“People love cinnamon… Anytime anyone says, ‘Oh This is so good. What’s in it?’ The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon,” Jerry Seinfeld said to Elaine when she suggested that Cinnamon was inferior to chocolate.
Thomas Wesley Pentz, aka Diplo, is pop music’s cinnamon. Producer Max Martin is arguably the chocolate, the go-to flavor. When a pop song subverts mainstream production, the answer invariably comes back to Diplo.
He’s the architect behind such hits as Beyonce’s “Hold Up” and “Run The World (Girls);” M.I.A’s “Paper Planes,” and his own group, Major Lazer’s “Lean On.” These smashes did not take the beaten path and often predicated the pop trends to come.
Pentz’s solo work as a producer and global tastemaker has always been on the precipice of the direction of pop and electronic music’s future. By traveling the globe and incorporating the sounds of its every corner, Pentz has encouraged music’s cultural inclusivity via the internet.
Last week, Diplo dropped his EP, California, the spiritual sequel his only solo album, 2004’s Florida. (Diplo attend college, taught preschool and founded Mad Decent in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love or the Keystone State deserves at least a song.)
As a solo artist, Diplo has been known as a promoter of electronic dance music in the formats of house (“Be Right There”), New Orleans bounce (“Express Yourself”) and trap (“Doctor Pepper”). On California, he has decidedly played to his productions strengths by working with less caffeine and sugar.
With a variety of collaborators, the producer uses California to create six separate pop watercolors.
On “Worry No More,” pitched up vocals, sunken guitars and bright keys let Lil Yachty and Santigold aspire to a life of ease.
Desiigner is more “futuristic” than ever on “Suicidal” as his vocals about excess pushing him to the edge interweaves into the snares and tones. D.R.A.M pushes his vocals to the extreme on “Look Back,” which would make more sense as an XX song than a Diplo one.
Two up-and comers from the Soundcloud rap movement appear to mixed results. Trippie Redd gargles and growls over a simple piano and drum beat on “Wish.” Unfortunately, Diplo tries to make Lil Xan a thing on “Color Blind,” to no avail.
“Get It Right” is an aspirational high-pitched cut featuring MØ from the Major Lazer Havana concert film, “Give Me Future” soundtrack. DC rapper Goldlink shows up on California’s remix who delivers a decent verse, but slows the pace of the original.
California shows Diplo’s worth as an artist and producer over that of an EDM DJ.It was impressive to hear him avoid the drop and create more complexly emotive beats on this EP. He can work with a wider variety of sound than any superproducer and find the right tune for any artist’s talents. If his track doesn’t pop, than it’s more than likely the fault of the performer than the producer.
Score: 7 out of 10.
Best Track: “Get It Right” (Remix) [featuring MØ and Goldlink]