After enduring the dullest tracks on Major Lazer's new album, "Peace Is the Mission," it's sometimes tough to remember that there was a time when its founder, superstar producer Diplo, was awesome.
As a rising tastemaker in the early '00s with deep crates and great taste, the artist born Wesley Pentz made his name on the East Coast when his Hollertronix parties soundtracked a buzzing New York musical revival. Through mixtapes such as "Never Scared" and "T5 Soul Sessions, Vol. 2," the DJ proved his curatorial know-how as New York was rolling to the Strokes, DFA Records, post-disco and old Liquid Liquid jams with equal glee.
Before Diplo moved to the mainstream with production credits via Usher, Beyoncé, Britney Spears and others, his enthusiasm for Brazilian beat-based favela music helped spread the word about the remarkable sound being forged in Rio de Janeiro. He also produced M.I.A.'s blow-out debut mix tape, "Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1."
The third studio album from Major Lazer, Diplo's project inspired by Jamaican dancehall music, features a few hot tracks and a few so tepid that we need reminders about what made Diplo interesting in the first place. The best steer furthest away from commercial pop, but most seem so transparently designed for cheesy poolside summer anthem consumption that they're hard to take seriously as creative endeavors. They're more like aural content.
Already a massive hit, "Lean On" features Danish pop star MØ and "Turn Down for What" producer DJ Snake, and has about as much connection to Jamaican music as the Russian national anthem. "Powerful" rumbles alongside vocalists Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley, but it's as ephemeral as Caribbean snow. "I can feel it/When you hold me/When you touch me/It's so powerful."
Yet there's no denying "Blaze Up the Fire," a stuttering bass track featuring the young Jamaican rapper Chronixx (who's having a good year, having also appeared on Joey Badass' new record). Highlighted by that classic Jamaican downbeat rhythm and rumbling bottom-end tones, it celebrates — what else? — smoking lots and lots of ganja. "Light It Up" appears later, presumably after listeners have smoked the Chronixx-ordered joint earlier in the record. Starring Nyla, best known as a member of the Jamaican R&B group Brick & Lace, it's a heavy dancehall banger that would sound equally at home in Las Vegas or Kingston.
"Peace Is the Mission"
Two stars out of four