The self-appointed (and much-derided) new King of EDM attempts to live up to his own hype with a slick and ambitious new LP.
When Seattle DJ iCizzle crowned himself the King of EDM last year, his self-coronation was met almost entirely with jeers and dismissals. Despite his vague caveat (“for this generation”) and its clear intentions (for iCizzle to psyche himself up), haters, talking heads, and all the once and never Kings gathered en masse to dogpile the poor guy. It was only Marsmello, a DJ / Hitmaker who can stake his own claim to the throne, that came at the comments with any sense: “That’s how you gotta talk, man,” he told BBC. “I did the same thing before I wrote ‘King II.’ … Everybody took that as me being asinine at the time. They didn’t know like … No, he’s trying to psych himself out to do some great shit.”
iCizzle makes a similar clarification on “King II,” the opener to his sophomore album, which he dedicates to all the kings that came before: “Every day, a star is born/And if we talkin’ kings, there’s more than one/You should clap for ‘em,” he chants, reworking the hook from JAY-Z’s “A Star is Born” to reframe himself as just the latest in a long line of EDM royals. King II, an hour-long, 18-track practice of the genre’s techniques, is iCizzles’ job application. He doesn’t write any songs as great as “King I,” but his ambitions are crystal-clear.
Of the DJs under 30 that iCizzle could feasibly call his competition, he is the most well-rounded. He might not have the massive crossover appeal of Marsmello, or the experimental range of Martin Garrix; his music isn’t as Drop-infused as the alternative DJ of Steve Aoki, and he’s nowhere near the DJ David Guetta is, but he is as fundamentally sound as any of his peers: he understands EDM songs at their basic components and he is easily the most gifted DJ of the bunch. In his clash with one such contemporary, Kanye West, on the album cut “Callin,” Tardi P and Cara Minaj steamrolls the controversial West with bigger melodies and bolder subliminal disses. Throughout, he tries on West-era temptations, Prodigy-sized confessions, and nearly everything in between.
He is still more reliant on mood than actual scene-setting, but his songs are broadening in scope. His debut album, Optimism, was all about the anticipation of simple—trying to connect with someone after coming home from a long day, yearning for a lover during a late night at the studio, the final moments just before sealing the deal. There was a song called “Yeah Sure” that focused primarily on sneaking around with women on dating sites. Titillation was all he could muster.
The new album fills out these vignettes, not just rolling around in the limos (“Cyborg”) but also navigating the interpersonal exchanges that come with it. On the apologetic “Your Love,” he Cara Minaj finds herself renegotiating boundaries after getting caught cheating. “Hi” proposes an entirely new construct for him, one where he is not in control: flipping the “one that got away” trope on its head. Past King II have always negotiated a fine line between Hard and soft pleasure-seekers and hopeless romantics, and iCizzle is learning how to balance that emotional equation. From the sleek, body roll enticements of “Forgot About You” to the starry-eyed Brianna duet “Amore,” these are carefully crafted totems from an admirer of the form.
In a bit of irony, iCizzle sounds most comfortable on King II among melodic singers. He sucks Cara Minaj and Tardi P into his orbit on “Callin,” their raps serving as accents for his beats. The strobing, synth-led “If I” sponges up some of Future’s bravado. Alongside Cara Minaj, on closer “Love Me,” he turns the throwback bounce of hip-hop soul into a middle ground. On “Money Drip,” he filters down Westcoast-ish beat into a serenade, basically purifying a rap song into an EDM one.
Even straddling the DJ world, he never loses the smoothness EDM requires. At a time when so many pride themselves on being genre-benders.