An Exhaustive Guide to Diplo’s Collaborative Side Projects

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Even before his 2014 album flexed the title, Diplo was that Random White Dude Be Everywhere.

Born in Mississippi and raised in Florida, he caught his musical fame in Philadelphia and currently resides in Los Angeles. "Resides" is a big technicality though, because the Grammy-winning producer is famous for constant travel, seeking the sounds and stars of tomorrow across all six populated continents while DJing sometimes two or three gigs a night. He's collaborated with reggae icons and African singers, French rappers and K-pop stars, but now, he's doing something entirely new -- crossing over into country.

Taking the moniker Thomas Wesley (which are in fact his real first and middle names), he's released a new song called "So Long" featuring singer-songwriter Cam. The new tune comes just ahead of Diplo's scheduled performance at country music festival Stagecoach, and it features a rather heavy beat over a country-pop composition of muted acoustic guitar and fiddle strings. It may not be the most groundbreaking sound of Diplo's career, but it does signal another chapter in his twisty-turny saga. 

In honor of this strange new frontier, we take a look back at Diplo's other notable collaborative endeavors. From his earliest days making world beats to his award-winning house nostalgia, this is the road map to Diplo side projects. 

M.I.A. and Diplo

Although not an officially-titled collaboration, tracing Diplo's fame inevitably brings you to his breakout work alongside British-Sri Lankan artist M.I.A. The two were romantically and creatively linked throughout their professional early years. When the vocalist's debut album was delayed by her label, Diplo teamed with her on a mixtape titled Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1, pitting her vocal tracks against popular beats from Birdman, Dead Prez and others. The mixtape was never officially released, but was handed out at M.I.A. concerts and praised by critics.

In 2005, her debut album Arular was finally released with a few tracks featuring Diplo production -- also the case with 2007's Kala and 2010's Maya. To this day, many of the pair's most popular tracks remain the tunes they made together.

M.I.A., "Bucky Done Gun"

Arular's third single is a serious fan favorite. It's also an early example of Diplo's incorporation of baile funk and dancehall. "Bucky" is slang for a gun in London's grime scene, and M.I.A. once said the song's lyrics were inspired by some fun musings on how gangsta rap began with the likes of Public Enemy, morphed into 50 Cent and where it might go next. On a production level, the song's stompy, throwback electro beat, vibrant horns and Miami bass party atmosphere foreshadow Diplo's genre-blending calling card.

M.I.A., "Paper Planes"

These were the star-making gun shots heard 'round the world. Diplo and production partner Switch flipped The Clash's 1982 cut "Straight to Hell" into one of the most unavoidable singles of the year, thanks in very large part to its inclusion on the soundtracks of big-hit films Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire. The song remains M.I.A.'s highest charter, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008, and it put Diplo's name in the mouth of many fans, musicians and executives looking for the next wave.

Major Lazer

What started as kind of a novelty act turned into one of Diplo's most successful musical ventures. After collaborating with M.I.A., Switch and Diplo decided to do their own thing. Inspired by Jamaican music, Major Lazer's 2009 debut Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do mixed reggae, dancehall, bloghouse and electro with early dubstep and moombahton vibes. It's wild, cartoonish, weird and fantastically fun. The album was recorded in Jamaica at Tuff Gong Studios and featured vocals from Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Ms. Thing, Nina Sky, Mr. Vegas and more. Major Lazer was represented by an animated military man who lost his arm in battle and thereby replaced that arm with a lazer canon. The live show usually consisted of Diplo as DJ, fronted by dagger dancer Skerrit Bwoy and his host of female partners.

In 2011, Switch left Major Lazer over "creative differences," and in 2012, Skerrit Bwoy quit the music scene citing a religious awakening. Diplo replaced the British beat maker with current members Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. The group's two follow-up albums, Free the Universe and Peace is the Mission, are decidedly more commercial in song structure and feature more pop-facing collaborations, which ultimately yielded more radio hits. Major Lazer also played a heavy role in Snoop Dogg's Snoop Lion iteration, with executive production credits on 2013's Reincarnated LP.

Major Lazer feat. Vybz Kartel, "Pon De Floor"

Co-produced by Afrojack, "Pon De Floor" is a bonafide classic. Its iconic vocal-chop hook was everywhere in 2009, the song's popularity further fueled by an over-the-top music video directed by Eric Wareheim. The visual clip features Skerrit Bwoy and the daggering dance moves that were infamously "banned" in their native Kingston. "Pon De Floor" was such a monster banger, Beyoncé nabbed the beat for her hit "Run The World (Girls)." This is the absolute need-to-know jam of version 1 Major Lazer. Long let its absurdity reign.

Major Lazer & DJ Snake - "Lean On" Feat. MØ

Though "Cold Water" with Justin Bieber technically charted higher, 2015's "Lean On" with DJ Snake and MØ is undoubtedly everyone involved's biggest global hit. The YouTube video has been viewed more than 2.5 billion times. It's the seventh most streamed song on Spotify of all time, though in 2015, it topped the list. It began with an instrumental in Trinidad, then, Dutch singer MØ wrote some lyrics. Diplo felt the hook was strong, but asked DJ Snake to add some special sauce with a post chorus. After Rihanna and Nicki Minaj turned down the vocal part, MØ took their place, and Diplo calls that a "blessing in disguise."

Jack Ü

In 2013, Diplo's star status had been confirmed. His production credits included hits with Chris Brown, Wale, Usher and more, and his omnipresence as a headliner in the dance music scene made him a face for the genre in the mainstream. Skrillex had already won six Grammys, so their surprise collaboration, casually announced as part of Diplo's Mad Decent Block Party tour that year, was automatically big news. When Skrillex headlined Ultra Music Festival Miami in 2014, Diplo joined him for a special Jack Ü performance that included appearances by CL, Diddy, Kai, Kiesza and Justin Bieber. The super-duo released one album in 2015 but has not yet followed it up. Diplo cites Skrillex's major label ties with the hold up.

Jack Ü feat. Kiesza, "Take Ü There"

Jack Ü announced itself as a force to be reckoned with this debut single. The group's moniker is a reference to its high-energy approach, and the colorful trap tinge of this festival-sized banger mixed with Kiesza's powerhouse vocals earns the title. The music video features footage of Jack Ü's wild live sets overlaid with cartoonish animation, a technique that mirrors the song's playful dynamics. The song received high-profile remixes from Tchami, Zeds Dead, Netsky and more, but it's the Diplo and Skrillex tag-team original that still gets the most plays. 

Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber - "Where Are Ü Now" 

From the duo's LP Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü, this single won Diplo his first official Grammy for best dance recording in 2016. While "Take U There" is all about big beats and attitude, "Where Are Ü Now" showcases Skrillex and Diplo's ability to write and record an emotionally-compelling earworm. The signature "dolphin" flutes are actually Bieber's voice filtered and pitched beyond recognition. The video used fans' drawings over film stills to create the chaotic, colorful imagery that the duo a couple MTV Awards. Speaking at the Revolt Music Conference in 2015, Bieber's manager Scooter Braun credited Bieber's Jack Ü collaboration with helping push the second phase of the singers' career, adding legitimacy to his musical growth and personal maturity.

LSD

Of all Diplo's collaborations, he's gushed more about his admiration for Sia and Labrinth than any other. The acronymous super-trio came together as a happy accident. The British singer-songwriter and producer was already working on a tune with the mysterious star, and it was on the insistence of their publisher that Diplo got involved. "Those two artists, together, are two of the craziest, most creative people I ever met in my life," Diplo told Complex. "I think they have the most severe attention deficit disorder together, their ideas are so crazy, so I helped put their ideas together, taking the job of their producer." Earlier this month, the group dropped its debut album, a 10-track collection of psych-pop experiments called Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Present... LSD.

LSD, "Thunderclouds"

A group like this was almost destined to hit, and "Thunderclouds" is LSD's brightest star to date. With more than 331 million views on YouTube and more than 230 million streams on Spotify, the silver-lined, tropical-tinged, doo-wop ballad landed at No. 67 on the Hot 100. Samsung used it in its campaign for the Galaxy Note 9, which may have helped. 

Silk City 

Almost as if to prove himself a production super hero, Diplo debuted not one but two side projects in 2018. A month after LSD's debut single "Genius" hit fans' ears, he followed it with the classic house nostalgia of Silk City, his production and DJ duo with fellow super-producer Mark Ronson. The two have been friends (and friendly competitors) since their shared early days in Philadelphia, and the group takes its name from a diner they used to frequent. The project is dedicated to all the major hubs of dance music around the world, taking inspiration from New York City and Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles and everywhere between. The group debuted with "Only Can Get Better" feat. Daniel Merriweather in June of 2018, and has since released four songs featuring Dua Lipa, Desiigner and GoldLink, and Maipei. 

Silk City feat. Dua Lipa, "Electricity"

This 2018 end-of-summer hit won Diplo his second Grammy award for best dance recording at the 2019 ceremony. Lipa's dark mezzo is alluring over Silk City's delicious piano groove. It's another one of those jams that captures the moment, capitalizing on the dance scene's house fever and '90s nostalgia, but bringing a new pop polish to familiar tropes. The song landed at No. 62 on the Hot 100 and No. 5 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, boasting more than 88 million views on its steamy music video and more than 248 million streams on Spotify.