When most people think of Diplo
, things like bros, neon-splattered raves, and bad molly overdose stories come to mind. After all, this is the super star DJ that produced hits like "Where Are Ü Now" and "Lean On." He's also a co-producer in the dancehall project Major Lazer
as well as Jack Ü
, an electronic duo with Skrillex. In addition to all of this, he also founded Mad Decent, a record label that almost exclusively works with dance artists. All of this is good and fine, but with a track record like that, some will look at Diplo as nothing more than a walking bass drop. A friend of mine - an avid listener of more indie artists - recently asked me what I've been listening to and when I responded with Diplo, they rolled their eyes.
Enter Diplo's new EP, California
. Despite how active he's been in the music industry, the EP is actually the first solo project to come from the DJ in five years. And surprise: it's not what anyone thought it'd be. You can even tell right away that this is going to be a strange album after glancing at the dizzying yet beautiful cover work painted by artist February James. Each single leading up to the EP came with a picture of a somewhat sad looking face - nothing that would ever be used to depict feel-good dance music.
And then came the first single "Look Back (feat. DRAM)" - a shock to the system. It's a great song with a whole lot of melancholic moodiness and stunning melodies - but it's not very... Diplo. There is no bass drop.
Then there's other songs like "Worry No More (feat. Lil Yachty and Santigold)." It's kind of sad once again, but it has that "nostalgic for summer" feel (I guess that's why the EP is called California
?). Rapper Lil Yachty is actually featured as a singer, and sing he does. He admits that he doesn't want to worry, he just wants to live out his dreams, and he admits it all while singing the most infectious melody - again, no drop. The second track, "Suicidal," features Desiigner, and I'll admit when I saw Desiigner's name I thought, "eh, would rather not listen to more ‘Panda' references," but none of that is in there. Something about partnering up with Diplo forced Desiigner to, like Lil Yachty, sing. And while it sounds like pure depression in sonic form, it is miraculous.
Tyler, The Creator
did something similar to this with his 2017 album, Flower Boy
. He shared in an interview
back in January that he made the conscious decision to spill all of his feelings out and the result? A really sad album - something that no one ever expected from him after the aggressive, non-touchy-feely record that was Cherry Bomb
. People party to it though. When songs like "See You Again" or "911 / Mr. Lonely" come on at a house party, groups of friends lose their minds. Is it because they can relate to the lyrics and have finally found the perfect excuse to scream out the cold hard truth in public - that they're lonely? Or is it just because the beat is good enough to hide all of those scary, vulnerable emotions? Charli XCX
is another pop artist who has excelled at this. People at parties everywhere are getting down to her latest mixtape Pop 2
with its feature-heavy track list (who doesn't love a little CupcakKe
?) and progressive production quality, but when it comes down to it: it's really fucking sad. When listeners sing along, they're singing to songs about heart-wrenching break ups and partying in light of a way bigger internal crisis.
But maybe that's the point. Maybe that's even the good part. There's beauty to be found in the sadness - and you can still party to it.
The fifth song on Diplo's EP, "Color Blind (feat. Lil Xan)," is a good mixture of these things. Once again the mood is depressing, but it reverts back to Diplo's ways with an almost Flume
-esque drop that will make you want to cry and dance at the same time. Because Diplo's capable of that. If he's made hundreds of great dance songs already, why not try something different and dig a little deeper?
After my friend rolled their eyes at my answer, I told them to think again. Diplo fans will be pleased with his new EP, but it will also please new listeners. It's a huge shock to the system; sure Diplo is a pop star dad who hikes around Hollywood and runs with the big leagues on the daily, but he's got a sensitive side, too. It's an EP that can be thrown into the mix along with Charli XCX and Tyler for your upcoming house party and it will still have people dancing - while digging for something a little bit deeper.