Mississippi-born Diplo is changing the music world
By Drew Carter, Junior, International Studies at the Croft Institute, University of Mississippi
Although Tupelo, Mississippi, is not Diplo’s claimed hometown, Tupelo was the birthplace of Thomas Wesley Pentz in November of 1978. Since 1978, Pentz has revolutionized the role of producers in electronic, indie, and hip-hop music under the moniker Diplo.
Diplo and his family moved around to several different regions across the South during his childhood. Jazz, blues, hip-hop and indie in New Orleans inspired Diplo at an early age. He frequents New Orleans for not only inspiration and motivation but also for exposure to a unique facet of American culture.
After attending the University of Central Florida in the late 1990s, Diplo transferred to Temple University in Philadelphia, where he received fame as a DJ. Together, DJ Low Budget and DJ Diplo started performing at different parties at various clubs under the moniker “Hooked on Hollerphonix.” The local fame spurred into regional success after the release of a few singles and a mixtape. Diplo was invited to play different shows at various London nightclubs. While in London, he met some of the biggest up-and-coming artists in the electronic genre, including M.I.A., a pop/hip-hop sensation from Sri Lanka.
Hooked On Hollerphonix plunged Diplo into the forefront of the inevitable uprising in electronic music. Diplo proved to be a pioneer after the success of his first major production, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” in the early 2000s. “Paper Planes” rode the Billboard Charts at a stealthy peak at No. 4 and also garnered Diplo and M.I.A. a Grammy nomination.
The success of “Paper Planes” took Diplo on the Arular international tour with M.I.A., where Diplo began the majority of his musical adventures.
Riding the wave of his success, Diplo began experimenting with different sounds and genres. His love for traditional reggae and Caribbean big beat music inspired him to collaborate without DJ Switch in a project called “Major Lazer” in 2009. Major Lazer is known for experimentation in the genres moombathon (mixture of dubstep, reggae, and electro house music), reggae fusion and dancehall. Switch has since left the collective.
Major Lazer is a Jamaican-inspired entity which has been identified with a cartoon image of a tall, buff revolutionary from the Caribbean who carries a microphone belt and wears black sunglasses with a beret. The character concept of Major Lazer is a hit with fans and is the subject of a new television show to be aired on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network.
The Major Lazer persona is accompanied by club bangers and groovy beats. The singles “Jah No Partial,” “Get Free,” and “Pon De Floor” are the best indicators for Major Lazer’s vision.
Travel and local color are two elements that distinguish Diplo from other DJs and producers. Diplo is a major advocate for expression of local musical culture. From his roots in the South, his favorite projects have included jazz, classic rock, and Southern hip-hop, and various genres from the Caribbean.
Diplo is not unfamiliar to cinematography either. Each visual to Diplo and Major Lazer’s projects accentuates trendy and artistic elements with an edgy appeal. Diplo’s 2012 singles “About That Life” and “Express Yourself” encompass Diplo’s visuals for his musical creations and also exemplify his artistic capacities.
Diplo’s alias as Major Lazer also has similarly creative visuals for singles. Diplo does not feature himself in any Major Lazer video but often makes short cameos. The cartoon character Major Lazer is also a re-occurring theme in various music videos, such as the beautiful, chill, 2012 single, “Get Free” featuring Brooklyn native, Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors.
Now, Diplo is working full time producing and managing his record label, Mad Decent Records, based out of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, with more than 30 acts signed. He has projects with each member of the label and often incorporates their work into his own. Mad Decent is attributed with introducing the genres Brazilian baile funk and Angolan kuduro to an international audience.
Now in his early 30s, Diplo resides in Jamaica, where he is working on a new Major Lazer album and subsequently producing the Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) album. Diplo has worked with a number big names in the music industry from Bruno Mars to No Doubt and South African sensation Die Antwoord, to the Latin beauty Shakira. He also works with small-name local artists, which often leads them to international notoriety.