A few turntablists aside, DJing has always been as much about what you play as how you play it. And Diplo, perhaps more than any other DJ from this decade, is adept at locating the sonic correlations between culturally disparate sounds. His sets effortlessly oscillate between Rio de Janeiro's favela funk, UK grime, Baltimore club music, Southern crunk, indie-electro, and other as-yet-unclassifiable music. The aim is to get feet on the dance floor, but the effort also rewards listeners with new contexts for appreciating music. In this regard, Diplo has further blurred the line between artist and critic. I recently hooked up with him and looked back at the year in music.
From championing favela funk to playing an important part in the ascension of M.I.A., you had a pretty big impact on music this year.
I don't think I had much impact. I'm doing the same stuff I did last year. I just think the year sucked for everybody else. Seemed like people forgot what was going on. I represented for all underground music and was oblivious to genres. I wasn't afraid to play what I wanted to play and keep up a discourse with the audience. DJs have just been rehashing the same shit for almost a decade now, and it has such an East Coast sound. You have this Mobb Deep, Lil' Kim, and Puff Daddy [hegemony] that was happening five years ago, but it's dead now. You can't really name many viable East Coast rap groups. You have the Diplomats, and that's pretty much it. Jay-Z is gone, and the rest is coming from the South.
Yeah, that's not just the story of 2005, but of this decade really.
The South always had more energy than the North, honestly. New York was always an industry city. It was a place where the ideas were never really flowing around freely, only the money was. But the South is community-based. It's always been more rootsy down there, and it's allowed them to broaden the sound a lot quicker. They make songs for neighborhoods, songs for cities, and songs for regions. Swishahouse has been able to sell 100,000 copies of a mixtape while being unsigned, and people up in the North are scratching their asses, wondering why they haven't been able to sell that much and why everyone is pirating everything. But no one really gives a fuck about music there. It's industry-based, a big shithole. New York rap is dead. Most of them are trying to rap with Southern accents anyway. They're either so obsessed with the Southern, white-tee, dope boys shit, or they're on some fake Biggie shit, which is so played out ... but I gotta stop this hating.
Okay, let's talk about the positive rather than the negative developments of 2005.
A lot of cool rock groups came out this year. It was cool that I was able to play around the world, everywhere from Russia to Japan. To be able to hit all these places with people who knew what I was doing because they got a mixtape off the Internet. To be able to be so far under the radar yet still pack shows. There's a whole network of promoters and kids who are into this forward-thinking way of making music. It's a new thing: an urban, club-culture, grassroots movement that's emerging.
What did you notice about the various music scenes you came across while traveling around the world in 2005?
London still has a bit of an ego trip. You have the grime kids, but they got fucked over by the industry. Now it's rebuilding itself as a producers' medium. Whenever something like that happens when something loses its roots you have to start over again. Paris has the crazy house scene where the kids are open to Baltimore club music, but they're fucking it up and making it very hard and French. And Rio always has the funk scene. But it is real ghetto, and it's a whole 'nother world there. São Paulo is more [affluent] and they have access to equipment, but Rio has more of a grab-anything-we-can-find sound, which is why it sounds so immediate and exciting to me.
Is the music scene in Rio more self-contained than that of Southern rap?
Yeah, it didn't branch out until this year with DJ Marlboro. That was cool for them. Now you have funk scenes that are happening in smaller cities in Brazil.
Do you think the international exposure favela received this year was good for that scene?
In Brazil you have such a [rigid] class structure, where the music medium has to be accepted by those on the outside before it can make an impact. This sort of thing only happens in this day and age when kids can find out about something in their own back yard on MTV and the Internet.
I've heard the same is true with reggaeton in Puerto Rico, where there are class issues and ...
It didn't go over until reggaeton hit hard in the States?
Yeah. What did you think of reggaeton this year?
I think it was the most viable and interesting thing that happened this year. It's got enough buzz to where kids in Minnesota sing along to "Gasolina." It gives me hope that funk music will be more than just underground club music. People dis [reggaeton's] riddim, but it's hard to deny when you see people dancing to it.
It's much more flexible than people give it credit for. Down here in Miami, it's what you hear bumping from about every other car. But getting back to your idea of international club culture: Do you consider reggaeton and favela as being part of this underground dance music that's emerging?
Yeah, but reggaeton is more New York with its flashy video lifestyle. [Favela] funk is more street. You might have people on the street making reggaeton, but it's not for the streets. You have this weird video lifestyle sensibility. Really reggaeton is too close to America. But [reggaeton's] emergence just goes to show that people really don't give a fuck about hip-hop anymore, at least not the New York "we created this" ego shit. We own it now, and there's no going back.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.