"I can't believe people are paying me to travel across the world, collecting influences, building new sounds with different artists."
Diplo, in the voice-over for his 2011 Blackberry ad, was marveling at his life and busy schedule — which was conveniently organized by his Canadian-designed smartphone. Though Wesley Pentz's charm and good looks couldn't save the company from eventual obsolescence, he couldn't have imagined then that his life would get much busier.
"If I'm not spending time with my two sons, I'm working," Diplo told New Times in a recent email interview. At age 36, he still leads his Mad Decent record label, is involved in two collaborative projects — Major Lazer and Jack Ü — and produces and remixes tracks for other acts. That's, of course, when he's not busy DJ'ing at nightclubs and festivals around the world. "Every spare moment, from today in the studio in Vegas before the show to airplane rides and hotel lounges, I'm working. I know the importance of always staying active."
Before he was the EDM powerhouse he is today, Diplo was a party promoter and DJ in Philadelphia, where he started the Hollertronix collective with DJ Low Budget in 2003. Riding on the success of Hollertronix's Never Sacred mixtape, Diplo, who grew up in Broward County and attended the University of Central Florida, released his first album in 2004, Florida. Hopping among baile funk, dancehall, and hip-hop, the album gave fans a taste of what was to come.
Released on British label Big Dada, Florida wasn't a huge hit by Diplo's current standards, but its lead track, "Diplo Rhythm," introduced him to America's then-underground dance-music scene, which reacted strongly to the song's mix of dancehall and breakbeat. Critics received the album warmly, mainly because there was nothing else that sounded like it.
"It was great to reissue Florida and reminisce about that time in my life," Diplo says of the album's
Diplo's biggest break came after he started collaborating with Sri-Lanka-via-London rapper M.I.A. "Paper Planes," on M.I.A.'s sophomore album, Kala, brought them both mainstream attention and a Grammy nomination in 2009. That catapulted Diplo into superstar-producer status, and he's since worked with artists such as Beyoncé, Madonna, Usher, and Lil Wayne.
Diplo has yet to release a proper follow-up to Florida. Instead, he keeps busy with his collaborative projects, Major Lazer — with whom he's performing at Mad Decent on Saturday night — and Jack Ü. Both acts released new albums this year. First came the suitably named Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü, which got a boost in publicity when the poised-for-a-comeback Missy Elliott hopped on a remix. And a cut from Major Lazer's third offering, Peace Is the Mission, has given Diplo his biggest hit outside of the production work he's done for other artists. The single "Lean On," an infectious pop mashup of
"We always knew we had something great on our hands, but it wasn't planned for the first single off the album originally," he says. "We shot a video for it in India, and it really just all came together organically. When we first wrote the song as a demo with MØ over two years ago, I knew the song was strong, but as we added touches with [DJ Snake], it became a very current record and sounded immediate."
From its debut, 2009's Gun Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, to its current incarnation, Major Lazer has gone under a major transformation, both in its lineup and sound. The biggest change perhaps was the departure of
Tracks like "Bubble Butt" and "Get Free," from 2013's Free the Universe, set up the fans for the more radio-friendly tone of Peace Is the Mission, which features appearances by Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, and Travi$ Scott. Diplo says the only reason Major Lazer's sound is evolving is because its main inspiration, Jamaican dancehall, is also changing.
"Although Peace Is the Mission has more of a pop sound, the roots and our inspiration remains the same as it has been through all the past Major Lazer releases," he says. "The goal this time around was to create a more well-rounded album that maintains its dancehall-roots integrity but can touch more people worldwide. Jamaica and dancehall were always the main inspiration, but even as we travel to Jamaica a lot, we see that scene change, and we are part of it."
Diplo's also still very much a part of South Florida's musical fabric. It's the area where he was raised and where he still
"I don't think I've ever seen a more diverse place than South Florida," he says. "Where I grew up, it's just a middle-class, blue-collar world. Race didn't matter — Haitian, Jewish, Jamaican, Cuban, white kids, rednecks from Central Florida. My high school and middle schools were a crossroads of culture, and I feel like [South Florida] is where everything started. It's a real mashup of culture."
Going from struggling DJ in Philly to sought-after producer has been quite a change for Diplo, who is still learning that people are listening to what he says — like the time he tweeted that "someone should make a Kickstarter
Social media gaffes aside, Diplo isn't slowing down anytime soon. He says to expect more Major Lazer and Jack Ü music this year and a lot more touring — "Mad Decent Block Party and Boat Party, and who knows what'll pop up next."
Mad Decent Block Party with Jack Ü, Major Lazer, Zeds Dead, Jauz, Ricky Remedy, Thomas Jack, and Yellow Card. Saturday, August 1, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Doors at 3 p.m.; 16 and over. Tickets $35.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.