During his rise to notability, Diplo worked with British musician M.I.A., an artist who is credited with helping expose him in his early career. Later, he and fellow M.I.A. producer Switch created a Jamaican dancehall project titled Major Lazer. Since then, Diplo has worked on production and mixtape projects with many other notable pop artists, such as Beyoncé, No Doubt, Justin Bieber, Usher and Snoop Lion. His alias, short for Diplodocus, derives from his childhood fascination with dinosaurs.
DJ and Hooked on Hollertronix
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in various regions across Southern United States, Diplo developed an interest in much of the local culture. He began attending the University of Central Florida in 1997, and then moved to Philadelphia to continue his studies at Temple University, where he first garnered attention as a DJ. After frequently running into fellow DJ Low Budget, the two began throwing parties under the Hooked on Hollertronix moniker in 2003 as a way of maintaining control of what they were able to play during DJ gigs in Philadelphia. The success of these parties allowed the two to release mixtapes, both separate and together, gathering acclaim across the country. One such mixtape, Never Scared, was named one of the New York Times' top ten albums of 2003, and the Hollertronix name became synonymous with parties featuring guests like Bun B, Spank Rock, M.I.A., among others. Hollertronix's sound has been described as "disparate genres to be smashed together for maximum attention-grabbing impact" an aesthetic which takes from the "organic, cohesive, whole" aesthetic of acts such as Bun B, Lil Jon, Drama, M.I.A., Björk, Busta Rhymes, and others.
Diplo accentuated the club aesthetic of his Hollertronix music for a more reflective sound on his solo debut, Florida, which was released on the Ninja Tune imprint, Big Dada Records. The album Florida was pressed twice, first with a CD and the second with a CD and DVD. The DVD was created by System D-128, another artist who has collaborated with Diplo on some audio and video projects. Before Florida’s DVD accompaniment, another DVD surfaced called Diplo: "Banned in Libya" which was released by Money Studies, the first label to release a solo project by Diplo under his original DJ name Diplodocus. It was a 45 rpm record called "Thingamajawn" for which there is also a music video System D-128 directed. Similar to the Florida DVD, "Banned in Libya" is an experimental audio and video mix of some of Diplo's original music blended with a number of other unidentified sources.
His particular affinity for one genre of music called baile funk (or favela funk) would spawn a series of mixtapes (Favela on Blast, Favela Strikes Back), which served to bring the Brazilian dance music of the ghettos to the United States.
It was not long before his Hooked on Hollertronix parties would provide him the success necessary to move to the next logical step and build a studio where music would become his full-time focus. With this goal in mind, Diplo built "The Mausoleum," a video studio, recording studio, record label office, gallery, and event space in Philadelphia. Since its inception, The Mausoleum has become the home to recordings by artists like Christina Aguilera, Shakira, M.I.A., Santigold, Spank Rock, Plastic Little, Blaqstarr, Paper Route Gangstaz, and hosted concerts by Glass Candy, Skream, Boys Noize, Nicos Gun, and more.
After hearing one of his songs in 2004, M.I.A. approached Diplo when he was DJ'ing one night at the Fabric Club in London. Regarding their first meeting, M.I.A. said "It had that same homelessness about it. It didn't have a particular genre, which is what people always say to me: Your song doesn't fit anywhere. So I went on a mad mission to find other people like that, because then we could make a home." Coincidentally, Diplo was playing her songs "Galang" and "Fire Fire" as she entered the club, which he got from a worker at i-D magazine. Diplo added, "She came through and she wanted to meet me 'cause she'd heard my single and the funk mix from one of her A&Rs and she just thought I was right up her alley. Besides me being a white dude from Florida and her being a Sri Lankan girl in England, everything else was the same: [We were both] film graduates, [listened to] all the same music when we were kids, were going in the same direction right now in music, it was amazing... I always wanted to make a beat with her, but all my beats were really shitty at the time." The two eventually collaborated on a mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1., where Arular track acapellas were mashed with other artists' songs and was mentioned as ‘Albums of the Year’ from the New York Times and Pitchfork Media. The two became romantically involved for five years and continued to work together after the release and he toured as a DJ on her 2005 Arular Tour.
Diplo would continue to work with M.I.A. and, through her, meet London DJ Switch; together they created the Grammy nominated track ‘Paper Planes’, peaking at No.4 on the Billboard US Hot 100. Diplo would go on to release a slew of similarly styled mixtapes with Downtown Records’ Santigold and Polydor Records’ La Roux, as well as mixtapes with Paper Route Gangstaz, Das Racist, and Gucci Mane.
Producer and Mad Decent
From this, Diplo went from an unknown DJ to taking off as a producer, landing him collaborations with artists like Shakira, Robyn, Kid Cudi, Bruno Mars, No Doubt and Snoop Dogg, as well as work with Maluca, Kid Sister, Die Antwoord, Alex Clare, Rolo Tomassi, Amanda Blank and Dark Meat. After taking a trip to Brazil to investigate the Favela music scene, and fascinated with the energy the scene had to offer, Diplo decided to import a dance-funk group Bonde do Rolê from Brazil for release on his Mad Decent record label (also housed within ‘The Mausoleum’). This group would serve to define funk carioca in the United States, spawning a host of others to join the movement. Diplo also spent some time documenting the music, and the favelas of Brazil with a film he produced and directed called Favela on Blast.
Although Favela Funk remained an interest (the Favela on Blast documentary just saw release in 2009), his Mad Decent imprint would serve as a blank palette for Diplo to showcase the myriad different sounds he’d come across while touring around the world. September 2009 even saw Diplo travel to China to play with Steve Aoki at a show organised by promoters Split Works. Diplo quickly developed a reputation for his extensive touring. In the April 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, Diplo was touted as one of ’40 Reasons to be Excited About Music’. This kind of jet setting pushed his label far beyond the Favela Funk genre with which it initially began. Since its foundation in 2005 Diplo’s Mad Decent label has released music by Santigold, Lil’ Jon, Gucci Mane, Peter Bjorn and John, Bosco Delrey, Rusko, Buraka Som Sistema, Savage Skulls, Oliver Twizt, Jamie Fanatic, Douster, Boy 8-Bit, and Popo. Beyond the scope of their own releases, there is Mad Decent Worldwide Radio, a mixtape/podcast series showcasing artists who have seen release on Mad Decent, but also many more who may have caught the attention of the label. Additionally, Diplo and Mad Decent have put together an annual block party, showcasing talent from the label. While the first three years of the festival only occurred in the label hometown of Philadelphia, 2010 saw the party spread to include Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Las Vegas, Washington D.C, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Dallas, Detroit, New Braunfels, San Diego and Canada.
In 2010, Diplo produced mathcore band Rolo Tomassi's album, Cosmology. In 2011, Diplo worked with Beyoncé on "Run the World (Girls)" and the album track "End of Time" for her fourth studio album 4. He also worked with Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts on her debut solo single "Beat of My Drum", which received universal acclaim from music critics. In 2012 Diplo produced for Usher on the single "Climax" which Usher released on his Facebook page. He also produced the track "Lies" on Marina and the Diamonds' second album Electra Heart, released 30 April 2012. Diplo produced Snoop Lion's album, the Reggae-styled Reincarnated, which has released on April 23, 2013.
Diplo’s first collaborative full-length record was with Switch, this time under the guise Major Lazer. After landing a deal with Downtown Records before even recording a note of music, Diplo & Switch set out for Jamaica to record a project that, like most of Diplo’s projects before it, would highlight the little-known subgenres, this time of Jamaica’s dancehall scene. The two received support by many already established Jamaican artists such as Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man and Ms. Thing, and the resulting record Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do also featured vocals from Santigold, Amanda Blank, Nina Sky, Ricky Blaze and more. When discussing the Major Lazer project, Diplo described the dancehall sound as being " the end of the world, all the little influences—house, soca, oldies, R&B, jazz—it all ends up in Jamaica." The track "Pon De Floor" (originally sampled from Afrojack's "I'll be there") from Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do was sampled for Beyoncé's single "Run the World (Girls)".
Major Lazer's first album was followed up with an EP, Lazers Never Die, which was released in 2010. A second album, Free The Universe, was scheduled to be released in November of 2012 but was delayed to February 2013, and then to April 15. It features artists such as Ezra Koenig, Bruno Mars, Ward 21, Wyclef, The Partysquad, Shaggy, Tyga, Flux Pavilion, Dev, and Wynter Gordon.
Beyond Major Lazer and Mad Decent, Diplo has continued to show support for 'all the little influences', the lesser-known music scenes around the globe. Most recently his focus shifted to the ‘Bounce’ scene in New Orleans, Louisiana for a television piece commissioned by Current.tv. In 2007 Diplo also founded a not-for-profit organization for the underprivileged in Australia, called Heaps Decent. As Diplo has throughout his career as producer and DJ, the organization’s focus is to integrate indigenous and underprivileged artists’ music into a wider spectrum of recognition through original productions created via schools, juvenile justice centers, and studios.
On August 13, 2012, Diplo was featured on a song titled "We Are Farmers" with a recently signed artist of his from the Mad Decent label, RiFF RAFF", along with his trio, Three Loco. The song was removed from YouTube due to the use of the Farmers Insurance sample. He is set to executive produce Riff Raff's upcoming second studio album Neon Icon.
Diplo was nominated for Non-Classical Producer of the Year at the 55th Grammy Awards.