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DJ Diplo Melds Eclectic Sounds


Now yesterday at this time we told you about the Sri Lankan British rapper known as M.I.A. She was creating a buzz long before her debut CD was officially released, and that is in part because of the work of a Philadelphia producer named Diplo. From member station WHYY, Joel Rose has his story.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

Diplo's recording studio is also his apartment, a few blocks north of Philadelphia's Chinatown. The 26-year-old deejay and producer has a formidable collection of turntables, computers and video monitors, many of them culled from area flea markets.

DIPLO (Producer; Deejay): It looks really, like, epic, but it's nothing. It's, like, really cheap. Some of this stuff is, like, unusable. I have the Virtual Boy Nintendo up here for un--I'll never use that for anything. This is a drum machine. It just makes bog noises.

ROSE: Yet, it's this equipment that Diplo used to make the basic tracks for his debut CD.

(Soundbite of music)


Unidentified Woman #1: ...(Unintelligible).


Unidentified Woman #1: This is Diplo.

ROSE: Diplo's real name is Wesley Pentz. By the time the CD came out, he'd already built a reputation on the dance floors of Philadelphia and New York City for mixing mainstream favorites with more risque hip-hop for the South. Pentz says he makes a conscious effort to jump between wildly different styles of music during his deejay sets. He got the idea from the kids he was teaching at an after-school music class in one of the tougher neighborhoods of north Philadelphia.

DIPLO: These were, like, five- to 12-year-old kids and they were, like, obsessed with the Baltimore club music and the dirty South music and all the real street raw music that didn't get a lot of radio air play, didn't get any club air play. I just really felt with these kids, they were, like, giving me a real sense that this is something that's exciting; this is something that I could play.

ROSE: And play with, as he did on his CD "Florida."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible). Ding, dinga, ding, ding, dinga, ding, ding. Who are you? And open the window. (Unintelligible) zing, dinga, ding. Dinga, do, yo, yo, yo. Have you heard the new stash. She's giving sex for cash and gonna make it last. You better know that.

ROSE: It was this track that caught the attention of M.I.A., whose real name is Mia Arulpragasam. The Sri Lankan British rapper called last year and asked Pentz if he would produce a cut for her debut record. She flew from London to Philadelphia. He wound up producing two tracks for the album, and they started dating. Last fall, M.I.A. and Diplo put together an underground mix tape, including some of Pentz's dance floor favorites and his remixes of M.I.A.'s songs.

(Soundbite of "Galang")

M.I.A.: (Singing) Blaze to blaze, galang a lang alanga. Purple haze, galang a lang a langlang. Blaze to blaze, galang a lang alanga. Purple haze, galang a lang a langlang.

ROSE: The mixed tape is called "Piracy Funds Terrorism Volume 1," a tongue-in-cheek play on the recording industry's attitude towards unlicensed music distribution. Pentz says that's misses the point. Mixed tapes are supposed to get people talking.

DIPLO: This idea of mixed tapes and the idea of this kind of underground marketing, you know. This is me and my two artists doing it from the street. We didn't have, like, her manager with a bright idea, her label with a bright idea. This is purely, like, in the hands of the artist, which is where it should be anyway.

ROSE: Pentz gave away copies of the mixed tape for free at a Halloween party in Philadelphia. The music started spreading on the Internet. Before long, a lot of music critics had heard it, and as music critics will, they started writing about it on their blogs and in print. Douglas Wolfe writes for The Village Voice and the online magazine Slate.

Mr. DOUGLAS WOLFE (The Village Voice; Slate): It's totally fresh sounding. I put it on at a Thanksgiving dinner with some friends, and everybody started dancing around to it going, `What is this? This is wonderful.' And this record's made the rounds of people who write about music and music buffs, and pretty much everybody who was Internet savvy and wanted to get a copy could get a copy.

(Soundbite of "Galang")

M.I.A.: (Singing) Blaze to blaze, galang a lang alanga. Purple haze, galang a lang a langlang. Blaze to blaze...

ROSE: One thing Wolfe and other critics have praised about the record is the way it meshes musical styles from all over the world, including London, Baltimore and Brazil. The musical style from the slums of Rio de Janeiro, called Baile Funk, is Wesley Pentz's latest obsession.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Girl: (Singing in foreign language)

DIPLO: When I went down to Brazil, I saw what was going on. There was, like, little children screaming on the mikes. This stuff just is so raw. There's something about it that it's got like a real primal sense to it. I don't know. The rest of Brazil doesn't like this music.

ROSE: Back in Philadelphia, Pentz put some Baile Funk songs into his computer along with one of his favorite hip-hop cuts from Baltimore and used them to make new beats for M.I.A.

DIPLO: I have an opportunity to do things like that: Baltimore club track, British girl rapping on it, play it in California. Just like hip-hop has been for the last 20 years, taking influences everywhere, it's like the perfect music because it's everything, you know.

ROSE: Pentz's knack for finding the perfect mix helped M.I.A. get noticed. It might do the same for him, too.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of "U R A Q T")

M.I.A.: (Singing) U R A Q T. Is your dad a dealer, 'cause you're dope to me. You throw them boys across the country. You bring gold medals, but when you're with me...

DIPLO: (Singing) You big dummy.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep with Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of "U R A Q T")

M.I.A.: (Singing) Right then, it's on. Right then, it's on. Right then, it's on. Right then, it's on. Right then, it's on. Right then, it's on. In a vote for Scrabble, you don't get points for doubles. Menage a trois, la-la la la la la. I'll bill you for your drudles. You done lost your marble. Like a ball I make you dribble. You're the shrapnels in the rubble. I'm a raging bull, a rebel. It's all about the low blow, Brando. The No La, No La Hot girl. The drinking, drinking jumping off the decks, girl. The drinking, drinking jumping off the rocks, girl.

DIPLO: (Singing) You big dummy.

M.I.A.: (Singing) U R A Q T. Is your dad a dealer, 'cause you're dope to me. You throw them... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.