Thomas Wesley Pentz, better known as Diplo, is one of the most dynamic forces in music today. He is as much an international brand as he is a musician/DJ/producer. He’s proven himself to be a ubiquitous cultural figure, consistently bridging high and low, mainstream and underground, with remarkable tact and reverence. In 2004, after throwing influential parties in South Philadelphia, Pentz cemented himself as a full fledged artist through his debut album, “Florida” which received praise within the underground community. Diplo worked with M.I.A. on her mixtape, first and second albums, eventually creating the Grammy nominated track “Paper Planes” in 2007, which hit No. 4 on the U.S. Hot 100 Chart and has sold more than 3 million copies. In 2005, Diplo founded label/culture lab Mad Decent to serve as a platform for showcasing the myriad of fascinating sounds Pentz encounters while touring the world. Notable artists include: Dillon Francis, DJ Snake, Baauer, and Riff Raff. Coming full circle from his days of Hollertronix, Diplo has utilized the label to produce the annual and infamous Mad Decent Block Parties — a series of outdoor dance parties/concerts that now span 19 cities across North America.
In 2005, Diplo founded label/culture lab Mad Decent to serve as a platform for showcasing the myriad of fascinating sounds Pentz encounters while touring the world. Notable artists include: Dillon Francis, DJ Snake, Baauer, and Riff Raff. Coming full circle from his days of Hollertronix, Diplo has utilized the label to produce the annual and infamous Mad Decent Block Parties — a series of outdoor dance parties/concerts that now span 19 cities across North America.
After multiple Grammy nominations, including Producer of the Year, and being crowned the #1 most streamed artist on Soundcloud for 2013, Beyoncé’s “Run the World” sampled Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” and sold over a million copies, cementing Diplo’s place in the pop world.
Fast forward to present day, Pentz has 235+ show dates under his belt in 2015 alone, and three 2016 Grammy Nominations including Producer of the Year, Best Dance Recording, and Best Dance/Electronic Album. Diplo remains the go-to producer for the who’s who of the pop music landscape.
“Lean On” the global smash hit from Major Lazer’s June 2015 release Peace Is the Mission has garnered a host of accolades including reaching #1 at Top 40 Radio, a first for any independent label, being named Spotify’s Global Song of the Summer as well as earning the crown title of most streamed track of all time, currently with 573 million plays, making it the most successful independent song of all time.
Why, after California, which released last year, was a partnership with European MCs the next step?
When I did California, a lot of young guys were just coming out, and they were living in L.A. so those sessions were all just clicking. And then last year I was in Europe so much and the same thing happened. The hip-hop scene [had gotten] so cool and so big, and it was easy to work with these guys. When I was coming to Europe for the last 10-20 years, I noticed many times you just have carbon copies of American music in certain ways. But in the last five years, the personalities have really come out in [hip-hop]—because it’s such an old thing now. It’s like a 50-year-old creature at this point. So when these kids were born, their parents were listening to hip-hop. So they have it as a language, and they’ve perfected it and made it their own.
What is your favorite way to discover new artists?
Word of mouth. [As for whether or not we work together], it’s about chemistry. Octavian, for instance, I met him at a Fendi event in London and I didn’t think twice about him—there’s 100 rappers at a fashion party—but then the next day I followed him on Instagram. And then he kept popping up. Like, the next day he’s on Drake’s story. So I was like, maybe I should check out this guy’s music … We must have spent four sessions together to finish [“New Shapes”], really trying to make it perfect. Now, I think it’s the strongest and coolest on the EP.
You certainly have the opportunity now, if you wanted to, to only work with the Nicki Minajs and the Madonnas of the world. And while you do occasionally, you seem to spend more time partnering with young artists.
That’s always been my thing. I’d rather work with somebody amazing that’s unproven than be a sit-at-home producer and just wait for my manager to set up a session with a big artist. Sometimes you might have to do more work, because they may not be ready, but I don’t care. I’ve done pop songs with big people. I know the value of that. Like, if I worked with Ariana Grande, [I know] we’re going to get 10 million streams a day, off the gate. With an artist like Mø [who was on] “Lean On,” we didn’t even hit radio for six months. But I’d rather make classics—I mean, how many freakin’ pop songs came out last year that you remember? Or like, hip-hop tracks that were big for like two weeks? I’m trying to cultivate records that I can play, as a DJ, for years to come.
You started working with Dua Lipa before her career had gained really any momentum. Now, you have a Grammy for a song you did together.
Yeah, that was really cool. In the sub-genres, I actually think the Grammys have become a lot more respected. All the nominees [in dance music] were really awesome dance records that people actually play. It’s more prestigious to win that award now than it was 10 years ago, I think … But you know, winning awards doesn’t really matter. Music’s not an “awarded” thing. It’s about how it makes you feel. But it does feel good to have a party and go to it and be the winner. [Laughs]
A lot of people were disappointed to hear that Major Lazer is approaching its final record. Why was it time to disband the project?
I don’t want to force it anymore. And I’m into leaving on a high note. We did our show in Cuba, we did the cartoon, and everything else. And we’re making a really awesome record, the best we’ve ever done, right now. It’s diverse as hell. But I don’t want to just keep touring it until people don’t want to listen to dancehall and reggae anymore. So I think I want to concentrate on something new, whether it’s Silk City or my new Diplo pop project, or country music. That’s what motivates me: starting from scratch to try and build something.
Not that you’re trying to fill free time between all your projects—along with Major Lazer you have, of course, Diplo, Silk City with Mark Ronson, LSD with Sia and Labrinth, and Jack Ü with Skrillex, not to mention you run the Mad Decent label—but are there any other 2019 initiatives you’re excited to reveal?
There’s this house music project that I’m doing that is coming out in the next six weeks. I’m really excited about dance music again. We ignored house music, and everyone just made EDM what whatever kind of club music they could for years and chased hits and stuff, but [seeing the success] with Silk City, I’m like, “Wow.” And I want to do something bigger and build a party. I’ve been around that energy in Ibiza, Mykonos, Bali, and Peru, where there are all these amazing parties—no corporate sponsor—and people are just there for the music a hundred percent. I haven’t seen that since the beginning of being a DJ.