Exclusive: Stelios Phili on how his Young Thug rework of Elton John came to life

In 2016, producer Stelios Phili got in touch with 300 Entertainment and sent over a handful of ideas. Knowing Elton John was a fan of 300 namestay Young Thug, one of the tracks he sent over included a rework of John’s 1972 hit “Rocket Man.”

A few years passed and it seemed that the remix was lost in the sea of unreleased Young Thug material that’s long been teased. However, this past week, Young Thug’s rendition of “Rocket Man” mysteriously leaked, much to the excitement (and at times, befuddlement) of the collective internet. Alongside everyone else, this was also the first time Stelios heard the track. We sat down with him to discuss how the collaboration came to life.

It can be very difficult to even get in touch with an artist at Young Thug’s level. How did this collaboration come about?

A few people from 300 hit me up about a song I had out at the time and called me in for a meeting. There I met Young Thug’s longtime A&R, Geoff Ogunlesi, and kept in touch. He has a great ear. I texted him as soon as I heard Elton was a Young Thug fan. It took a few tries, but when I made the beat Thug would like, he played it for him.

Let’s talk about the story of this track a bit. You made this in 2016 – how did you end up hearing the track? What, if anything, did you expect to happen when you sent it off?

Sending in a beat is always a gamble but I thought Thug would like it because of his song “Raw (Might Just)” from Slime Season 2. He knows exactly what to do over emotional chords. I’ve known he was on the track for two years, but first heard it with the leak.

Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to make a beat using the “Rocket Man” sample? Does your creative process typically involve samples like this?

I love songs that sample in unexpected ways, like Jamie xx’s “Good Times.” I tried to do something like that with the “Rocket Man” lyric. Instead of sampling the whole song and adding drums, you take a little piece of the song and put it in a new context. I usually don’t sample songs because of clearance issues, but this was an exception.

How did you actually end up hearing the track? Do you know who leaked it?

I have no clue! I was on a plane when I saw a post pop up on Twitter.

What implications, if any, has this had for promotion or a possible future release? Are you trying to get this track a full release?

I hope the track comes out officially. It would be amazing to hear it mixed and mastered with all the finishing touches. Now it’s all up to the powers that be.

What are some of your favorite plugins, samples, packs, or other production tools? In particular, were there any special techniques you used on this track?

I used Ableton’s time stretching and warping on the pianos. I love when sounds get a little worn in by the processing, especially when using the “Complex Pro” setting with the envelope all the way down. Other than that, I love Soundtoys and UAD’s tape saturation plugins, like the Studer A800 and Ampex ATR-102. The warmer the sound, the better.

What are your plans to follow up on the success of the Rocket Man release? Are you shopping more beats to more rappers?

I split my time between music for ads and music for artists—that combo is how I’m paying the bills. I stopped shopping beats a while ago because it’s more fun to create in the room with the artist. As for my plan, I’m going to continue working on my current projects with Lolo Zouaï and Cruel Youth. Whenever I put out music I’m really excited about, new people always find me. That’s how this whole thing happened in the first place.

August 23, 2018

Max Rewak Max Rewak is a record producer, audio engineer, and music writer, based in New York and currently working in Sounds content at Splice.