Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
Snoop Lion's long-delayed Reincarnated album came out this week -- a hope-you-like-my-new-direction move from the former Snoop Dogg, p.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dogg. It's Snoop's full-on shift into reggae, although most of its guests (including Miley Cyrus, Angela Hunte and Drake) are more from the hip-hop and pop worlds. The notable exception to that is "Lighters Up," below, on which he's joined by Jamaican dancehall artists Mavado and Popcaan.
Reincarnated's executive producer is Diplo, who's also credited with co-producing most of its tracks (as Major Lazer). Ten years ago, Diplo was a Philadelphia-based DJ with wide-open ears and a fondness for mixing-and-matching grooves from way outside of American dance music's center; since then, he's gradually become one of pop's great team players, a co-producer who can add an unexpected beat or texture that pushes a song over the top. Diplo's first vinyl single, 2003's "Thingamajawn," which he released under the name Diplodocus, was built around a riff sampled from the Art Ensemble of Chicago's 1970 jazz groove "Theme de Yoyo."
Over the course of 2003 and 2004, Diplo and his Hollertronix collaborators released a string of mixtapes, including several that brought the cheap-and-hot sound of favela funk to audiences far outside Brazil. The best, though, was Piracy Funds Terrorism, Volume 1 (the long-promised volume 2 never appeared), which matched vocals by M.I.A. -- who hadn't yet released her first album -- with some very familiar and not-so-familiar beats. The excerpt here mashes up "Sunshowers" with Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It."
Diplo continued to toss off nifty remixes and re-edits over the next couple of years. After Kanye West had a hit with "Gold Digger," built around a bit of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," Diplo chopped up "I Got a Woman" into a new mix of his own.
His breakthrough moment as a producer, though, was another M.I.A. collaboration: 2007's "Paper Planes," a Top 5 single built around a couple of unlikely sources -- the Clash's "Straight to Hell" and Wreckx-n-Effect's "Rump Shaker." Its other co-producer, the British DJ Switch, subsequently started working with Diplo under the name Major Lazer.
That year, Diplo also helped to launch an Australian arts organization, Heaps Decent, and (through his record label, Mad Decent) released the ridiculous-but-awesome single "Smash a Kangaroo."
As early as 2005, Diplo had claimed he was trying to get out of DJing, on the grounds that "it sucks the life out of you if you're a truly creative person." By the end of the decade, he'd shifted much more to production, which still allowed him to explore his fascinations with dance music from all over the world. One of his signature tracks was Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor" -- its awesomely lascivious video is below -- whose beat reappeared in Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" a few years later.
Most of the artists Diplo was producing in those years weren't big names in the U.S. -- Die Antwoord, Amanda Blank, Rolo Tomassi -- although he did work on "That Tree," from Snoop Dogg's More Malice. And he co-produced a track that was a huge hit in South Korea: rappers G-Dragon and TOP's "Knock Out."
In 2011, though, Diplo worked on a pair of Top 10 singles: Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" and Alex Clare's "Too Close." Since then, he's turned up on a ton of recordings, some of them by artists who are still hovering around the underground (he's co-produced tracks by both Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks), some by enormous stars. One of the most inventive is last year's gorgeous Usher single, "Climax."
Diplo still releases occasional singles under his own name; last year's New Orleans bounce track "Express Yourself," featuring Nicky Da B on vocals, is some kind of landmark of ass-obsession.
And even while he's been producing the likes of Snoop, Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber, Diplo's been cranking out a series of tracks and mixtapes as Major Lazer. (Switch left Major Lazer in late 2011, and since then it's just been Diplo and whoever's in the room with him.) The second Major Lazer album, Free the Universe, came out last week. Its single "Get Free," featuring vocals by Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman, is a reminder that Snoop isn't the only Reincarnated creator who's deeply immersed in Jamaican culture.