When I was 18 and started putting on concerts at my college, the first one we booked was Diplo. The school was a few miles outside Philadelphia, where he had made a name for himself as one half of the DJ duo Hollertronix. At the time, his groundbreaking mixtape with M.I.A., Piracy Funds Terrorism, was just a few months old. I was obsessed with the internet-fueled idea that there were no longer any boundaries in music—Baltimore club remixes of new wave, Bone Crusher into baile funk. I thought mashups were meaningful, and he was basically my hero. I remember walking up to him, in our makeshift backstage behind the school cafeteria, and telling him, “I just wanted to say thanks.”
When I called Diplo for this interview, I recounted that story with requisite embarrassment, and the 36-year-old DJ and producer born Thomas Wesley Pentz laughed and said, “Not a lot of people thank me anymore.” While his love for global party music—and deftness at repurposing it for his own gain—made him one of the past decade of pop music’s most prescient figures, it also made him one of the most reviled: a white guy on a world safari. Diplo has often been his own worst enemy, whether he’s mouthing off about Taylor Swift or missing a meeting with Beyoncé because he’s locked up after a bar fight. But in all of this, he’s also proven unsinkable.