Chasing The Future, Diplo Makes The Hits Of Today
What do the songs "Where Are Ü Now" (with vocals by Justin Bieber), "Lean On" (with MØ) and "Take Ü There" (with Kiesza) have in common?
They're some of the biggest hits of this summer, and they were all created by the same producer and music mastermind. Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz, is one half of DJ duo Jack Ü and one third of Major Lazer, and he's behind all three songs. Musically, he owns this summer, even without being front-and-center.
"People like me, DJs and producers, have a bigger say and a bigger voice than we've ever had before," Diplo says. "I'm not a superstar, per se ... but I'm a musical creator — a producer in the same vein as what Quincy Jones was, or Pharrell and Timbaland were."
Diplo has collaborated with stars like Usher, Sia, Beyoncé and, recently, Madonna, whose newest album, Rebel Heart, he co-produced. He's said that often, when artists come to him, "They don't know what they want to sound like; they just want to sound like something from the future." But, Diplo says, that's easier said than done.
"You can never figure out what the future sounds like," he says. "As soon as you make it, it's the past. So you're just constantly chasing it, finding it — you want to find something that you haven't heard before."
How do you emerge from that chase with a hit song? Diplo breaks down how he and Danish singer MØ made "Lean On."
"It started as a really slow reggae song," he says. "And I eventually said, 'Look, we need something fresh,' so I turned it into a hip-hop beat. And then the main thing of the beat is this reggae drumbeat called a dembow. ... It's one beat that they used in reggaeton and dancehall records in the '90s for, like, 10 years. So we just put that in there and compressed it and made it sound very thick and rich."
Diplo says MØ wasn't convinced about the new sound at first, but he himself was confident.
"I was like, trust me, this is gonna be big," he says.
Diplo recently spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about working with Madonna, creating hits and growing up making mixtapes in South Florida. Hear the conversation at the audio link above.
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