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Diplowatch 2011 #8: Interview: Diplo on Pre-Digital Dancehall

April 26, 2011


In 2007, legendary Jamaican label Greensleeves released a two-disc telling of their history, guiding listeners from "Wa Do Dem" through "Twice My Age" to "Oh Carolina." This winter, Greensleeves solicited Diplo to select from their vast catalog. From a glut of releases he made a fifteen song mix of the tracks he, "loved growing up, learning more and more about reggae music and culture." Released by Queens-based/Caribbean-focused VP Records, Riddimentary is a streamlined investigation of transformations in reggae during the early-to-mid eighties. It's rich terrain for the never-scared, Soundcloud-surfing Diplo, who likens Jamaica at that time to "the wild wild west." Vocal styles were changing, digital drums and synths taking over, "culture, music and technology all furiously moving forward." Over email, I asked Diplo about the Greensleeves record, who's sustaining reggae's power and populism now and what he's been working on and has coming up.

How/did VP approach you? What was the appeal of putting together the album? VP’s been very helpful in clearing artists for Major Lazer. Gettin' contracts finished is a pretty hard core problem and VP understands and believes in the Major Lazer project. They asked me to do this mix and I liked the challenge and working with Greensleeves.

It must have been hard to pick just a couple records with which to tell Greensleeves' story. What's not on the album that you wish was? The proper version of “Night Nurse!” I mean there’s soooo much reggae from this certain genre, but this was the ones that really got me. The Toyan album with "African Thing" (the Jacqueline riddim) was one of the first crazy vinyls I got from a flea market. I would say its artwork was directly influential to the Major Lazer character.

You say in the album's liner notes that in some way, everything in reggae has been done but that it still never gets stale because people use their hearts and always adapt to new technologies. It feels like after a strong year, it may be cooling down. Who is doing it well now? Just when you think it's cooling down, something else bubbles up. Something cool is happening down there after Major Lazer—you have Dre Skull exec. producing the new full Vybz record and Congorock down there doing production and DJin'. It’s not just Bob Sinclaire making the cheesy crossovers. Ever since "Calabria," DJs are really pushing forward into dubstep and electro, and then you have the classic styles with a twist.. Like Russian, his guitar line productions are my favorite. "Virginity" by Vybz was one of the best songs of all time LOL.

What are your favorite riddims in 2011, so far? Chan Dizzy, “Strange Face,” Barrington Levy, “Gangsta,” Cham, "Stronger" and his Turn It Up riddim tune, Leftside and Shaggy , “Jump Around (euro version).” WICKED!

How was working on “Look At Me Now” with Wayne and Chris Brown? Are you working on other tracks for Chris's new album? No just one collab, came through an old friend from Philly—Jean Baptiste. I guess just bein' in LA opens a lot of doors as long as you don't stress it you start to get cool records together. Never actually met Chris until the video shoot, but he was really tall, and Lil Wayne's manager really liked my music and she didn't even know I produced that one! Was cool.

What's status on a second Major Lazer LP? We have 24 days to mix down everything... Yikes!

It’s fully festival season now. Any advice for having a good time, things to avoid? Man just do everything and try and never fall asleep.

Diplowatch 2011 #8: Interview: Diplo on Pre-Digital Dancehall