, in effort to honor and uplift the heroes around the world on the frontlines of health, freedom, and justice. The result is PASS THE MIC.

I hope this virtual mix moves others as much as it has moved me. I am forever grateful to my musical heroes for their decades of hope, inspiration, and soul, and with them, I celebrate all the heroes around the world."

Overwhelming love for the project has Cassidy already looking at version two sooner than later. Be on the look out for more live home performances from our music icons and DJ Cassidy.

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