He has nearly a decade of hits to his name, but Diplo still likes sneak up on listeners. ldquoA lot of people donrsquot know what records Irsquove worked on until they maybe check my Wikipedia or Google the production credits,rdquo the 36-year-old DJ-producer says. ldquoBut thatrsquos cool to me. Itrsquos going to be a surprise.rdquo
An even bigger surprise might be which artists Diplo hasnrsquot worked with by now. His credits include some of poprsquos biggest namesmdashBeyonceacute, Britney Spears, Madonnamdashas well as artists yoursquove probably never heard of. He teamed up with Iggy Azalea before she was fancy, helped Usher get his groove back and put Snoop Dogg in touch with his reggae side. As founder of indie label Mad Decentmdashthe label that brought you ldquoHarlem Shakerdquomdashhersquos pushed global sounds into the mainstream thanks to his early work with M.I.A., his dancehall project Major Lazer and his embrace of Korean pop and Brazilian baile funk. Recently, he recorded with country trio The Band Perry and jammed out with Arcade Fire alongside EDM titan Skrillex, with whom he records under the name Jack Uuml. There are few sonic threads that tie his work together, but Diplorsquos more than okay with thatmdashhe knows even the most accomplished producers must evolve or be forgotten. ldquoIf I had a signature sound,rdquo he says, ldquoI think that would be the end of me.rdquo
These days, the man born Thomas Wesley Pentz is a little harder to miss thanks to two tracks that have been all over the radio this summer. First, sitting at No. 4 on the Hot 100, is Major Lazerrsquos ldquoLean On.rdquo The collaboration with DJ Snake (ldquoTurn Down for Whatrdquo) and Danish singer MOslash (whose prior claim to fame was a semi-viral Spice Girls cover last year) has already topped the charts in more than a dozen countries. Yet it almost wasnrsquot a hit at all: Diplo, who first wrote the song with MOslash as a slow reggae track, unsuccessfully shopped the beat to the camps of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. He calls their rejection ldquoa blessing in disguise.rdquo ldquo[MOslash] sounds better than anybody was going to sound on that record,rdquo Diplo says. ldquoAll we want to do is make the records feel like classics, even though theyrsquore feeling progressive and strange to a normal ear.rdquo
Then, in the No. 12 spot, therersquos Jack Uumlrsquos Justin Bieber duet ldquoWhere Are Uuml Now,rdquo which gave Bieber some cool cred following a period of unfavorable tabloid coverage. Working with Bieber may not seem like a creative risk given that hersquos one of the biggest pop stars in the world, but the trackrsquos most distinguishing soundmdasha noise that resembles both a flute and a boiling tea kettle but is actually a pitched-up sample of Bieberrsquos voicemdashdoesnrsquot exactly scream mainstream, either. #8220We opened him to a lot of new ideas,#8221 Diplo says. #8220His whole management team, his whole team of writers, [they#8217re] like, #8216Woah, we don#8217t have to do this formulaic music anymore.