Peeking through our Instagram Live interview, Valentino Khan is seen proudly rocking his Los Angeles Lakers fan as users flooded the comments with purple and yellow emojis. With the NBA basketball team taking home the trophy for the 2020 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles native savors this moment, overwhelmed with joy and appreciation.
Visiting Staples Center evening of game 6 of Lakers versus Heat, he states, “I’m really excited, we haven’t felt this feeling in 10 years in the city. It was good to celebrate a little bit. It’s been a long, hard year in many different ways.”
Growing up in the valley and never leaving, the American DJ and producer views Kobe Bryant as a hero, soaking in his Mamba mentality and bringing that practice makes perfect mindset into the dance music world. Finding his own specific niche in the lane of French electro & blog haus, the “Deep Down Low” recording artist emphasizes his versatility, never putting any limit on what he can produce.
A simple look at what Valentino’s done across the board and you’ll see a mixture of dance music, hip-hop, and endless subgenres. “I do what I feel is true to me in the moment,” he explains. “Sometimes that confuses people honestly, because they don’t know what to make of me. They’ll always want to box you in: ‘you’re this kind of sound.’ I saw a comment that said I’m energetic and well-rounded, that’s a good way to sum it up.”
When it comes to who Valentino is as a person, he’s still working on it — but as an artist, he’s extremely versatile. Now, fans are gifted his highly-anticipated new EP titled French Fried. Read below as he explains the meaning behind the title, relationship with Diplo, missing shows, studio essentials, what Kobe Bryant meant to him, and more!
Congrats on the release of French Fried! Talk about being inspired by French electro and blog haus when you first got into dance music.
Around 2007 to 2008, my brother started listening to random European house music and I was listening to rap music. I’m like “you do you.” I’m from the West Coast so I was listening to Dr. Dre, The Game. 50 Cent, any music Lil Jon was producing which was everything. One day I walked by his room, he’s playing “Waters of Nazareth” by Justice. It was this really distorted, aggressive sound, but it all made sense. It wasn’t unorganized distortion, it followed a melody to a degree.
I asked “what’s that one?” He explained to me Justice was. I said “okay give me that MP3, that one I’ll listen to.” From there, it grew into more of a love for the genre. Listening to French artists, the record label Ed Banger was a huge influence on me naturally. Not just because it’s great music, but it’s the first impression I had of dance music. All pushing the boundary, pushing the envelope. Whether I’m doing a project like this or in general, I try to always move the music forward.
Why is it called French Fried?
It’s funny, it’s my deep-fried American take on a French sound. I don’t even think French fries are from France, so it’s a little funnier. I worked with amazing artists on all the artwork. Alexandre Nart killed it, I was so happy with everything. We made great visuals, the art aspect was really important to me. A really cool part of all that music was all the album artwork, the flyers for their shows, everything was dope. The dopest thing you saw at the time.
How does Alexandre Nart bring this project to life?
When I come with a rough idea for something, I try not to tell him too much because I still want it to be your style. I came across his art, he absolutely killed it from top to bottom. Very little back and forth. He has such a cool touch that reminds me of that era, I wanted to incorporate it into my latest release.
How have you and Diplo’s relationship evolved over the years?
It’s been cool. I first spoke to Diplo on the phone at the San Diego Zoo in 2012. My first release on Mad Decent was called “Rukus,” he hit me on Twitter the same day like “yo, we should start working on some music together.” We swapped numbers. 5 minutes later, I’m looking at snow leopards then my phone rings. I go “hello?” He goes “whats up, it’s Diplo.” We started talking right there. We clicked because he’s always reinventing himself, he doesn’t necessarily stick to one sound. He’s always pushing the music and sound forward, doing things I’ve always tried to champion.
What does your brother think of the music now?
He loves it. He still listens to it. He’s happy to see it turned into something for me. To continue on from that story, I’d say “alright, let me try to make this music.” At first my head was still in hip-hop beat mode, I was making loops. I didn’t understand there’s a general structure to dance music where there’s an intro, build-up, then a drop. I’d try to make dance music beats, but I didn’t understand that so I’d make these loopy things that sounded like it. He’d say “I like it, but you need to build it up a bit.” I finally figured it out thankfully, I have a career off it.
Did you think you’d be where you are now today?
I always thought I was going to be a producer who produces for other artists. I was really a producer first. If you asked me if I was going to be touring, going to places in the world I’d never even heard of, that’s crazy. That was never my goal when I first started making music. I’m really, really thankful to have been able to do that. I know eventually we’ll get some shows back, obviously. Traveling the world gives you perspective on humans, on life. From that aspect, no I didn’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing.
Where’s the craziest place you’ve been?
Russia was one of the dopest places I’ve ever played because the people and the fans are so intense. My personal favorite memory, I was walking around the Red Square area. I’d taken a Snapchat or Instagram story, within 15 minutes there’s a mob of fans who found out where I was. They had cutouts of my head, they’re holding them up.
Craziest place I’ve been was Pakistan. I played there with Major Lazer. The coolest part was going somewhere that seems so distant, but they don’t care. They all listen to SoundCloud, the same genres. There’s still this cool connection with music. You travel to all these places in the world and realize one commonality we all have: we all want to listen to music and party. That sounds very simplistic like an 80’s movie quote, but it’s true.
How much do you miss performing, given COVID-19 and all that?
I definitely do. The first month, we didn’t know how long this thing was going to be. I had a pretty hectic touring schedule, so it was nice to take a breather for a second. Then I’m like “okay, I want to do stuff again.” It’s definitely changed the way we’re consuming music. I really miss finishing a new record, then being able to play it out. The biggest remix I did all year was a DJ Snake’s “Trust Nobody.” I made a really aggressive remix, it’s meant to be played in front of large crowds. It sucks I haven’t been able to do that yet, but we’re adapting. I see drive-in shows popping up, we’ll make the best of it.
Favorite song to drop in a set?
Honestly, whatever’s the newest. Getting that fresh reaction from people who are listening in the crowd and watching their bodies move to it…
That’s interesting, a lot of people are scared to play new music because they don’t know the words.
I try to embody this philosophy when I’m DJing: a great DJ plays the song you didn’t know you wanted to hear. I’ll play well-known stuff, don’t get me wrong. I’m not playing something for pretentiousness sake where it’s “hey you guys don’t know this song, but I do. I don’t care if you like it or not.” It’s “I like this song, you guys will also like this song. If you’ve never heard it, it’ll blow your minds.” That was a reaction when I was first got into dance music, when everything was new to me. People were pushing the boundary even further because it’s all new, I try to carry that on.
We’ve seen you with Alison Wonderland recently, have you guys been working on new music?
We have. Maybe, maybe not. Great person, great human-being. Stay tuned is all I can say.
3 things you need in the studio?
Clarity. I’m in my home studio right now, you can see hanging behind me is the Lakers banner. On the rest of the walls, there’s not really much. I like to have clarity. I need a keyboard. Even a piano keyboard, controller keyboard at least to control sounds. You hear usually all my records are something I played in, it’s drums a lot of the time. I like the feeling of being able to play things live. A microphone because I’ve done a lot of my own vocals, which I don’t champion myself as a vocalist. Definitely a tip to producers: if you can figure out a way to do your own vocals on your own records, you can be your own songwriter. You don’t have to go back and forth with somebody or multiple people. If you can nail whatever’s in your head, go for it. Get from point A to point B the quickest way possible. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of talented songwriters and I love working with people, but it’s great to be able to be self-sufficient at times.
Goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Definitely get back to touring. To be real, I want to continue to build on what I’ve started. I want to be able to have an impact in inspiring the next generation coming in. It’s crazy, I’ll hear people who say “this song inspired me.” That means a lot to me. I guess I’m a veteran now, I still feel like I’m just getting started.
What did Kobe Bryant mean to you?
That was my hero growing up. I don’t think I’ll ever feel hurt and impacted that much by the death of somebody I never met. The 2 positives I try to take away from such an awful thing is to honor that memory and that mentality of attacking everyday, also to take life less for granted. I’ve been in music for almost 10 years now where I actually have a career, you can clearly see the impact he had is setting a great example in inspiring others and the next generation to come. Not to say I have a Kobe Bryant impact on the world but in my smaller immediate world, to speak to people around me even if it’s my own shared advice. Set a good example for others around me and inspire other people.