A superstar DJ, sought-after producer, taste-making label owner, and wizard behind Major Lazer, Diplo (aka Diplodocus, Wes Diplo, and Wes Gully) launched his career on the fringes of dance music. With his mash-up mixtapes, he found and created a sound where his musical tastes — ’80s pop, electronica, Dirty South hip-hop, and his major influence, Miami bass music — intersect. His attention-grabbing projects Hollertronix, with partner DJ Low Budget, and the Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 mixtape, with elusive British-Sri Lankan MC M.I.A., made a heavy impact on the alternative electropop scene, amassing him rave reviews from music critics and indie kids alike, including Spin magazine, which named him DJ of the Year in 2005. Later, his Mad Decent imprint presented the edge of pop, hip-hop, and dance music while his conceptual Major Lazer project mixed dancehall with rave culture and toured the globe as a live party sound system.
Diplo was born Thomas Wesley Pentz in Tupelo, Mississippi. Although he lived in a few different cities in the South, he mainly grew up in South Florida. He spent his youth in his father’s bait shop, fixated on manatees, alligators, and dinosaurs with hopes of becoming a paleontologist. However, he wound up pursuing an education in film studies, starting at a couple Florida colleges but then finishing up his undergraduate degree in Philadelphia at Temple University in 2003. Before his move to Philadelphia, Pentz had moved temporarily to Japan to escape daily life in America. From Japan, 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, he relocated to Philadelphia.
To support himself, during and after graduating from Temple, Pentz took on a few different jobs in Philadelphia: social worker, after-school mentor, movie theater employee, and gig-by-gig DJ. He was barely able to pay the rent, and the frustration was stunting his musical development (although he does credit one of his musical epiphanies to the after-school students who exposed him to crunk and Baltimore club music). Thus, Diplo and like-minded DJ Low Budget pooled their resources to start up their own club nights in Philadelphia, which they branded Hollertronix. It simply began as a fun night of genre-warping dance music, but it blossomed into an underground subculture drawing out crowds from all over the East Coast. Under the Hollertronix moniker, Diplo and Budget released the highly praised Never Scared mixtape; it 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 more downtempo piece focusing on melody and instrumentals that was a departure from the melee of mashed-up vocals and beats. His unrelenting work ethic produced a considerable number of acclaimed mix CDs and 12″ records; however, none of them accumulated more interest and Internet chatter than the 2004 Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 mixtape that introduced M.I.A. outside of U.K. borders. Developing a yearning to produce more worldly music, he also began to throw his energy behind the Brazilian youth- and street-based music known as funk carioca (also referred to as baile funk), a derivation of Miami bass music. So, it was no surprise that when he established his own label, Mad Decent Records, around 2005, his first signee was the funk carioca group Bondo do Role.
In 2009, the label signed a distribution deal with Fontana and Downtown Records. Their first collaborative release was by Major Lazer, a fictional Jamaican bounty hunter that was the brainchild of Diplo and DJ Switch. Major Lazer’s debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do, appeared in 2009, the same year as the Diplo remix collection Decent Work for Decent Pay: Selected Works, Vol. 1. In 2010, Mad Decent began their Blow Your Head compilation series with the unmixed collection Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep. Mix CDs (the reggae-filled 2011 release Riddimentary), EPs (2012’s Express Yourself and 2013’s Revolution), a Major Lazer album (2013’s Free the Universe), and production work for others (including Alex Care’s “Too Close” and Usher’s “Climax”) took Diplo to 2014 and that year’s aptly titled compilation Random White Dude Be Everywhere. Filled with recent tracks, the set found the producer favoring the trap music style, the style heard on Baauer’s hit single “Harlem Shake,” which itself was a Mad Decent release.
In 2015, he co-produced multiple tracks on Madonna’s release Rebel Heart, and worked with Skrillex on the album Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü. Both Jack Ü and its hit collaboration with Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now,” picked up Grammys. Major Lazer’s LP Peace Is the Mission also landed that year, topping the U.S. dance chart and peaking at number 12 on the Billboard 200. In 2017, Diplo recruited Travis Scott, Camila Cabello, Quavo, J Balvin, Sean Paul, Busy Signal, and more for Major Lazer’s Know No Better EP. That same year, Diplo issued a handful of singles under his own name, including “Imperfections” and “Swerve” with Starrah, and “Get It Right” featuring MØ. ~ Cyril Cordor