Producer Y2K: "My 15-year-old self would think that none of this is that cool."
The 25-year-old producer opens up about his favorite albums and skinny jeans.
Ari David Starace wears Lord of the Rings jewelry.
So you'd be forgiven for not immediately recognizing him as producer Y2K, the mind behind silky rap bops with earworm lyrics like "Lalala," which is closing in on 300 million plays on YouTube. The 25-year-old producer just released his latest single, "Go Dumb," on April 17. The track sparked to life as a beat Y2K sent to his collaborator, blackbear, after his performance at last year's TwitchCon.
Y2K's affinity for straddling the space between music and games shows no sign of stopping. He'll DJ the after-party for the League of Legends LCS Finals on April 19, and recently took part in a music festival based entirely in Minecraft. He's setting up to stream more music and video games on Twitch in the near future.
What kind of kid were you?
I guess I was emo, but probably more aesthetically than in personality. I stopped riding dirt bikes to wear skinny jeans and go on MySpace. I remember all the bulletin boards and the friend chains and being an edgy little shithead. It was mostly other kids from my school using bracket smileys and talking about how they were random.
What was your favorite band when you were 15?
It went from Gorillaz when I was really young into My Chemical Romance. Say Anything was a big one for me. Then I got really into death metal and started listening to a band called Black Dahlia Murder a lot. Then I had an absurd phase where I only listened to Lana Del Rey and ASAP Rocky for like a year and a half. It felt very of the time in 2012.
The scene was dying in emo music by the time I got to high school. I listen back to some of that stuff and like, it's not good. It still hits the nostalgic synapses in your brain though. Minus Say Anything; that actually still hits.
Then through all of that was Elliott Smith. Either / Or is my favorite album of all time. Love it. So good.
“I stopped riding dirt bikes to wear skinny jeans.”
What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?
Before I went through a phase of wearing Supreme hats, I had this V-neck that said “Stay Brutal” on it. It was like a deep V. It wasn't good, man. If I had it now, I would definitely pull it out once in a while to be like, “this is funny.” But, no way-no how, would I wear that now.
What's your first memory of the internet?
When I got introduced to Runescape. I was definitely on the internet before that, but that game was a big deal for me. I remember waking up before school to play whatever I could, and coming home and playing as much as I could. There was drama in our school about Runescape and shit. Good times.
What's a truth about love you believed when you were 15?
I had and have no opinions about love.
What high school teacher did you like the most and why?
Dude, I couldn't even tell you one of their names. I just wanted to leave all the time. If there was a police lineup of like white women and you put a gun to my head, I think I'd be dead. I don't think I could tell you what they looked like. My photo teacher was cool though. I liked her.
What do you consider your first professional big break?
Your perspective on success changes as you hit different milestones. When I decided that I wanted to pursue music full-time, I had some stupid remixes get a few thousand plays on the internet. So I was like, “Clearly something's working to whatever degree, I'm just gonna grind it out.” That was a big success for me then, but in hindsight, it probably wasn't that impactful. Actually, it might have been pretty dumb to drop out of college and pursue music full-time. But fuck it, it worked.
A significant one is when I crossed the threshold to where I could do music full-time, probably like 2015 or 2016. Obviously “Lalala” is my biggest commercial success. Before that I had a couple of productions that were pretty big: “No Sad No Bad” by an artist named KILLY from Toronto and “Ridin” from an artist named Yung Bans from Atlanta. Those were my two big songs before “Lalala.”
What was your first professional failure?
I had done a remix of “White Iverson” by Post Malone, like, years ago. He signed a deal in the midst of the song doing really well, right? So when a song gets ingested by a record label, there's this really short period of time – and back in 2016 this was a lot longer – where the song would come down. Then it would get re-uploaded by the label so they can start collecting the revenue.
They've since fixed that, so there's not these weird windows; they just upload a second copy and then merge it. But they didn't have that then. I had done this little remix – not officially, I had just downloaded the music, scooped out the bass, and added my own stuff on top of it. So when the original came down, everybody looking for “White Iverson” was finding my remix, because it was the next-most popular one. So it started getting incredibly big, and I was so stoked at the time.
We tried desperately to get it cleared, and then it eventually ended up just getting canned by the label. I remember being so bummed because it was like my biggest song at the time, getting wiped by a major.
What’s your can’t-miss prediction for what’s going to happen in 2030?
We’ll be listening to white noise and the sound of Jeff Bezos humming. He’s fully committed to being Lex Luthor at this point, floating in a magnetic wheelchair. We're just listening to the sound of him laughing.
What do you think your 15-year-old self would say about your latest project?
My 15-year-old self would think my current project’s wack. But my 15-year-old self also had no taste. I think it'd be pretty cool. I wasn't really planning on doing music up until I started doing music. I guess I'd be confused, but also probably not that surprised. I actually am fairly sure my 15-year-old self would think that none of this is that cool.
Anything else you're working on?
I have an album coming – “Go Dumb” is the first thing off that. There's a lot of other cool songs on there. I imagine most people won't like all of them, but most people will like at least one of them. I get bored making the same kind of music over and over.
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.