Diplo, born Thomas Pentz in Tupelo, Mississippi, is the world’s Wizard of Oz; inspiring wonder from behind a smoke screen and closed door, he has become a staple to the ears of listeners across the globe.
These smoke screens include countless projects and hit songs, from Major Lazer’s Lean on (2013) to the collaboration with Skrillex and Justin Bieber, Where are Ü Now (2015). The universal acclaim is exactly what Diplo is trying to attain- to unite people of all backgrounds and bring peace through music.
Before he was known simply by his stage name, which is short for Diplodocus, his favorite dinosaur as a kid, Pentz stood behind the curtain, producing a variety of tracks that dominated the radio, including Chris Brown’s Look at Me Now (2011), M.I.A.’s Paper Planes (2008), and Alex Clare’s Too Close (2011).
Major Lazer, the Dj trio currently consisting of Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire, until recently held the Spotify title of most streamed song of all time with their 2013 track Lean On. The trio has roots far before their major success, beginning back in 2009.
After producing M.I.A.’s mixtape “Piracy Funds Terrorism”, Diplo was introduced to mutual M.I.A. producer Switch, and the two recorded a dancehall influenced album titled Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do in Kingston, Jamaica. The project soon began to take on global recognition, performing at major music festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork.
Just before the release of their sophomore album Free the Universe in 2013, Major Lazer announced that Switch would be leaving the group, and Jamaican and Trinidadian producers Walshy Fire and Jillionaire, respectively, would be taking his place.
Free the Universe, released 2013, dominated the charts; peaking at number one on the Billboard Dance/Electronic albums, it included well known artists like Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Shaggy, Bruno Mars and Tyga, paving the way for Major Lazer to enter the ears of mainstream listeners.
Get Free, a track from Free the Universe, exemplifies the cross-cultural identity that the project was taking shape. Released with a documentary style music video portraying candid life in Jamaica, the song attempts to break down national barriers and bring cultures from across the world to the ears of mainstream listeners.
Diplo believes that dancehall, a Jamaican dance-reggae fusion, appeals to such a global audience because of it’s tribal sound, “it’s got like a primal feeling to it. It’s also made really archaically. The producers and dancehall artists, none of them are classically trained musicians. Like when Yellowman and those guys were doing the first records it was just remaking reggae rhythms and making digital stuff with keyboards,” Pentz said in an interview with Fader.
More recently, Lazer has broadened it’s conquest for global understanding by releasing a remake of their song Cold Water specifically designed for Diwali. The song includes traditional tabla percussion and other Indian instrumentation.
Following their cultural-barrier-breaking style, the group was one of the first U.S. acts to play in Cuba last March following the diplomatic thaw. Diplo cites Cuban culture as a major source of artistic inspiration, and is humbled by the full circle in which the project has brought him, “Going back to perform [in Cuba] in 2016 and to be a part of the culture once again is a huge blessing and I couldn’t be more honored to bring the Major Lazer project there,” he said.