Diplo

Diplo standing against a yellow background

Popular American DJ and record producer, Diplo, has been a regular performer at various festivals down the years. He is also a huge fan of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and calls the Badshah a legend. Bet you didn’t know that! A few years ago, Diplo recorded a track called Phurrrr along with Pritam for Imtiaz Ali’s film Jab Harry Met Sejal. He also loved the movie Gully Boy.

Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz, is one of the most dynamic forces in music today. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi (the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll). Although he lived in a few different cities in the South, he grew up mainly in Miami. He spent his youth in his father’s bait shop and fixated on manatees, alligators, and dinosaurs with hopes of becoming a paleontologist. Now it’s easy to know why he’s known as Diplo or Diplodocus, a name he derives from his childhood fascination with dinosaurs.

His interest changed with time and he pursued film studies at University of Central Florida in 1997. During his time at UCF, he became a DJ for local radio station WPRK. He moved to Japan for a change in lifestyle where he worked as a teacher, but was soon back in the U.S. to continue his studies at Temple University. He sent a demo tape of his beat concoctions to Will Ashon, founder of U.K. independent hip-hop label Big Dada Records, and once signed to the label, relocated to Philadelphia. One of the greatest sources from which he takes inspiration is Timbaland. His other influences are DJ Shadow, Jay Swift, and Pete Rock.

To support himself during and after graduating from University, Pentz took on different jobs in Philadelphia, working as a social worker, after-school mentor, movie theatre employee, and gig-by-gig DJ. But the meagre earnings were insufficient to pay the rent that led to him almost losing out on musical decisions.

With his mash-up mixtapes, he found and created a sound where his musical tastes — 80’s pop, electronica, Dirty South hip-hop, and his major influence, Miami bass music intersect, were heard. It was the after-school students who exposed him to crunk and Baltimore club music. Pentz met up with like-minded DJ Low Budget and pooled their resources to start their own club nights in Philadelphia, which they branded Hooked on Hollertronix in 2003. What began as a fun night of genre-warping dance music, blossomed into an underground subculture, drawing crowds from all over the East Coast. The Hollertronix name began to be synonymous with parties featuring guests like Maluca Mala, Bun B, Spank Rock, M.I.A., among others.

It was not long before Diplo (as he came to be known) decided to move on and build a studio where music would become his full-time focus. He built The Mausoleum, a video and recording studio, record label office, gallery, and event space in Philadelphia. Since its inception, it has become home to duplicating by artists like Christina Aguilera, Shakira, M.I.A., Santigold, Spank Rock, Plastic Little, Blaqstarr, Paper Route Gangstaz, and hosted musical performances by Glass Candy, Skream, Boys Noize, Nicos Gun, and more.

Diplo DJing live at a music festival

Diplo and Budget soon released their own mixtapes together as well as individually. One of the mixtapes, Never Scared, was listed as one of the New York Times’ Top Albums of 2003. The following year, Big Dada released Diplo’s solo debut album, Florida, a down-tempo piece focusing on melody and instrumentals. The album 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 audio and video projects. Before the DVD accompaniment, another DVD surfaced called Diplo: Banned in Libya, 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 that System D-128 directed. Banned in Libya was also released as an experimental audio and video mix of some of Diplo’s original music blended with a number of other unidentified sources. On this DVD one can see how he brought Brazil dance music of the ghettos to the U.S.

The music began to overflow all around, his mashed-up vocals and beats produced a considerable number of acclaimed mix CDs and 12” records, some that were top line while the others brought in interest to new listeners.

Sri Lankan singer, M.I.A, met Diplo while he was spinning her tracks at a club in London. Post the gig; the duo hit it off, eventually collaborating on the mixtape, Piracy Fund Terrorism Vol. 1 (2004), that introduced M.I.A to the world beyond the U.K. Diplo directed more music at the Brazilian market and youth which was lapped up eagerly. It was no surprise that when he established his own label, Mad Decent Records, around 2005, his first signee was funk carioca group Bondo do Role.

After touring with M.I.A on her 2005 Arular Tour, Diplo continued to work with her and through her, met London DJ Switch. Together they created the Grammy-nominated track Paper Planes that went to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was a super hit for M.I.A, which made a heavy impact on the alternative electro-pop scene, amassing rave reviews from music critics and indie kids alike. The song not only gave M.I.A a start, but Diplo was happy to have made a name for himself, too.

Diplo was nominated for a second Grammy Award in 2012 for Best Rap Song for Look At Me Now which he shared with Chris Brown, Lil’ Wayne and Busta Rhymes, and again in 2013 and 2016 for Producer of the Year, Non Classical. In 2016, he won the Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album for Skrillerx and Diplo Present Jack U and Best Dance Recording for Where Are Ü Now, his super hit with Justin Bieber from Bieber’s Purpose album.

Moving on the success of their collaboration, he along with M.I.A and producer Switch created a Jamaican dancehall project and cartoon series titled Major Lazer. Since then, Diplo has worked on production and mixtape projects with other artists such as Gwen Stefani, Madonna, Britney Spears, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown among others.

Diplo also formed the LSD super-group consisting of British rapper Labrinth, Australian singer -songwriter Sia and himself. LSD, their debut studio album, was released by Columbia Records in April 2019. Diplo also teamed up with producer Mark Ronson to form the duo Silk City, collaborating with Dua Lipa on Electricity that helped him score his third Grammy in 2019 for Best Dance Recording.

August 2019 saw Diplo adopt the moniker Thomas Wesley and issue the moody country music single Heartless, a collaboration with singer Morgan Wallen. This was followed by a new track and video, Lonely, featuring the Jonas Brothers. His latest track is So Long, featuring American singer Cam, which hopefully should appear on Diplo’s country EP soon.

The Covid-19 situation has given a boost to the music industry with live streams happening left, right and centre all over the world. Diplo, alongwith with DJ Dillion Fancis, recently gave fans a livestream back-to-back set to remember. Dubbed Coronight Fever, it saw him perform a multi-genre two-hour set almost daily for his fans.

One of the most dynamic forces in music today, Diplo is collaborating with various artists on the planet to make some ear-catching sounds. His visits to India are short with no personal access to him. Diplo was in India performing at the Vh1 Supersonic music festival in Pune in February this year, but the wait for him backstage was endless. He performed and left without any meet-ups. We hope he makes a longer visit to India and we can meet up with him one day.

Verus Ferreira
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Verus Ferreira

Verus Ferreira covers the hottest desi and international artists for THE TEENAGER TODAY. Passionate about music, he is the author of The Great Music Quiz Book and The Great Rock Music Quiz Book. A freelance journalist for over 27 years, he also contributes to musicunplugged.in