Last Christmas, Steve Aoki was prepping for a family ski trip to Mammoth Mountain in California when the 34-year-old DJ got an unexpected call from his close friend, the rapper-producer Lil Jon. As it turned out, both of their families were hitting the slopes for the holidays. “A couple days later I go to the airport and Aoki’s on the same flight,” Jon recalls, laughing. “Our families ended up hanging out every day, snowboarding, skiing, playing board games. He taught me how to play poker.” Adds Aoki, “After we’d go skiing and snowboarding, we’d come to my place and play some Taboo.”
Over the last few years, Aoki and Jon have formed an unlikely bromance. “You just know when something clicks with certain people,” says Aoki. “We have good chemistry as friends and songwriters. He’s a really cool guy, really down to earth. He’s so easy to work with.” The DJ started spinning professionally as a student at UC Santa Barbara and grew up in well-to-do Newport Beach, California; his father was a Japanese wrestler who went on to launch the global restaurant chain Benihana.
A staple of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene in the Nineties, Jon broke big in 1997 with “I Like Dem Girlz” featuring the East Side Boyz and became the face of the crunk, scoring numerous radio hits and being immortalized via a brilliant Dave Chappelle impersonation. Aoki says that he first learned about Jon like most people – through the rapper’s music videos. After an initial meeting (when and where, exactly, neither one remembers), the duo immediately began cutting tracks together. In 2010 Aoki wrote “What A Night” for Jon’s Crunk Rock LP, and Jon appeared on Aoki and Laidback Luke’s 2011 dual-single “Turbulence” as well as “Emergency,” a cut off Aoki’s 2012 debut album Wonderland.
Over Memorial Day Weekend in Las Vegas, their friendship was on full display: they co-headlined at Surrender Nightclub at the Encore Hotel on Friday night, joining each other onstage in between sets. Jon says his gravitation towards dance music is a natural fit. “I was DJ’ing house music way back when – I’m not like a new house guy,” he says. “No matter what kind of artist you are, you like good music. That’s why I’m able to go rock with Aoki. Usher go gets with [David] Guetta. As artists we like good music.” Aoki will return to Vegas this weekend for a set at Electric Daisy Carnival, and the pair revealed to Rolling Stone that they’re in the early stages of planning a feature film co-starring themselves and an accompanying album. Teasers for the film are expected to drop by year’s end.
In their downtime, Aoki and Jon also hope to take another joint family vacation. “He’s my favorite guy to party with,” Aoki says, smiling. “I live vicariously through my friends.”