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Even if your knowledge of that odd urban creature commonly known as the hipster is limited to whatever you see on TV, there's still a pretty good chance you know Diplo. He's the froggy-voiced star of the BlackBerry Torch commercial that's undoubtedly popped up during one of your recent channel-surfing sprees this year.
In the ad, dude's identified only as a "music innovator." Dressed in a sloppy (though certainly pricey) business suit, he bounces back and forth between monster raves, anonymous airports, summer festivals, super-chic hotel rooms and a state-of-the-art recording studio, all while a snippet of his signature glitch-funk thump ("Make You Pop," a collab with Don Diablo) skitters and skips through the background.
If you didn't know better, it would be easy to assume this "Diplo" character is simply some hired actor, paid by BlackBerry to play the part of a jet-setting industry hotshot. But no, we can assure you: Those ad men aren't bullshitting...Diplo is a music innovator who has done way, way, way more than just sell smart phones to 18-year-old girls and their cool older boyfriends.
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In the 32 years since he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Diplo (real name Thomas Wesley Pentz) has cultivated a kind of notoriety — even high-grade fame — that first flourished on the hipster party scene before leaking out into larger segments of society via blog reports, movie soundtracks and TV commercials.
Growing up in various spots scattered throughout the South, Pentz became a serious bass and hip-hop head. And as a teen, he looked to dinosaur books for his stage name, eventually choosing to chop the term diplodocus in half. During the late '90s, he spent some time at the University of Central Florida, studying and hustling and hacking together DJ sets. But soon he fled for Philadelphia.
In a short time, as part of now-legendary DJ duo Hollertronix, he became hipster-famous in Philly for masterminding crazy warehouse ragers and popularizing the mash-up. Throughout 2003, he and his partner Low Budget threw killer parties at nightclubs, made friends with big-deal rappers and dropped hot mixtapes like Never Scared, an underground party-starter that went aboveground when The New York Times named it one of the year's raddest albums.
Off that slow-building hype, Diplo scored solo DJ gigs that kept him zigzagging around the globe — New York City to Tokyo to Stockholm. And then, one night in London, he met a rising Sri Lankan rapper named Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam.
If you don't recognize that name, here's another one: M.I.A. As her producer, touring DJ and then-boyfriend, Diplo was there when Arulpragasam got a quick first taste of critical recognition with the lead single, "Bucky Done Gun," off M.I.A.'s 2005 debut Arular. He helped produce that hit, and shared the credit (with Brit studio genius Switch) when she dropped her next disc, 2007's Kala, and its chart-crushing, Clash-sampling hit "Paper Planes."
Critics and haters have sometimes questioned the extent of Diplo's contribution to M.I.A.'s albums. Even she's contended he played a smaller hand in her success than the media likes to claim.
Nevertheless, at times, his rise has run perfectly parallel to hers. And even though the couple stopped dating forever ago, they never stopped collaborating. Sure, they've traded passive-aggressive slams and all kinds of public shit-talking for years. But have you heard last year's Diplo-M.I.A. joint "Story to Be Told"? It's sweet stuff.
In the last couple years, Diplo also hooked up with Switch again, starting a strange concept project called Major Lazer. Built around a zombie-slaying, prosthetic-limbed, laser-armed cartoon commando, it birthed an album, Guns Don't Kill People, Lazers Do. Full of tripped-out hipster dancehall tunes, it features cameos by major Jamaican names such as Elephant Man and American stars such as Santigold.
The recorded stuff was well-received. But it was the live show that really killed the crowds. Starring tiny maniac MC Skerrit Bwoy, Major Lazer in concert became a spectacular orgy of audience hysteria, collective craziness and that brutal sex dance dubbed "daggering." The festivals, including Ultra 2010, were set ablaze.
This Friday, though, Major Lazer won't be there with his zombie-hunting equipment. Neither will M.I.A., Switch or Skerrit Bwoy. It'll just be Diplo behind the decks.
So if you're wondering what to expect, it's kinda hard to say: Maybe it'll be a mash-up of Diplo's every incarnation. Maybe it'll be a real-life BlackBerry commercial. Or maybe it'll be just as insane as those old Hollertronix days when hipster kids climbed the walls, spilled a million drinks and stripped half-naked to hump the floor.
You'll never know unless you go.
Join us at Houston Press BestFest
The Houston Press hopes you make plans to join us September 24 and 25 on the Midtown "superblock" (near the McGowen rail stop) for the first-ever Houston Press Best of Houston® BestFest. Performers confirmed to appear so far are Against Me!, Chamillionaire, Bun B, Slim Thug and The Tontons (Saturday); and Cake, Deer Tick, Buxton, Hayes Carll and Carolyn Wonderland (Sunday). Watch the Houston Press blogs for more announcements of performers, visual artists and food vendors. Buy weekend passes at www.bestfesthouston.com.