"I'm definitely in a new chapter in my life, man," says Paul Salva. Although the DJ, producer, label owner, and co-host of BBC Radio 1's show In New DJs We Trust was born and raised in Chicago, he speaks in a drawling California-tinged accent that falls somewhere between streetwise city kid and beach bum. Like his music, the sound of his voice hints at a well-traveled history.
Over the past decade, Salva has dabbled in virtually every style of electronic music there is, and he often combines disparate styles like techno, juke, and rap in the same record. Despite his eclectic output, he's most closely associated with trap, thanks in part to popular remixes that brought tracks from rappers like Kanye West and Future to the style. Surprisingly, even though he is one of the sub-genre's prominent champions, Salva says that trap "isn't even cool anymore."
"If we look at music like we do fashion, that shit's been out of season," he says with a laugh. Now he's onto the next one: straight-up hip-hop, especially of the West Coast variety. Ironically, this step forward is also a return to Salva's roots, as hip-hop was one of his earliest musical fascinations. As a teenager in Chicago, and later when he moved to Miami, Salva bounced around between club scenes and rap shows, and although his work reflects his omnivorous musical appetite, hip-hop has often been at the core of his productions.
At the end of April, he launched a new hip-hop record label, Peacemaker, with a low-slung boomer titled "Drop That Bitch," featuring verses from rappers Kurupt, Bad Lucc, and Black Hippy affiliate ScHoolboy Q. This new endeavor marks a fresh step in Salva's career, one that he hopes will have reach farther into the mainstream than anything he's done in the past.
"Pop is more forgiving than it's ever been," says Salva. "Now is the time to make something dope happen, and to make moves in that realm, and not just be stuck in the underground. That's basically it, man: I want to graduate and take it to the next level."
He returns to the word "graduate" several times throughout our interview to describe his progress; words like "next level," "phase," "deeper," and "substance" also recur. His rhetoric about maturing is fitting for a party-rocking DJ who recently became a new dad: Paul Salva III was born in late November, and since then it seems Paul Salva II has rearranged his perspective on dance music and partying.
"I did club culture heavy, man," he explains. "I'm not saying that I'm done [DJing at clubs], I still love it, but everybody goes through phases." For Salva, it seems the sun is starting to set on his phase as a club rat, although not entirely—he's scaled back his touring, but he'll take the occasional gig on special occasions. This month, for instance, he's scheduled to hit the road with Fools Gold superstar A-Trak for a stint across the US.
"I'm looking for a little more substance when it comes to parties," he says, hinting at his waning interest in club culture. "I'm just looking for something deeper than sound effects and kick drums." These days, he's more interested in "making timeless actual songs, making something of substance that can be covered."
So what comes next for Salva? When he talks about moving on and moving up, he's mostly referring to his position in the industry. He's been a stalwart of the underground for years, and now he's ready to break into the big leagues. Peacemaker is his most decisive power move to date.
"I want this to be my Geffen," he says enthusiastically. "I've been going to raves and hip-hop shows and concerts for 15 years, so I just want to provide a different experience. I'm trying to mobilize and do bigger things with bigger impacts." So far, that means stepping to "A-list rappers" and unsigned talents about collaborating on fresh material for the label.
According to Salva, he has a few leaks from a forthcoming Peacemaker mixtape on the horizon, which will be "pretty hype" thanks to guest appearances from established artists. He's also been working behind the scenes on a few major label projects: he has writer's credits on ScHoolboy Q's album and has been working on new material for some of Atlantic Record's heretofore unannounced signees. "I just want to show people I'm serious," he said. "I've been investing a lot into doing bigger things instead of sitting in a bedroom making music on a laptop."