Diplo Returns to South Florida, the Place That Influenced His Sound

Diplo, in the voiceover for his 2011 BlackBerry ad, marveled at his life and busy schedule — conveniently organized by his Canadian-designed smartphone. "I can't believe that people are actually paying me to leave my house and go somewhere like Austria to DJ for them," he mumbled between quick cuts of his phone. Though Wesley Pentz's charm and good looks couldn't save the company's product from eventual obsolescence, he couldn't have imagined then that his life would get much busier.

"I don't think I've ever seen a more diverse place than South Florida."

tweet this

"If I'm not spending time with my two sons, I'm working," Diplo says in a recent email interview. At 36, he still leads his Mad Decent record label and is involved in two collaborative projects — Major Lazer and Jack Ü. That's, of course, when he's not busy DJing at nightclubs and festivals around the world. "Every spare moment, from today in the studio in Vegas before the show to airplane rides and hotel lounges, I'm working. I know the importance of always staying active."

Before he was an EDM powerhouse, Diplo was a party promoter and DJ in Philadelphia, where he started the Hollertronix collective with DJ Low Budget in 2003. Riding on the success of Hollertronix's Never Sacred mixtape, Diplo, who grew up in Broward County, released his first album in 2004, Florida, named for his home state. Hopping among baile funk, dancehall, and hip-hop, the album gave fans a taste of what was to come.

Released on British label Big Dada, Florida wasn't a huge hit by Diplo's current standards, but its lead track, "Diplo Rhythm," introduced him to America's then-underground dance music scene. Critics received the album warmly, mainly because there was nothing else that sounded like it.

"It was great to reissue Florida and reminisce about that time in my life," he says of the album's re-release last year.

His biggest break came after he began collaborating with Sri Lanka-via-London rapper M.I.A. "Paper Planes," on her sophomore album, Kala, brought them mainstream attention and a Grammy nomination in 2009. It catapulted Diplo into the superstar-producer status he enjoys today.

He has yet to release a proper followup to Florida. Instead, he keeps busy with his collaborative projects, Major Lazer and Jack Ü, which released new albums this year.

From its debut, 2009's Gun Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, to its current incarnation, Major Lazer has undergone a major transformation, in its lineup and its sound. Cofounder Switch and live frontman Skerrit Bwoy were replaced by a band of rotating contributors, along with new permanent members Jillionaire and Miami's Walshy Fire. The transformation also brought in heavier influences from pop and hip-hop.

Tracks such as "Bubble Butt" and "Get Free," from 2013's Free the Universe, set up fans for the radio-friendlier tone of Peace Is the Mission. Diplo says the only reason Major Lazer's sound is evolving is because its main inspiration, Jamaican dancehall, is also changing.

"Although Peace Is the Mission has more of a pop sound, the roots and our inspiration remains the same as it has been through all the past Major Lazer releases," he says. "The goal this time around was to create a more well-rounded album that maintains its dancehall-roots integrity but can touch more people worldwide. Jamaica and dancehall were always the main inspiration, but even as we travel to Jamaica a lot, we see that scene change, and we are part of it."

Diplo is also still very much a part of South Florida's musical fabric. It's the area where he was raised and where he still visits often to record. When in town, he works out of Honor Roll Studio in Little Haiti, where he recorded the bulk of the Apocalypse Soon EP and Peace Is the Mission. The area's colliding cultures, Diplo says, has had a lasting impact on his way of approaching music.

"I don't think I've ever seen a more diverse place than South Florida," he says. "Where I grew up, it's just a middle-class, blue-collar world. Race didn't matter — Haitian, Jewish, Jamaican, Cuban, white kids, rednecks from Central Florida. My high school and middle schools were a crossroads of culture, and I feel like [South Florida] is where everything started. It's a real mashup of culture."

Going from struggling DJ in Philly to sought-after producer has been quite a change for Diplo, who's still learning that people listen to what he says — like the time he tweeted that "someone should make a Kickstarter to get Taylor Swift a booty." He later admitted to GQ: "One of the biggest mistakes of my career was definitely fucking with her."

Social media gaffes aside, Diplo isn't slowing down anytime soon. He says to expect more Major Lazer and Jack Ü music this year and a lot more touring — "Mad Decent Block Party and Boat Party, and who knows what'll pop up next."

Diplo. 11 p.m. Saturday, August 1, at Liv, Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 305-674-4680; Tickets cost $60 plus fees via

Mad Decent Block Party with Jack Ü, Jauz, Major Lazer, Zeds Dead, Thomas Jack, Ricky Remedy, and Yellow Claw. 3 p.m. Saturday, August 1, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Ft. Lauderdale; 954-­449­-1025; Tickets cost $51 via Ages 16 and up.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran