Last week, the internet was shaken when a demo of Young Thug and Sir Elton John‘s remix of “Rocket Man” leaked following the release of the Atlanta rapper’s Slime Language album. Whether you’d been listening to the original version since 1972 or hearing it for the first time through this collaboration, there’s no denying that it is a hit for the ages. But how did a British music icon and a modern rap innovator come together for one of the most legendary remixes of the century? Stelios Phili, however, has all the answers.
Long before this New Yorker was a producer, he worked as a web editor at GQ. After mastering the ropes of beat making, Phili decided to quit his day job in 2014 and then headed out on his first tour with A$AP Ferg. “I was literally writing Game of Thrones recap articles on the bus,” he said in an email. “I freelanced for another year before I could do music full-time.”
Now, Phili is making music with some of the most exciting artists of this era. Learn more about how he manifested this collaboration in the exclusive interview.
How exactly did you get involved with this collaboration between Young Thug and Elton John?
Elton John did an interview with Noisey saying he was a Young Thug fan, which is surprising but also not surprising at all. I texted Thug’s A&R about it, Geoff Ogunlesi, and he loved the idea of them collaborating. I built a new beat around the “I’m gonna be high” phrase from a “Rocket Man,” emailed it, and woke up to a text that Thug laid down a verse.
What was the timeline from when Young Thug and Elton John met two years ago to the creation of the collab?
It was created in late January 2016 and they met two months later. It was fate.
How do you feel about the remix leaking?
I’m happy that people seem to really love it! It would’ve been amazing for people to hear it in its final form—it’s not mixed or mastered yet. I’m hoping it gets officially released.
How would you describe the vibe of the track?
Hearing Thug’s voice blend with Elton’s is almost spiritual. It feels like you’re floating.
Why do you think Young Thug and Elton John decided to remix “Rocket Man” specifically?
It’s an iconic song and only makes sense for Young Thug. His career is built on incredible swerves, and “Rocket Man” is just one of the many things only he could pull off. I imagine him hearing it and connecting with Elton on some cosmic level.
What do you think Young Thug and Elton John have in common as artists?
They take music and fashion risks, they’re prodigies in their craft, and they’re both role models for being yourself. I once watched an interview where Thug said he was from another planet. That’s how I would describe them both.
Talk me through the process of making the beats for this song.
Deciding which lyric to use was the hardest part. I read the lyrics to almost every Elton song. Then I realized the phrase “And I’m gonna be high, I’m a Rocket Man” has the most flexibility. It could be a song about leaving someone behind, being unstoppable, traveling, and or just being high. I put new chords against an a cappella of that lyric, laid down a beat, and then sent it in.
Why did Thug choose to sing rather than rap on this?
I think the chords and Elton’s voice called for it. Thug is an incredible melodist. He’s like a magical jazz flute—he’s always going to surprise you.
Do you know if there are more collabs from Young Thug and Elton John on the way? Could there be a bigger joint project in the works?
Not that I know of, but I am praying!
What other artists are you currently working with? Any upcoming projects you can speak about that you’re excited for?
Right now I’m working on a project with Lolo Zouaï. She’s an amazing artist that you should listen to ASAP. We’re dropping two new songs in September. I also work a lot with Teddy Sinclair and Michael Tighe. We have a collective called Doom Goon and we’re putting together the next Cruel Youth project. I’m so proud of the music—it’s really trippy. I think Thug would approve!
For more like this, read our chat with the multi-instrumentalist and producer Dâm-Funk right here.