In a recent interview with legendary producer Rick Rubin, Diplo seeks a new future. But in some ways, he still can't quite escape his past.
The talk, in Interview magazine, is a long and insightful conversation about his path from re-contextualizing hip-hop and global beat music as a DJ in Florida and Philadelphia, to becoming one of Las Vegas' most bankable EDM figures — and where he might go next to absolve himself of that title.
"I never got tied down to any social scene. I was just into creating stuff," he told Rubin. "And I think, even today, that's how I'm able to work and move between so many different genres — I want to be part of what's happening, I want to make new things."
Part of the process, he added later, is simply accepting the realities of digital life in the music business, and owning a public persona that fans want to be a part of: "Selling MP3s or physical copies, it's still cool, but I think it's slowly becoming outdated to where people just want to build a culture. The culture's what you're selling at this point .... Like, I hear how many people complain about that, but we do so great on streaming services. I think kids have got to learn how to work with what's happening, work with social, work with everything."
New projects like his Skrillex collaboration Jack Ü (which headlines this year's Hard Summer) have done a lot to get him there.
The most candid moments of the interview, though, come when he admits that he's growing tired of "Diplo" as a public entity. The alias started as shorthand for a kind of Internet-driven, pan-cultural party ethos, exemplified by his early work with M.I.A.. But now, the man born Thomas Pentz recognizes that he's being lumped into Vegas' high-fructose, huge payday EDM scene, and he wants out of that image.
"I'm trying to actually retire Diplo material at this point," he said. "Diplo has a ceiling in Vegas, and I'm doing great there, but I'm so proud of Major Lazer — the way it sounds, the way it's mixed. I feel like if I devote my time to that, it could grow."
However, that reinvention won't be easy. M.I.A. shot back at Diplo Thursday following a Billboard interview in which Diplo claimed the two had made amends after a long stretch of disagreements about their work and their relationship.
"I didn't apologies [sic], I said you owe an apology to my people," M.I.A. wrote, probably referring to her comments to Rolling Stone magazine last month about his remarks that "discredited and devalued" the genocide of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka during that country's civil war in a 2010 New York Times piece about her.
For Diplo, an artist built on reinvention and looking forward, that may be a more difficult bridge to cross.