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Q&A with Diplo
A Dangerous Show for Dangerous People
by Matt Crawford on Oct 31, 2008
Riding on the crest of recent mainstream and independent successes, Diplo returns to San Francisco for a show at Great American Music Hall on November 3rd. The DJ/producer is behind M.I.A.ís ďPaper Planes,Ē which found 11th-hour success on iTunes a year after its release when it was featured on the Pineapple Express trailer, and he recently released the excellent Santogold mixtape that pairs the emerging artist with some of her reggae, punk, rap and new wave influences. Diplo spoke with SF Station during a phone interview while wandering lost through the streets of Salt Lake City in search of his tour bus.
SF Station (SFS): Who had the idea for the dancing pizza on this tour?
Diplo: It was on the original flyer and we kept it there, so it made since that we brought a dancing pizza along for the tour. Itís fun because Iím just a DJ and it makes my show look a little better.
SFS: Is the crowd getting into it?
Diplo: We had stage-diving Pizza in Montreal. Pizza was getting crazy.
SFS: That sounds dangerous.
Diplo: Itís a dangerous tour, man, for dangerous people.
SFS: Ok. How do you approach a project like the Santogold mixtape?
Diplo: She is an old friend of mine. I knew her before she started her record and I worked on some of the tracks on her album. Me, her and Switch did a bunch of demos and stuff that were out there musically, but she did a lot of singer/songwriter stuff on her record. With the mixtape, I just wanted to showcase what her roots were from when I knew her: reggae and punk.
It took me a long time to make it because she was fine-tuning everything. In the end it came out really well. Iím happy with it.
SFS: When did you get into reggae?
Diplo: Iím from Florida, and I started out as a reggae DJ around the time of Terror Fabulous and Cutty Ranks. Down in Florida, we would play half bass and half reggae. When I moved to the Northeast, reggae became more cliquey and you had be in the reggae scene or at the reggae parties.
I guess Iím getting back into it because my influences are always there. When I did records with M.I.A., reggae was one of our biggest influences. I also went to Jamaica with Santogold and Switch late last year. She was going to work on a reggae album with us and be a songwriter, but we ended up doing it on our own and cutting a bunch of demos.
SFS: Was it intimidating to work in the studio with the dancehall artists there?
Diplo: Those guys just donít give a shit about anything; it just business as usual. Sometimes the artists, like Turbulence, are really collaborative, and a lot of the young kids know whatís going on in New York and are into experimenting. The older dudes are just used to Europeans, Japanese and Jamaicans giving them money for dubplates. They donít have any respect for people that come from outside unless you spend a lot of time and smoke a lot of weed with them.
I was just drunk all the time there, so I didnít really mind. I went to a lot of parties, and in the end, I didnít want to leave. We just didnít take any intimidation because that is when shitty songs are made. When you let the artist run the show, you get a shitty record.
Diplo: How did you control the situation?
SFS: It was weird. I went in the studio with Gyptian and he is the sweetest guy on record, but he is the biggest ass. We just denied the song he sang, and he said he had never had that happen before. He did a real half-ass song and just made it up in the booth.
Sometimes it takes being in the studio and finding a common bond with the artist because everyone is going to have one. You just have to make it work. Itís a frustrating place to work, but the energy there is unlike any other place Iíve ever been.
SFS: When you finished ďPaper PlanesĒ with M.I.A. did you think it would reach this level of success?
Diplo: I had no idea it would be included on the record because no one liked it but me. Some of her street friends in the hood were really into that song, but the record label was like, ďFuck this. This is useless.Ē She got it on the album and it sat there until it got on the [Pineapple Express] commercial. They didnít promote that record at all. They donít know what they are doing at Interscope.
The whole gimmick that they put on her is she is a refugee of the world but that is not appealing to people. It is cool to the art world and magazines, but regular kids donít give a fuck. They want to shoot people in the head and put up their fingers with a songís hook. Itís pretty obvious that it should have been the single from the beginning. Itís a catchy song and if they would have worked it, it would have brought people into the album.
SFS: When is your next official release?
Diplo: The next Diplo record is going to be a weird trip hop record. People want dancy stuff, but Iím going to do something weird. Iím brining trip hop back, dude. It should be out around April.
SFS: After growing up with Southern rap in Florida, were you surprised when it took over the mainstream?
Diplo: Itís pretty obvious how bad New York rap was at the time. Jay Z somehow survived it all because he new how to adapt. The whole industry up there ó from Ja Rule to 50 Cent ó they were rehashing the same songs over and over and making so much money. Record labels just lost their mind and put so much money behind songs that sucked. But kids didnít like those records; they like stuff that is fresh.
SFS: How often can a gangster rapper do a duet with an R&B singer, right?
Diplo: Yeah. It didnít reach people anymore. It just became music for old people that thought they were cool.
You have to steer music toward what kids are into. Go to New York now and the most exciting thing happening is Ricky Blaze, which is dancehall mixed with trance music. The young kids like dancing their asses off. They dress like M.I.A. and like all her shit, and crazy reggae-fusion shit. If I was at a major label I would snatch all of that up right now and figure out a way to work it to the masses, which is really hard to do. Labels donít really have the personnel, and they are getting rid of all of the people that can communicate on that level, so all of that new music is going to stay on the street level for the next couple of years.
Diplo performs on November 3rd at the Great American Music Hall. Tickets are $16. The show starts at 8pm.
by Matt Crawford on Oct 31, 2008