As a kid growing up in South Florida, Diplo listened to whatever: hip-hop, punk rock, Miami bass, Christian radio. “I would watch Rap City on BET and then Country Music Television back-to-back every day after I got out of school,” he told Apple Music in 2020. “It was equal.” The attitude stuck. More than just a DJ or producer, Diplo has become an avatar for the eclectic, border-free nature of pop in the internet era, the kind of artist who not only jumps from genre to genre, but also finds the common denominator that brings them all together. If his teenage listening habits didn’t make immediate sense, that’s the point: It isn’t where the music comes from, it’s how you hear it.
Born Thomas Wesley Pentz in 1978, he got his start in his mid-twenties as half of the DJ duo Hollertronix, whose mixes—think “Rock the Casbah” with a Missy Elliott verse on top—captured the wild omnivorousness of 2000s mash-up culture. A few years later, he cofounded Major Lazer, a collaborative, shapeshifting project that brought global dance music to the big-tent festival crowd. The records he’s worked on since—M.I.A.’s ”Paper Planes,” Usher’s “Climax,“ Beyoncé’s “Hold Up,” the Skrillex and Justin Bieber collaboration “Where Are Ü Now”—constitute some of the best, most progressive pop of the millennium, the kind of tracks that have appealed as much to club audiences as to critical cognoscenti.
He’s also used his platform to shed light on lesser-known global dance scenes, from New Orleans bounce to Brazilian baile funk—a role that elevates the DJ to cultural ambassador. He plays about 300 shows a year. On a break from touring during 2020, he said there were parts of his house he swears he’d never seen before. And he was ready to get back out and party.
BORNNovember 10, 1978