It’s not that Diplo doesn’t like Kanye West and Lil Pump’s ultra-lewd hip-hop hit in which the two rappers enthusiastically describe a woman’s sexual appetite.
“Look, it’s a fun song,” the popular DJ and producer said of the thumping “I Love It,” which after premiering at last month’s Pornhub Awards has quickly racked up hundreds of millions of plays on YouTube. “I can see why people want to hear it.”
But in Las Vegas, where Diplo holds down a regular nightclub gig, he just can’t be the guy to give it to them.
“A bunch of frat boys singing about how you’re a ho — it’s kind of cringe-y,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m too old to play songs like that.”
Not so long ago it was hard to imagine Diplo cringing at anything.
A fixture at pop and dance music festivals around the world (often with his group Major Lazer), the musician born Wesley Pentz has been viewed by many as the quintessential EDM bro.
He’s posted videos of women twerking to his beat-driven songs. He’s trash-talked peers online. And he’s responded blithely to charges that his music, which borrows from the far-flung locales he’s always visiting, represents an act of cultural appropriation.
That perception was so sufficiently established that last year Viceland, TV’s bro-iest network, built a quasi-fictional sitcom around his persona called “What Would Diplo Do?”
Yet that’s not quite the guy who opened the door at his home in Beachwood Canyon on a recent afternoon. It’s an airy, tastefully decorated place he said he bought when he realized that his two young sons (who live mostly with their mother) would be well served by not sleeping in hotels, as he’s done for years.
Wearing slippers and a hippie-ish Baja hoodie, he gazed out over the hills from a sun-drenched balcony and joked that he thought of Beachwood as a kind of starter canyon — a gateway, basically, to the more seriously laid-back Laurel and Topanga canyons.
So what has Diplo done?
At 39, he said he’s simply aged out of some aspects of the wild lifestyle he began cultivating a decade ago, when “Paper Planes” — his thrillingly rowdy collaboration with M.I.A. — crashed the upper reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100 and opened the door to a world of glitzy parties and private jets. (As we sat down to chat, he asked an assistant to warn him when it was time to leave to pick up his kids for a screening of “Smallfoot”).
But he also sees changes in music that call for a different approach.
The last time I spoke with him, in 2015, he’d scored a pair of monster hits in Major Lazer’s “Lean On” and “Where Are Ü Now,” which he and Skrillex made with Justin Bieber. After years of work, Diplo looked set to join the ranks of the A-list producers creating tracks for pop’s biggest stars.
Since then, though, the EDM boom that helped elevate Diplo has started to hollow out. And the rise of digital streaming has ushered in a host of young acts, including Post Malone and Cardi B, less reliant on the traditional ways of reaching audiences.
“The new stars took the place of the old stars,” Diplo said as he sat on an enormous beanbag. “Three years ago, you knew you could count on Taylor (Swift) and Katy (Perry); you knew you could count on Max Martin and Dr. Luke,” he added, referring to two producers with whom Swift and Perry are closely identified.
“Now if Taylor puts a record out, it’s actually like rolling the dice: Is it gonna be big or not?”
He paused, then added: “I’m not giving you my opinion of that music — I’m just thinking of the mechanics of it.”
Diplo’s response hasn’t exactly been to check out of the pop scene. Just this week he released a new single with Ellie Goulding and Swae Lee, two figures familiar to any follower of the Top 40.
Nor has his residency at XS in Las Vegas suddenly turned into some kind of scholarly retreat. During his DJ set on Sunday, the club will award $25,000 in cash and prizes to the winner of a sexiest costume contest.
But in deciding not to “chase No. 1’s,” as he puts it, Diplo does seem to be spending more of his time pursuing idiosyncratic projects that emphasize his artistic obsessions over his commercial ambition.
One is Silk City, his duo with fellow DJ and producer Mark Ronson, which last month put out “Electricity,” a pitch-perfect homage to 1990s-era house music featuring vocals from Dua Lipa.
Another is LSD, a deeply quirky psychedelic-pop outfit he shares with Sia and the English singer and producer Labrinth. For “Thunderclouds,” the group’s latest single, Diplo said he was trying to copy Sturgill Simpson, of all things — hardly a safe bet for airplay on KIIS-FM.
Diplo’s friend Ariel Rechtshaid, known for his production work for Haim and Vampire Weekend, said he’s not surprised that Diplo has lost some of his interest in the highly industrialized process by which pop tunes are made today.
“Being one of 20 writers on a song — it’s not fun for him,” Rechtshaid said. “It’s not as exciting as the other stuff he does,” which still includes traveling with Major Lazer.
The group, in which Diplo is joined by DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, recently returned from a long trip to Africa, where Diplo said he was gratified to play shows as improvised as his festival sets are predictable.
He was also pleased to be reminded that America is not the world — and that some crowds are responding to his music rather than to his outdated image.
“We put out a couple of Major Lazer records this year,” he said, referring to tracks like “Miss You,” with Cashmere Cat and Tory Lanez, and “Let Me Live,” featuring Rudimental.
“Nobody heard them in the States, but when we went there and I saw how well they worked, I was like, ‘Damn, I’m glad I made these songs. They belong somewhere.’”
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