Infinite Legroom has brought us an incredibly revealing interview where A-Trak goes in depth with Diplo about their mutual past, the come up, and the origins of Mad Decent. It’s such a unique perspective to have an artist interview another, especially one where the interviewee looks up to the interviewer as an inspiration.
What I found especially enlightening in this interview was Diplo’s spat about finding his own unique style. He names his biggest influences, and even includes A-Trak in the list:
Back then Stretch used to do these routines, and I’d stand there like, “What the fuck?” I’d never seen anyone DJ a nightclub like that. He would mix the Strokes with hip-hop records. It was Stretch, and of course Low Budget.
Low Budget taught me how to DJ for a Philly crowd, which is way tougher: more street, you have to mix quicker and do a lot of call and response and basically be better than all the other DJs in the city.
Then Stretch showed me the next level. How to take that style and take it to a bigger audience. And then you showed me the international style, in my opinion.
Those three guys are the ones who transformed me more than anyone.
Here the duo discussing Diplo’s beginnings.
I wanted to start off talking about a side of your career that people might not know as much about…the early years. Even before I met you…your record-digging hustle, opening for RJD2 and all that.
Of course I know Egon.
Egon used to have a radio show in Nashville. Before I moved to Florida, I lived in Nashville during high school. I used to listen to Egon’s show on Vanderbilt [College] Radio. I was really into hip hop culture in Nashville. Nashville’s not really a hotbed for hip-hop culture, but I started doing graffiti there really hardcore and breakdancing. Well, I was trying to breakdance, but I was never any good. This is when I was like 14.
Egon always had guys like Count Bass D on his show and one of those guys had a hip-hop shop that sold paint cans and graffiti markers and stuff. When I started breakdancing the first record that would come on during the dance circles was “It’s Just Begun” by Jimmy Castor Bunch. The beat was sick but the lyrics to that song were so dope. I love hip-hop because I love that song. It was a revolutionary song to me.
Around that time I got into DJ Shadow; his first EP was on Mo Wax. Mo Wax was a big deal for me. That’s what inspired me to make music. I was also reading Egon’s forums and I learned about David Axelrod. That was probably the first guy where I was like, “What is this stuff? Why doesn’t anyone know about this stuff?”
I hated the Eagles. I hated the Beatles. But I loved all these crazy-ass old psychedelic rock records. I got into soul and R&B a lot. I hated disco until I was like 30. You were way ahead of me on that. But, you’re French—that’s why. You’re born with it.
Then they move on to how Diplo started Mad Decent and what his inspirations were for the label:
You know Domino records? I met a guy from Domino around that time—I can’t remember his name—and also Richard Russell from XL. Those guys have legendary labels in my opinion. They were deep into hip-hop culture.
The first Mad Decent release was a bootleg. The first Mad Decent release was [M.I.A.’s] “Piracy Funds Terrorism,” I guess. Then we started moving it forward through other labels. I think the next release wasBonde Do Rolê. Blaqstarr was the first artist where I was like, “This guy is a prodigy, he could be like Dr Dre.” What he was doing was next-level shit.
I still feel like he was the most inspiring producer to me. Blaqstarr, DJ Shadow, and DJ Premier. They would do things that made me feel like, “How do you come up with this?” I wanted to put Blaqstarr’s music out, so “Shake It To The Ground” was the first big single that we put out our own way. That was one of the first videos of that wave that got a million views.
And last but not least, how Diplo quit his day job:
What was your job?
I was a teacher at Birney Elementary School in Philly. If you look at the artwork on the Hollertronix mixtape, I made that mixtape with those kids. That captured our culture, with me, Low Budget, my boy Tony Larson, who’s Triple Double—you might have met him before?
He was the leader of that school program and he brought me in. So anyway, I was trying to quit my job. At Hollertronix I met these girls and they were obsessed with music and they showed me a Baile Funk mixtape. Before that, my music partners were people like Paul Devro, Rory Them Finest, Egon, people who were collecting records and trading.
Tony Larson taught me so much about sampling and the music history. He was like my dad in that world. Paul Devro was a record digger too but he used to dig for like cumbia records and African music before it was popular.
Baile Funk was the first thing I found that none of these friends knew. I was obsessed with it. No one had heard that stuff. I couldn’t find any information on it. The internet wasn’t popping yet. So I showed the mixtape to Knox Robinson, remember him?
Yeah, at The FADER. So The FADER sent you down—that’s right, I remember that.
Yeah, FADER sent me down, they wanted me to do the story. By the time we got around to doing the story, I started putting a bit of music out so they were like, “We’re going to do the story about you now.”
I went down there, with Knox’s help, and I literally got the craziest ghetto pass. People were like, “You want to do a story?” No one had ever come down. At the time, the things I got into were so bizarre, so crazy. We can get into it another time… [laughs].
You can read the full interview here
Be sure to check out the decade re-release of “F10RIDA” below as well, and buy it here.