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Music

Diplo dishes on Major Lazer's new sound: 'It's time for us to do something different'

Updated

EDM trio Major Lazer broke out in a big way in 2015 with “Lean On,” their electronic dancehall collaboration with Danish popstar MØ and DJ Snake, and last year’s Justin Bieber-featuring “Cold Water” solidified them as hitmakers. Now, the group, comprised of Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire, have kicked off 2017 with “Run Up,” which features rappers Nicki Minaj and PARTYNEXTDOOR.

But it’s not just the guest list that makes the tune a headline grabber. The song also marks a decided shift in sound: modern African treatments replace the Jamaican rhythms they’re known for. EW caught up with super-producer and Mad Decent labelhead Diplo to talk about working with Minaj, moving away from dancehall, and performing in Cuba.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said that Major Lazer has cut 30 new songs. Why was “Run Up” the right one to launch at the beginning 2017?
Diplo: Our songs always grow organically. Sometimes it takes six or seven months to become a big record. So this one felt like a summer song that we wanted to get it out in January. [Laughs]

We’ve gotten used to Major Lazer putting out dancehall-influence songs, but “Run Up” actually has a lot more to do with Afrobeat. Is that music something that’s inspiring you right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of African and Afrobeat music and I work with a lot of writers from there, like Wizkid. We’re trying new styles. We did a dancehall sound on every album and pushed [that genre] forward a little bit and then in the last year, everybody’s done dancehall. It’s time for us to do something different.

What about that music connects for you?
African writers have such a different style from a typical R&B or urban writer. They’re a little more positive and they have more melodies going on, so I just like the vibe of a lot of those records.

How did you link up with Nicki Minaj?
She texted me a couple months before so I was like, “Okay, I have her number now. I have a direct line to her.” When we had the song done, we sent it to her manager and he was like, “Nah, she won’t like it.” And I just went and sent it to her one night and she was like, “I love this.” It took a while for me to edit the song for her but then she cut it a bunch of times and gave us so much love, did the video with us. I’m happy.

Major Lazer released a record, Peace Is the Mission, in 2015, but it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in putting out another full-length. 
Yeah, we have enough songs [for an album] but I don’t think people digest our music like that. The last record went gold but it took a year and a half to do that. It was crazy. [Laughs] It’s the singles that keep us rising and get more people coming out to our parties. But if we put out four songs that go Top 5, then I’ll put the album out.

Who are some of the other vocalists you’re working with?
The Weeknd, Travis Scott. We did another song with MØ. There are so many, like Camilla Cabello, Ariana Grande… we don’t know if they’re going to be for us or for them or where they might land, though.

You just premiered Give Me Future, the feature-length documentary about Major Lazer’s free concert in Havana, Cuba in 2016, at last month’s Sundance Film Festival. How was that?
I’m actually really proud of the film. And we had two sold-out shows and have other festivals booked, like SXSW, and I’m really excited for people to see it. People were clapping, crying-laughing.

What was your lasting impression of Cuba?
How normal it was. Ultimately, people have access to everything. Everything reaches them. And these kids have wanted culture like [ours] for five or six years and all of the sudden, they had it. Half a million people were at that show.

You’ve also performed in Islamabad, Pakistan and Caracas, Venezuela which seems like it relates to the Major Lazer mantra of wanting to “make the world smaller by making the party bigger.”
We don’t rap, we’re not pop singers. We don’t do anything that’s really on the radio. So instead, we make sure we do things that will connect and get people to dance.