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Thomas Wesley Pentz (born November 10, 1978 (1978-11-10) (age 32), better known by his stage name Diplo, is a Philadelphia-based American DJ, producer, and songwriter. Together with DJ Low Budget, he runs Hollertronix, a club and music collective. He also founded and manages record company Mad Decent, as well as the not for profit organization Heaps Decent. Among other jobs, Pentz has worked as a school teacher in Philadelphia.
During his rise to notability, Diplo worked with and dated British musician M.I.A., an artist who is credited with helping expose him in his early career. Later, Pentz and fellow M.I.A. producer Switch created a Jamaican dancehall project titled Major Lazer. Since then, Diplo has worked on production and mixtape projects with many other notable pop artists. Pentz’s alias, short for Diplodocus, derives from his childhood fascination with dinosaurs.
DJ and Hollertronix
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in various regions across Southern United States, Diplo developed an interest in much of the local culture. He began attending the University of Central Florida in 1997, and then moved to Philadelphia to continue his studies at Temple University, where he first gained notoriety as a DJ. After frequently running into fellow DJ Low Budget, the two began throwing parties under the Hollertronix moniker in 2003 as a way of maintaining control of what they were able to play during DJ gigs in Philadelphia. The success of these parties allowed the two to release mixtapes, both separate and together, gathering acclaim across the country. One such mixtape, Never Scared, was named one of the New York Times’ top ten albums of 2003, and the Hollertronix name became synonymous with parties featuring guests like Bun B, Spank Rock, M.I.A., among others. Hollertronix’s sound has been described as “disparate genres to be smashed together for maximum attention-grabbing impact” an aesthetic which takes from the “organic, cohesive, whole” aesthetic of acts such as Bun B, Lil Jon, Drama, M.I.A., Björk, Busta Rhymes, and others.
Diplo In Jamaica
Diplo honed in the club aesthetic of his Hollertronix music for a more reflective sound on his solo debut, Florida, which was released on the Big Dada Records imprint Ninja Tune. The album Florida was pressed twice, first with a CD and the second with a CD and DVD. The DVD was created by System D-128, another artist who has collaborated with Diplo on some audio and video projects. Before Florida’s DVD accompaniment, another DVD surfaced called Diplo: “Banned in Libya” which was released by Money Studies, the first label to have release a solo project by Diplo under his original DJ name Diplodocus. It was a 45 rpm record called “Thingamajawn” for which there is also a music video System D-128 directed. Similar to the Florida DVD, “Banned in Libya” is an experimental audio and video mix of some of Diplo’s original music blended with a number of other unidentified sources.
His particular affinity for one genre of music called Baile Funk (or Favela Funk) would spawn a series of mixtapes (Favela on Blast, Favela Strikes Back), which served to bring the Brazilian dance music of the ghettos to the United States.
Although Diplo spent time as a school teacher, and a Subway employee, it wasn’t long before his Hollertronix parties would provide him the success necessary to move to the next logical step and build a studio where music would become his full-time focus. With this goal in mind, Diplo built “The Mausoleum,” a video studio, recording studio, record label office, gallery, and event space in Philadelphia. Since its inception, The Mosoleum has become the home to recordings by artists like Christina Aguilera, Shakira, M.I.A., Santigold, Spank Rock, Plastic Little, Blaqstarr, Paper Route Gangstaz, and hosted concerts by Glass Candy, Skream, Boys Noize, and more.
After hearing one of his songs in 2004, M.I.A. approached Diplo when he was DJ’ing one night at the Fabric Club in London. Regarding their first meeting, M.I.A. said “It had that same homelessness about it. It didn’t have a particular genre, which is what people always say to me: Your song doesn’t fit anywhere. So I went on a mad mission to find other people like that, because then we could make a home.” Coincidentally, Diplo was playing her songs “Galang” and “Fire Fire” as she entered the club, which he got from a worker at i-D magazine. Diplo added, “She came through and she wanted to meet me ’cause she’d heard my single and the funk mix from one of her A&Rs and she just thought I was right up her alley. Besides me being a white dude from Florida and her being a Sri Lankan girl in England, everything else was the same: [We were both] film graduates, [listened to] all the same music when we were kids, were going in the same direction right now in music, it was amazing… I always wanted to make a beat with her, but all my beats were really shitty at the time.” The two eventually collaborated on a mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1., where Arular track acapellas were mashed with other artists’ songs and was mentioned as ‘Albums of the Year’ from the New York Times and Pitchfork Media. At this time it is rumored the two became romantically involved and continued to worked together after the release and he toured as a DJ on her 2005 Arular Tour.
Critics have been divided on his early work, with some expressing acclaim for the mixtape, while others expressing relief that M.I.A.’s aesthetic and her debut album didn’t have a lot of input from the DJ. In 2007, Arulpragasam confronted the public media, specifically music blog Pitchforkmedia about some journalists’ motives behind misinformation regarding Diplo and her work. Pitchforkmedia author Paul Thomson responded by stating Diplo “seemed to think he had a bit to do with both of her records.” Diplo has worked on two tracks on each M.I.A. album. In 2009, he admitted that aside from loaning a baile funk beat to the song “Bucky Done Gun” he lied to people that he produced M.I.A.’s first album “to get them to know who I was.” He described the songs he did not work on on M.I.A.’s third album as being “a turd” in 2010. He stated that he worked at a studio in Santa Monica rather than at M.I.A.’s home studio on the album, because “her boyfriend really hates me”. Later he mentioned his distaste for the album stemmed from not “feeling the vibe with some of the new producers.”
Diplo would continue to work with M.I.A. and through her meet London DJ Switch; together they created the Grammy nominated track ‘Paper Planes’. Peaking at #4 on the Billboard US Hot 100. Diplo would go on to release a slew of similarly styled mixtapes with Downtown Records’ Santigold and Polydor Records’ La Roux, as well as mixtapes with Paper Route Gangstaz, Das Racist, and Gucci Mane.
From this, Diplo went from an unknown DJ to taking off as a producer, landing him collaborations with artists like Shakira, Robyn, Kid Cudi, Bruno Mars and Snoop Dogg, as well as work with Maluca, Kid Sister, Die Antwoord, Alex Clare, Rolo Tomassi, Amanda Blank, Dark Meat. After taking a trip to Brazil to investigate the Favela music scene, and fascinated with the energy the scene had to offer, Diplo decided to import a dance-funk group Bonde do Role from Brazil for release on his Mad Decent record label (also housed within in ‘The Mausoleum’). This group would serve to define Baile Funk in the United States, spawning a host of others to join the movement. Diplo also spent some time documenting the music, and the favelas of Brazil with a film he produced and directed called Favela on Blast.
Although Favela Funk remained an interest (the Favela on Blast documentary just saw release in 2009), his Mad Decent imprint would serve as a blank palette for Diplo to showcase the myriad different sounds he’d come across while touring around the world. Diplo quickly developed a reputation for his extensive touring. In the April, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine Diplo was touted as one of ’40 Reasons to be Excited About Music’. This kind of jet setting pushed his label far beyond the Favela Funk genre with which it initially began. Since founding it in 2005 Diplo’s Mad Decent label has released music by Santogold, Lil’ Jon, Gucci Mane, Peter Bjorn and John, Bosco Delrey, Rusko, Buraka Som Systema, Savage Skulls, Oliver Twizt, Jamie Fanatic, Douster, Boy 8bit, and Popo Beyond the scope of their own releases, there is Mad Decent Worldwide Radio, a mixtape/podcast series showcasing artists who have seen release on Mad Decent, but also many more who may have caught the attention of the label. Additionally, Diplo and Mad Decent have put together an annual block party showcasing talent from the label. While the first three years of the festival only occurred in the label hometown of Philadelphia, 2010 saw the party spread to include Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.