Today’s column is bit of a detour away from the obscure vinyl and small-batch singles you might be used to reading about, as Diplo, a.k.a. Wes Pentz, is a populist musicologist and meta-dj of the highest order. But if we trace back through his history, he is more than deserving of the Primitive Futures tag, promoting an intelligent party culture while creating his own unique blend of sampledelia along the way. Perhaps we could even compare his Mad Decent empire of blogs and podcasts to that of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal stamp in the ‘90s, defining hip by adopting an all-world miscegenation of sounds and styles. (Editor’s note: beware, you could spend days on this site.) Now he’s got his own imprint; he’s leading a tour across the country; he’s in Brazil premiering his film companion to his famous Favela on Blast mixtape—all this on top of his day job as super-producer for artists like M.I.A. and Santogold. Hard to imagine he finds time to release something bearing his own name.
Blow Your Head is officially the first record for Diplo since his 2004 solo album Florida. Still, one shouldn’t get too excited yet, as the only original music here is contained in the initial two tracks, “Blow Your Head” and “Must Be a Devil,” the B-sides are merely remixes (great ones at that) of this record’s source material. That said, “Blow Your Head” is a perfect entry point into the world of Diplo. Compared to the various mixtapes he’s made, which show no shame pitting “Do the Bartman” next to Clipse, or his surveys of South America’s cumbia and baile funk communities, this is the least exotic. The title track is more about encapsulating what Diplo does as an artist—he’s often been quoted as hating to deejay—and that is beats by the punishing pound. It’s the beat that makes this indispensible and intriguing, as if he’s creating his own instead of borrowing. It’s something that will undoubtedly be replicated half-ass by incompetent hacks, something he needs to trademark, and something that is a turning point in his quest. Around that ultimate beat he’s stretching prog synths, stock James Brown samples, handclaps, and “Whassup Whassup,” by teenage Baltimore rap queen and current Mad Decent protégée Rye Rye, into a heady smash-the-disco ball mindwarp.
“Must Be a Devil” is equally of Diplo’s alternate universe melting-pot. The singular guitar line resembles cartoon-caper Morricone dusted off for the churrasco, while Marina (the former MC in Bonde Do Role) repeats the title in her breathless Portuguese accent. Things wind and wind to an end that explodes in bubbling neon ecstasy. It’s a complement come-down to the fireworks of the title track. To say this is a record showing Diplo come into his own is an understatement. In a brief 15 minutes he proves not only is he king cratedigger, but he’s also the alchemist, forming beats of gold with a knapsack full of souvenirs and postcards.
It used to be, back in the days of the original Hollertronix compilations, that Diplo stood for Diplodocus, now however I’m straining to find it to mean anything but Diplomat, curing conflict in the world one record at a time.