Diplo is our favorite producer to hate. His long career has been cast over by a dark and foreboding cloud that just never seems to rain. For all of the bad media that he’s been made a subject of, we can’t seem to shake him. We don’t want to. He makes for good stories. But his resilience is a thing of beauty that has developed over a career of 15+ years and spans collaborations with Grammy award winning artists and the likes of M.I.A., Jamaican artists, Korean pop stars and more.
Thomas Wesley Pentz started in the DJ duo Hollertronix. The majority of his fans today likely don’t know this fact, just as I didn’t. But it was around that time that he released the mixtape with M.I.A. that set his career aflame. Music became his main focus, something that he couldn’t really comprehend at the time.
When I was younger, I didn’t know anybody who made a living as a DJ. I just couldn’t imagine it. […] So back in Philly, I was doing everything I could do, making a little bit of money from a nine-to-five, renting out little VFWs, and doing DJ gigs.
Now, Diplo is playing upwards of 350 gigs a year, combined between festival sets, club sets, and afterparties.
Diplo is now 36 years old, which in the current age of electronic music might make him seem like a dinosaur. (Insert ‘diplodocus’ pun here.) But criticize him all you like, he bounces back just as strong, stronger even.
For one thing, you’ve gotta understand that the music industry is different than the critic industry—the writers and the people that are talking about what is on trend or whatever. When you’re doing music, you’re always on trend or off trend, and it’s important to show people respect no matter what.
This year, Skrillex & Diplo created the massively successful Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack U album that contained a multi-platinum record with Justin Bieber called “Where Are U Now.” That record has done more for each artist’s career than most of their career before hand, spawning appearances on Charlie Rose on PBS and Bieber’s emotional performance at the VMAs.
According to Diplo, the record was about breaking expectations. He says that some people would be happy, others would hate it, but most of all, he was looking for the reaction from people that said “How do I like this record?” Because Justin Bieber is not a likeable figure by any stretch of the imagination – he’s respectable, in that he built up his career from the ground up into what it is today – but if he was “running for president” his poll numbers would not be enviable. Still, people ended up with this internal conflict that screamed, “I know this is Justin Bieber! But I can’t get enough…”
If I make a record that makes people think that Justin Bieber is cool and makes them dance to it—which seems to be one of the most daunting tasks ever—then maybe people will rethink the way they think about music, you know?
Diplo was asked, “It seems like your process is partly about finding something you can sell. Is that how you approached working with Justin Bieber?” The question seemed to kind of skirt around the idea of “selling out,” but Diplo was forthright with his honest answer.
I met Bieber a few years ago, producing a record for him with Ariel Rechtshaid called “Thought of You.” I’ve known his manager, Scooter, for many years—he used to manage Kelis. They showed me respect back then and were really nice to me, so I always just kept them within arm’s length. They trusted me when I asked for a vocal. It was like a no-brainer. They had hit a place where nothing was working for them, and Justin had kinda hit rock bottom with things, like from the press, from jail, and from, like, taking his pants down at an awards show or something. I wasn’t even paying attention, but I know that he wasn’t very cool. And I was trying to really help Skrillex rebrand his own project, too. If nothing else, I thought working with Bieber would be the most noticeable thing we could do. It would be a great record, and it would make everyone really fucked up. It would make them really disappointed in themselves, and really confused, like, “How do I like this record?”
Read the whole interview with Diplo on FADER here.
Image via Rukes