Diplo’s career doesn’t make any sense.
At the turn of the millennium, Diplo (born Thomas Wesley Pentz) was a random college DJ throwing parties in Philadelphia with guys like Bun B and Spank Rock. Pretty soon he was in a famous relationship with M.I.A., producing her classic “Piracy Funds Terrorism” mixtape, as well as timeless underdog anthem “Paper Planes.”
Since then he’s become an international party icon through the pioneering dance music sounds of his label Mad Decent and world-famous Mad Decent Block Party tours, his Jack U (wth Skrillex) and Major Lazer projects, and endless collaborations with artists such as Usher, Madonna, Justin Bieber and Beyonce.
You’d think Diplo would’ve flamed out a long time ago, but it’s hard to think of a DJ that’s been more prolific, voracious and iconic over the course of their career.
While Diplo's fratboy persona and occasional ornery tweets can be obnoxious, you have to give the guy credit for his desire to constantly collaborate with young, interesting, forward-thinking artists from all over the world. Diplo has worked with K-Pop superstars, dancehall icons and whoever he comes across on late-night Bandcamp scours.
Face it, Diplo's responsible for far more good than bad.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to rank the 20 best Diplo songs. The following come from all over his career; his early beatmaking days, his dubstep crush, multiple eras of Major Lazer, all of it. It’s indicative of how many ways Diplo has presented himself since his first record came out all the way back in 2004.
20. Diplo, “Diplo Rhythm” (with Vybz Kartel, Pantera Os Danadinhos, and Sandra Melody)
The first ever Diplo posse cut. He hooks up with Sandra Melody, Pantera Os Danadinhos and Vybz Kartel, who’d later become a mainstay in the Major Lazer days, and let’s them all get loose on a chintzy 8-bit shimmy. This is back in 2004, and in the next decade Diplo would make his name as the most maximal producer in the world, but once upon a time he actually felt kind of punk.
19. Diplo, “Big Lost”
Long before Diplo was the festival troubadour and label-head he is today, he was once a fairly down-to-earth beatmaker best known for his constant collaborations (and romantic relationship) with the inimitable M.I.A. “Big Lost” is one of the many sublime rhythms captured on 2004 debut album ‘Florida,’ and if you only know the man from his Jack U and Major Lazer days, this song is proof you’re missing out on a ton of great stuff.
18. Jack U, “Take U There” (with Kiesza)
Jack U will always be remembered by the once-in-a-lifetime “Where Are U Now,” but the album-long collaboration between Skrillex and Diplo gave us quite a few gems. For instance, the first single from the project, “Take U There,” features one of the most bonkers drops in Dip’s career, as well as an ultra-saccharine hook from rising Albertan singer Kiesza.
17. Major Lazer, “Pon De Floor” (with Vybz Kartel)
Perhaps the nastiest hook Diplo has ever recorded. That hysterical, rubber-band loop was a staple on every dance floor in the world for about six months. It served as the ridiculous centerpiece on Major Lazer’s first album, "Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do," and while it never quite crossed over into the mainstream, like some of his later hits, “Pon De Floor” introduced a whole lot of people to the concept of a “drop.”
16. Major Lazer, “Powerful” (with Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley)
Diplo doesn’t really do romance. He’s far more interested in lust than love (which he leaves to the Calvin Harrises of the world). But, occasionally, he’ll get a little sappy, like on “Powerful,” where Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley embrace over a weepy marching-band anthem. Coming in hot as the fifth song on Major Lazer’s third album "Peace is the Mission," it stands as one of the few Diplo songs you can make out to.
15. Diplo and Alvaro, “6th Gear” (with Kstylis)
Kstylis is some motormouth kid from Kansas City with boundless energy and an unflappable desire to party. Alvaro is a monolithic DJ and producer from the Netherlands. Diplo invited both of them to blow all over “6th Gear,” from his wonderfully titled 2014 LP "Random White Dude Be Everywhere,” and the world was never the same. This might be the loudest thing in the entire Diplo discography, which is really saying something considering he wrote the book on getting hype.
14. Diplo, “Revolution” (with Faustix and Imanos & Kai)
Coming in hot from Diplo’s 2013 EP of the same name, “Revolution” is a titan of the wonky groove that the producer mastered since the turn of the decade. The lyrics point at some sort of vague, world-conquering rhetoric, but don’t get it twisted: this song’s liberation comes from holding plastic cups high in the air. Which, according to the Tao of Diplo, is all you really need.
13. Major Lazer, “Light It Up” (with Nyla and Fuse ODG)
Who knows how Diplo caught wind of Nyla. She has a modest 5,000 Twitter followers, but she sounds like an absolute superstar on “Light it Up," bouncing her Kingston accent right alongside a pillowy trumpet. Mix in Fuse ODG’s spitfire flow and, once again, Major Lazer built a fantastic collaboration that emphasizes the work of unknown artists.
12. Major Lazer, “Bubble Butt” (with Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, Tyga, and Mystic)
Diplo has made a lot of silly music over the years, but you have to imagine “Bubble Butt” takes the cake. The man has enough connections to get Bruno Mars, legitimately one of the biggest stars in the world, to record a “bubble butt, bubble-bubble-bubble butt” hook. When Tyga shows up you know you’ve got an instant braindead classic. There are more substantial songs in the Major Lazer catalog, but nothing more fun.
11. Diplo, “As I Lay Dying”
It may come as a surprise that Diplo, the man who now signs his checks as the loudest DJ in America, once composed a haunted little instrumental named after a Faulkner novel. Who would’ve thought? "Florida"-era Diplo continues to be a vast reservoir of hidden gems,
10. Jack U, “Febreze” (with 2 Chainz)
2 Chainz isn’t a guy that needs a lot of coaching. Give him a fun thing to say, like “my slangatory self-explanatory,” provide a loud, dumb beat, and watch the colors fly. Diplo, Skrillex and 2 Chainz were destined to work together.
9. Diplo, “Set It Off” (with Lazerdisk Party Sex)
You have to love some of the esoteric names that score Diplo feature spots. This stuttering, proto-trap banger allegedly hosts an artist named Lazerdisk Party Sex, who hasn’t been heard from before or since. Regardless, the pitched-up “I WANNA-SET IT OFF” hook at the center might be the best sample Diplo has ever excised, and it serves as a worthy finale to 2012’s underrated "Express Yourself" EP.
8. Diplo and Sleepy Tom, “Be Right There”
Sometime around 2010 Diplo morphed from the upstart, polyrhythmic DJ behind M.I.A.’s zeitgeist into a pretty well-rounded producer. The guy can do every flavor of dance music, and this blown-out synthpop flip of forgotten 1992 bubblegum R&B banger “Don’t Walk Away” is a perfect example. “Be Right There” smashes a perfect sample into a winsome slab of new wave glory, and the results are indelible.
7. Diplo, “Express Yourself” (with Nicky Da B)
“Express Yourself” stands as the first moment Diplo went full dubstep. A full-on, unapologetic wobble with New Orleans bounce icon Nicky Da B filling in the cracks. It’s more of an interesting genre moment, because it predicts his future broship with Skrillex, but it also stands as a pretty good song all on its own.
6. Major Lazer, “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” (with Busy Signal, The Flexican and FS Green)
You have to give Diplo credit for his international bent: he has consistently highlighted artists from all over the world. The best example might be “Watch Out For This (Bumaye),” a showcase for dancehall cannon Busy Signal who crushes the squelched, moombahton rhythm. Big ups to Dip for keeping his ear to the ground.
5. Jack U, “To U” (with AlunaGeorge)
Much like Major Lazer’s “Bumaye,” Jack U’s “To U” is a genre-bending collaboration, but this time it’s with silky London synthpop icons AlunaGeorge. Aluna Francis and George Reid both grew up on the velvet UK Garage that defined their city’s scene in the late-aughts, and Diplo and Skrillex respond with a perfectly futuristic, quicksilver banger to make them feel right at home.
4. Major Lazer, “Keep It Goin’ Louder” (with Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze)
It’s more than just the bizarre music video. “Keep It Goin’ Louder” is an artifact from the first wave of Major Lazer, long before the project stood as the cybernetic festival monster it is today. Diplo shacked up with Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze for the digitized dancehall banger we’ve always needed. The 2009 release date makes it ancient history, but this song is one of the main reasons "Guns Don’t Kill People ...Lazers Do" is a classic.
3. Major Lazer, “Get Free” (with Amber Coffman)
One of the things that has made Major Lazer such a unique presence in the industry is the project’s omnivorous collaborations. The Dirty Projectors are perhaps the last band you’d expect to throw in with an international party DJ, but band member Amber Coffman’s booming hook on “Get Free” made for a bona fide crossover hit, and an iconic single from second album, "Free The Universe." Yeah, usually Diplo is working with guys like Skrillex, Waka Flocka Flame and Riff Raff, but he’s still willing to go out of his comfort zone.
2. Major Lazer, “Lean On” (with MØ and DJ Snake)
Perhaps the first legitimate smash hit in the Diplo discography, and easily the best song to ever come from his Major Lazer moniker, “Lean On” barnstormed top 5 spots on the Australian, Canadian, American and European charts. It’s not hard to see why. The snakey, sparse pulse gels perfectly with MØ’s quip. Far more chill than his usual pomp, but sometimes even Diplo needs to ease the brakes.
1. Jack U, “Where Are U Now” (with Justin Bieber)
The beginning of the Justin Bieber redemption arc and one of the best pop songs of the last five years. Diplo and Skrillex team up on a pained, ephemeral loop and let the Biebs get about as vulnerable as he’s ever been on the hook. “Where Are U Now” climbed to number eight on the Billboard 100, and it goes down in history as the most undeniable moment in Diplo’s career (so far).