Azealia-Banks-Diplo-VIBE_1 Azealia-Banks-Diplo-VIBE_1

Diplo's VIBE Cover Story: The Middle Man

THE MIDDLE MAN
SHOT ON LOCATION AT DOCKWEILER BEACH, CA. DIPLO WON’T PICK A SIDE. THE DJ/PRODUCER HAS HOLLOWED OUT A COMFORTABLE CRANNY SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HIP-HOP, EDM, DANCEHALL AND R&B. AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHERE HE WANTS TO BE. SO STOP PUSHING HIS BUTTONS BY PUTTING HIM IN A DANCE BOX --WRITTEN BY THOMAS GOLIANOPOULOS / PHOTOS BY SMALLZ AND RASKIND

DIPLO SITS IN a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, tinkering a beat he’s worked on for months. He takes it from 134 beats per minute down to 128. It still doesn’t sound right. “My ears are so fucked to this. Let’s see what it sounds like at 130,” he says to a young producer from Europe assisting him today. The Dutch rapper who introduced them loafs on a couch nearby. “Polska, whatever his name is,” Diplo later tells me, “is like the A$AP Rocky of Holland.”

The track initially resembled a “house record” but turned into a “trap record” after Diplo slowed it down and added some bass. Complicating matters is that the song features Pharrell. “I’m trying to negotiate what Pharrell wants for the record,” he says. “Pharrell loved the demo, but the demo is so monotone for me. It’s just a mixtape cut [now,] but it can be bigger than that because the hook is so good.”

Diplo wears a maroon T-shirt, mustard-colored skinny jeans and sleek gray high-top Puma sneakers, looking every bit like the cool-kid DJ he’s been for nearly a decade. But since producing singles for Usher, Chris Brown, Wale, and Beyoncé, he’s evolved into a new role—rap and R&B’s latest hitmaker for hire. It’s a welcome transition for Diplo. Spinning records has brought him the residency in Vegas, the BlackBerry sponsorship and the big-money corporate gigs—“Sometimes I make more money in a weekend than my grandpa made in a year”—but he doesn’t think DJing is a special talent or challenging or… “Being a DJ is pretty bullshit,” he says. “I’m lucky I can produce records, too, because DJs don’t do shit. They just fucking play records. Usher is trained to dance. Justin Bieber had to train 24 hours a day to be a performer. What I do is pretty simple. It’s a good time to be a DJ and make good money, but you definitely can’t have an ego doing this shit because it’s not that cool.”

Diplo is right about one thing: It is a good time to be a DJ. Electronic dance music festivals are the summer’s hottest tickets, corporate promoters such as Live Nation and AEG Live are buying in, and top DJs like Skrillex, Afrojack and Deadmau5 are the new rock stars. It’s a feeding frenzy that, according to Diplo, will not last. “It’s definitely a bubble,” he says. “But some people are good at what they do. Skrillex is a bonafide superstar.”

It’s all happening at the right time for Diplo. Genres have become blurred, R&B sounds like house music, rappers are experimenting with different sounds and it’s all pop music. And Diplo’s versatility and curiosity are his greatest strengths as a producer. “The way he approaches his production reminds me of the way he used to make his mixes,” says DJ A-Trak. “He just pieces together unexpected sounds and doesn’t do the obvious things.”

Back in Brooklyn, Diplo ponders his next move for the Pharrell record. It was initially slated for the upcoming album by Major Lazer—Diplo’s dancehall group with the British DJ Switch—but he’s ready to scrap the song. Besides, he has a full slate. “It used to be hard to convince [artists] that working with me is a good idea or something to even consider,” he says. “Now, a lot of guys are reaching out like, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of your movement, or whatever.”

DIPLO’S MOVEMENT (OR WHATEVER) is rooted in the deep South. He grew up in a big “rednecky” family that bumped around Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia before settling in Fort Lauderdale. Time moved slowly there, and Diplo, born Thomas Wesley Pentz, let his imagination run wild, often daydreaming of adventures in the Everglades. For kicks, he fished in Alligator Alley with his father.

By the time he reached high school, Diplo was the weirdo with the graffiti-covered Volkswagen. He attended four high schools, and didn’t have many friends but loved music, everything from rap and bass to metal and hard core. “Tons of new sounds were being kicked around in Florida at that time,” says his friend, fellow Florida native Derek Miller of the band Sleigh Bells. “And it definitely rubbed off on him.”

Diplo didn’t consider producing until hearing the whimsical Los Angeles–based rap group the Pharcyde. From there, he discovered DJ Premier, DJ Shadow and Hank Shocklee, and spent hours attempting to duplicate the drums from Digable Planets’ “9th Wonder (Blackitolism).” Around his 20th birthday, he moved to Philadelphia, where he enrolled in film school, taught in an after-school program and became a DJ, starting a party called Hollertronix in 2003. The music reflected Diplo’s diverse taste—Southern rap, house, world music and new wave. “Back then, no one was thinking of having David Banner over Eurythmics,” he says. “It was a really cutting-edge idea.” Hollertronix quickly became the hottest underground party in Philadelphia, but Diplo left for the favelas in Brazil to study the local music, a rowdy genre called baile funk; he was writing about the scene for Fader magazine at the time. He soon released Favela on Blast, a baile funk documentary, and unwittingly became the (white) face of the new sound. Critics had a field day. “There was a lot of controversy, but by this point it doesn’t bother me,” he says. “The forefathers of what I do are people like the Clash or even like Bob Marley. People that did shit, took something and took it a step further. And they took it and twisted it with other sounds, Fela Kuti. Can you imagine people telling Fela, ‘You can’t put saxophones in your songs. That’s not traditional African music.’ This kind of shit is the most fucking backward idea in music to me.”

Soon afterward, he met M.I.A. Eventually they started dating, and in 2007, he sampled the opening riff of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” for her hit “Paper Planes.” He initially struggled duplicating “Paper Planes”’ success, so he toured and delved into his label Mad Decent. His big breakthrough came in early 2011, with Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” which reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Beyoncé then summoned him for her album 4. Over two days in the studio, Diplo laid the groundwork for “End of Time” and the first single “Run the World (Girls),” which noticeably sampled Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor.” But it wasn’t a satisfying collaboration. “I wish I had more time with Beyoncé,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Let’s get him in here and fuck up our songs or whatever.’”
Working with Usher was more gratifying. They met for large chunks of days and knocked out a few songs, including the fi rst single “Climax.” It was a validation of sorts for Diplo. “They were working with Swedish House Mafi a before me, Max Martin, will.i.am,” he says. “I defi nitely don’t think they were thinking that Diplo was going to have the fi rst single.”

LATER TONIGHT, DIPLO HAS a session with Marsha Ambrosius and is meeting with Q-Tip. It’s been a busy few months: He’s already completed tracks for Azealia Banks and Big Sean; he’s executive producing Snoop Dogg’s next album, a reggae-inspired project; and is trying to convince Justin Bieber to collaborate on a rap mixtape. He’s also interested in more eccentric, albeit divisive, artists. “When I tell people that I’m working with Riff Raff, people are like, ‘That’s fucking terrible. That’s like the worst thing ever.’ Even Kitty Pryde. People are like, ‘How do you listen to this kind of shit.’ My words to them is, when Schoolly D did ‘P.S.K.’ people were probably like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Hip-hop always changes. And you know what, we’re old. [Kids] get it. Maybe you don’t get it. I can see where the appeal is. But if you can’t, that’s your fault. You’re kind of old, I guess: If you don’t like Lil B. Maybe he sucks at rapping or whatever, but if you don’t see his appeal, you’re kind of backwards.”

He’s moved upstairs to the rooftop of the studio, and the talk turns to his first cover story, a 2005 feature in Philadelphia Weekly. “I feel like Philly Weekly hated me,” he says. “But then, with the M.I.A. thing, it was like, shit, we have to pay attention to this guy since it’s happening here.” An old friend, Tony Larson, is quoted in the article saying: “[Diplo is] doing as much as he possibly can, just trying to live life to the fullest.” Diplo’s asked if it’s an accurate assessment. “Do you want me to end this article with ‘YOLO?’ Is that what you’re trying to get me to say?” he asks. “It’s the motto, bro. It’s the motto.” The words drip with sarcasm, but he then turns serious and reflective—momentarily. “I definitely think that I’m out there trying to do as much as I can, for sure. You only…” He starts laughing. “You only live once, but I can’t wait to sit back and fucking think about what’s going on.”

From the Web

More on Vibe

Ella Mai Puts The Ball In Your Court With "Shot Clock" Visuals

Kobe, KD, Kyrie, how about Ella Mai?

Marking her third official single from her self-titled debut album, the 24-year-old dropped a new video from her charting project, bringing "Shot Clock" to life in her B-ball themed clip.

The Colin Tilley directed visual captures the essence of the young singer, framing her unique style and iridescent vocal abilities. The clip captures the various parts of Mai's magnetic energy, as she stars in her own thematic love story.

The two-time Grammy nominee goes through the many downs that occur in relationships while the red beams of shot clock shine in the background slowly reaching zero, a neon indicator of her lessening patience, the singer finds herself alone.

This visual was released in the midst of the "Boo'd Up" songstress' first debut tour currently venturing through the United States and Parts of Europe. Check out the tour dates below to see if R&B's new golden child is coming to a city near you and watch her video for "Shot Clock" above.

THE DEBUT TOUR

Jan 18 – Berlin, DE- Festsaal Kreuzberg Jan 20 – Hamburg, DE- Grosse Freiheit Jan 21 – Copenhagen, DK – Vega Main Hall Jan 22 – Stockholm, SE - Berns Jan 24 – Oslo, NO – Rockefeller Music Hall Feb 12 - Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom Feb 14 – Seattle, WA – Showbox SoDo Feb 15 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom Feb 17 – Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades Feb 19 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theater Feb 20 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst Feb 22 – Phoenix, AZ – The Marquee Feb 23 – Las Vegas, NV – House of Blues Feb 25 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre Feb 27 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada Feb 28 – Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theater Mar 2 – Detroit, MI – St. Andrew’s Hall Mar 3 – Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall Mar 5 – Cleveland, OH – House of Blues Mar 6 – Toronto, ON – The Danforth Mar 7 – Montreal, QC – Club Soda Mar 9 – Boston, MA - Royale Mar 11 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel Mar 13 – Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts Mar 15 – Silver Spring, M.D. – The Fillmore Silver Spring Mar 16 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage Mar 19 – Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle Mar 20 – Orlando, FL – The Plaza Live Mar 21 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Revolution Live Mar 24 – Houston, TX – House of Blues Mar 26 – Dallas, TX – House of Blues Mar 27 – Austin, TX – Emo’s Mar 28 – San Antonio, TX – The Aztec Theatre

Continue Reading
Smif N Wessun

9th Wonder Talks Collabo Album With Smif N Wessun And The Soul Council

A few weeks fresh off the 23rd anniversary of their classic debut album, Da Shinin', Brooklyn duo Smif N Wessun (Steele and Tek) have released the video for the soul smacking single, "Testify" produced by Khrysis, off their newest album, The All. The project, produced entirely by Grammy-nominated producer 9th Wonder and his Soul Council team, brings the hardcore feel of SNW's best work to the forefront.

“9th Wonder and the Soul Council provide the perfect backdrop for Tek and I to deliver heartfelt lyrical content,” Steele reveals directly. “It’s a true tale of ups and downs, wins and losses, growth and acceptance. It speaks to the hearts and minds of all people; particularly our followers and fans of all ages and ethnicities.”

When artists who rep a certain quality sector of hip-hop music resurface to offer newness to an audience, the longtime fans are looking to bring that old thing back while looking to reflect and push forward at the same time.

"'Testify' is a realistic reflective look back on our accomplishments and failures throughout our career and serves as a precursor to what you will experience on The All,” Steele continues. "This project is a reality check for SNW, one that reflects the struggles and obstacles that we’ve had to endure to survive at the level we occupy in the hip-hop arena."

9th Wonder took the project on as a lover of the group, "My goal is to make sure that we cement the legacy of the artist, but at the same time update the artist. We came up with the concept of  The All (based on a speech from Louis Farrakhan), you can never underestimate the essence of Islam in Hip-Hop. Given the fact that SNW are both Muslim and so many others are as well, we couldn't forget that part."

Going into new chambers of living is needed when you have been recording albums for over 20 years. 9th explains, "we wanted them to talk about stuff they wouldn't normally talk about on records, as they are in a different point in their lives, very grown man. It gives something to our generation to listen to, appreciate and celebrate without feeling old, without feeling outdated. We also wanted to let them know, the legends can still do it."

As the word legend gets thrown around a lot, it's not a far off title for the duo of Tek and Steele. "Some bestow the 'legend' tag upon us (we are very appreciative of that)," says Steele. "And we are chronicling that journey throughout the album.”

The full project will be dropping on February 22nd, 2019 on Duck Down Records. You can pre-order the album here and group merch here.

Continue Reading
Photo Rob

Premiere: Duck Down Records' Smif-N-Wessun Returns With Khrysis-Produced 'Testify'

It's been nearly 25 years to the day since their classic debut Dah Shinin' impacted in January 1995, but legendary Brooklyn duo Smif-N-Wessun is still representing the culture with authority and authenticity. "Testify," the premiere music video from their upcoming album The All, adds another notch to their storied catalogs.

"Testify" begins with old photos of group members Tek and Steele in their 90s heyday, but they don't spend much time there before getting busy with present day rhymes. Over a backdrop from Khrysis, the Duck Down Records duo confidently announces their return while solidifying their legendary pedigree. The song gives a short but sweet taste from The All, their upcoming album produced entirely by 9th Wonder and the Soul Council.

“9th Wonder and the Soul Council provide the perfect backdrop for Tek and I to deliver heartfelt lyrical content,” Steele told VIBE. “It’s a true tale of ups and downs, wins and losses, growth and acceptance. It speaks to the hearts and minds of ALL people; particularly our followers and fans of ALL ages and ethnicities.”

‘Testify” is a realistic reflective look back on our accomplishments and failures throughout our career and serves as a precursor to what you will experience on The All,” Steele continued. "This project is a reality check for SNW, one that reflects the struggles and obstacles that we’ve had to endure to survive at the level we occupy in the hip-hop arena. Some, bestow the “Legend” tag upon us (we are very appreciative of that) and we are chronicling that journey throughout the album.”

The All is scheduled for a February 22, 2019 release on Duck Down Records, and is available for pre-order.

Continue Reading

Top Stories