The most valuable backpack in Los Angeles is a capacious, sturdy-looking black number loaded with a pair of sticker-emblazoned MacBook Pro laptops, a set of headphones and a mobile Internet hotspot. It belongs to the 35-year-old DJ-producer Wesley Pentz, better-known as Diplo, and it’s with him wherever he goes. The money is in the matched pair of computers. He uses one when he DJs -- playing hundreds of gigs a year, including a weekly residency in Las Vegas. (Billboard estimates he makes $100,000 to $250,000 a pop.) The other is dedicated to music production and contains in-progress tracks for an entire Grammy ceremony’s worth of A-list artists who are expected to release music this fall, from Madonna and Usher to Skrillex and Chris Brown. (Diplo’s premium rate to create a single beat ranges from $40,000 to $50,000, industry sources say, but he’ll often charge less for artists who agree to be featured on his albums.)
Right now, the bag is on the floor of a black Escalade that’s rolling through the Hollywood Hills, ferrying Diplo to the Burbank, Calif., headquarters of his record label Mad Decent, an indie that partners with various majors for distribution. He’s expensively dressed down in a soft-looking gray Rodarte T-shirt (it reads "Radarte"), black jeans and Palladium desert boots. He has close-cropped blond hair and a toned physique that’s the result of lots of yoga and gym-class-style exercises -- a routine he recently passed along to his DJ buddies Skrillex and Steve Aoki. Despite his sleepy, hooded eyes, his vibe is amped and chatty. Snaking down the inside of his right forearm is one of his nine tattoos, a simple line drawing of a Brontosaurus-ish dinosaur (it’s a Diplodocus, a childhood favorite and the source of his DJ name) that he got a decade ago as a source of motivation: "It was like, if I ever have to quit making music and get a real job, I’ll have to look at this every day and know I failed."