A lot has changed for Diplo since his last collection of new material under his own name. After striking gold with M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” in 2008, the Philadelphia-based DJ/producer started to take on a studio schedule to match his berserk touring one, putting him in constant collaboration with a role call of pop, hip-hop and dance artists. His Major Lazer dancehall project garnered plenty of acclaim and notice, and last year he took complete control, parting with frequent collaborator Switch. Amidst all of this, he’s also run his Mad Decent record label, which gives exposure to his interests, friends and, of course, personal work. It’s all paid off big, elevating him to bonafide superstar producer status, something last achieved by Danger Mouse.
One listen to his new EP, Express Yourself, confirms that Diplo is aware of his new rarefied status – this is an ass-shaking victory lap if ever I’ve heard one. The music contained here is in-your-face, maximalist party business, as if it’s his way of shaking off the constraints of working with the Justin Biebers of the world and just going nuts with his own muses. The songs span a number of Diplo’s preferred sub-genres, touching on dancehall, moombahton, dub-step and more. He brings in guest vocalists to round out the tracks, but this is a Diplo EP, and his production is the star throughout.
Things start strong with the New Orleans bounce of the title cut announcing Diplo’s go-for-broke intentions for the EP. On first listen, those not familiar with bounce may find its sonic assault jarring, but after a few spins it becomes hard to shake. Rapper Nicky Da B delivers a fast, choppy vocal that’s well suited to Diplo’s production, all rapid beats, queezy synths and bludgeoning noise.
After that is the first of three tracks featuring female singers, “Barely Standing.” It’s another success, with a dizzying synth attack and made-for-the-club lyrics sung by Sabi. Sabi benefits somewhat from being the first of the female guests, as all three have similar snotty club girl voices that are hard to differentiate between. When “No Problem” follows “Barely Standing,” it takes a moment to realize that there even is a new singer, though My Name is Kay’s performance is a bit more obnoxious than Sabi’s. Thankfully, Diplo and co-producer Flinch make up for the slightly irritating vocals with a loping marimba and scathing bursts of noise.
“Butters’ Theme” comes last of the three female-sung tracks and comes off the worst. It’s partly due to her being the third non-distinct singer and partly due to “Butters’ Theme” being the weakest, most obnoxious song on the EP. Diplo thankfully breaks things up a bit by placing an enjoyable Elephant Man collaboration between “No Problem” and “Butters’ Theme”, but it’s not enough to make the latter feel any fresher or more welcome.
Still, this music, even the comparatively calm closer “Set it Off”, is hardly music for sitting down and analyzing, and in its intended environment such short-comings likely go unnoticed. Not unlike other 2012 collaboration albums from acts like the Flaming Lips and Cornershop, Diplo has fused a number of guests and influences into a cohesive album that is all his own. On Express Yourself he hardly reinvents the wheel, choosing instead to have some well-earned fun.