Diplo has always been somewhat of an enigma. Ever since coming up as a producer for M.I.A with former Major Lazer partner Switch, he’s built up an incredibly diverse catalogue of music. From dancehall to dubstep, to festival house to trap, to reggae to pop, he’s done a little bit of everything. And worked with just about everyone (besides Rihanna, famously). I can’t disagree that it’s always an interesting take on whatever genre he’s appropriating, Even if I don’t particularly enjoy the genre, I can appreciate his spin them. As a result, I was very excited to see his new California EP announced (released on Diplo’s own label Mad Decent), stacked with features from the world of hip hop.
The EP starts strong, with “Worry No More”, a peak “Summer Pepsi Commercial” banger featuring Lil Yachty, Santigold, and some incredibly punchy percussion. Yachty’s vocal performance is impressive, certainly more so than anything I heard on Teenage Emotions, and Santigold’s verses are exactly as good as you’d expect from someone of her quality. It must be said, however, that Yachty’s lyrics are, for lack of better commentary, poor. They’re very basic, and while I do enjoy this song, better lyrics prevent it from being a song I could genuinely see most people over the age of 14 enjoying as anything other than a guilty pleasure.
The next song, “Suicidal”, featuring Desiigner, is essentially the same song but a little slower and a little sadder, however still enjoyable. I take a lot of heat for being a staunch defender of Desiigner, but his performance is solid, if uninteresting, here. There isn’t much else to do with this than listen, enjoy, give a “thumbs up” and move onto the next one.
It’s followed by a neo-blues cut with DRAM called “Look Back”. Light guitars ride over straightforward yet punchy percussion while DRAM shows off his considerable pipes. It sounds like what you would expect if you asked an EDM producer—like Diplo—to mix together Massive Attack’s 2009 hit “Teardrops” with Alex Clare’s 2011 single “Too Close”. While it’s not my style, it’s an incredibly impressive cut and one of the better songs on the EP. I could see it climbing the charts (and hopefully giving DRAM’s career the revival it deserves).
Arguably the best song on the EP is “Wish” with Trippie Redd. The instrumentation is lush, with soothing keys, horns and vocal chops driving the song along with Redd’s vocals. The intro, in my view, demands some soft samba style drums, rather than the heavy boom-pop drums that we have recycled from the last track. I do enjoy this song and rhythmically and melodically, Redd is on point, however at times the timbre of his voice is incredibly grating and unpleasant. In my opinion, he’s at his best when he’s going a little softer, not letting his emotions take complete control over his performance, but he certainly doesn’t show that restraint here. I’d also link to point out that this is the second time Trippie has distastefully rhymed “blow my brain” with “Kurt Cobain,” but that’s neither here nor there. This remains an enjoyable song, and probably the one I’d listen to most out of the EP.
“Color Blind” with Lil Xan actually sucks. The production is powerful, and calls back to that electronic style that Flume brought when his solo career started to pop off in 2012, and I genuinely enjoy this aspect of it. But Lil Xan’s vocal performance is genuinely terrible. I like and respect Lil Xan as a person, but on this song, he sounds like an exhausted 12 year old trying to sing a Frank Ocean song on here. That’s what is most disappointing about this; this song nearly demands a Frank Ocean feature. Even though Xan’s lyrics aren’t as good as what Ocean could write, they do sound like something he would write, in a weird way. So to know that Diplo has worked with Ocean before and could have easily tossed him a cheque, it’s incredibly frustrating that he settled on Xan. It’s also annoying that Diplo repeated the same exact same drop three times in a row on here. This one isn’t worth listening for a second time.
The final cut is “Get It Right” featuring MØ, recycled from the soundtrack for Major Lazer’s Give Me Future documentary about the concert they did in Cuba. However, this time, it has an impressive verse from Big Sean and an underwhelming verse from Goldlink. Jokes aside, it’s a decent enough verse from Goldlink even though he does weirdly sound a little like Big Sean on this, (who, I must add, I am a huge fan of) but it’s clear he’s not really trying too hard. It begs the question, why did this happen? I didn’t grow up in the USA so I might be ignorant as to who the superstars are over here, but Goldlink doesn’t strike me as someone who has the star power to attract his own fans to a song outside his usual genre, not even as much as Lil Xan or Trippie Redd. It seems like there’s absolutely no overlap between the type of people who like Diplo and the type of people who like Goldlink, so I can’t really see how this collaboration made any sense and nor can I see it being any more of a hit than the original was. However, Goldlink confusion aside, this is a decent enough song. While it’s a super cliché “future bass” cut, it has a little more restraint in its use of LFO-affected super saws and I could definitely enjoy it a fair bit when I’m in the mood.
Holistically, I feel as though California is oversaturated in sound, that is, there seems to be a shit load of compression on everything from the drums to the vocals, something that is incredibly prevalent in Pop/EDM/Hip Hop crossovers. And it doesn’t really offer anything new or interesting to the world of pop music. It simply seems to ride on trends that have been around for years, and some trends that Diplo himself has had a part in creating. It also certainly won’t be getting a lot of listens from the Hip Hop community he seemed to be angling towards with the features list.
Despite the fact that I’ve been incredibly harsh on this EP overall, and have been able to pick out numerous issues with the individual cuts, I still consider it a solid project, and on the better side of the pop music that we’ve seen and will see come out this year. While it isn’t fresh in a macro sense, its undoubtedly not stale or repetitive. Each of the songs offer something different to the others on the EP, even if “Worry No More” and “Suicidal” have the same ethos, and “Wish” recycles the drum sounds from “Look Back”. And, as a result of its resting on existing trends, the EP invokes a little nostalgia for a lot of the pop music we’ve seen come and go throughout the years — a great deal of which was influenced or produced by Diplo). While I see numerous problems with these songs, I still have to admit that I kind of like them, if guiltily, and I would be incredibly shocked if the general public didn’t like them.