It’s a familiar ritual to anyone who’s recently gotten deep into a veteran artist’s catalog: at some point, a new convert’s going to dig back far enough to find something that confuses the hell out of them. By the end of 2004, Diplo was already established as one of the brains behind electro-crunk hybridizers Hollertronix, and his name was attached to under-the-wire ’04 best-of lists with the similar-minded M.I.A. mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1. And those are roots that even his most recent work, and that of the Mad Decent imprint, can be traced to in more or less a straight line.
But the debut solo album he released in the midst of all those identity-building works tends to throw people off. For the unfamiliar: Florida is a trip-hop record. Crucially, it’s a trip-hop record from 2004, released two years after obvious comparison points DJ Shadow and RJD2 had released albums (The Private Press and Deadringer) that were tearing that genre’s remnants to pieces. So where’d this morose, rarely danceable, sometimes weirdly beautiful record come from, and why does so little Diplo’s done since sound anything like it?
The reissue titled F10RIDA takes a shot at giving some additional background to Diplo’s come-up during the making of this record, a massive undertaking that includes a special BitTorrent partnership and a multimedia-minded take on archival materials. (Meaning mostly photos, email correspondence transcripts, remixes, unreleased material, and the component “stems” of the track “Into the Sun”.) Alongside the promotional-kit feel to all this is the nearly 10-minute commentary Diplo contributed to Big Dada‘s SoundCloud, where he lays out his mind state at the time the record came together: rooted in an upbringing in both South and Central Florida, making self-taught loops on a cheap stolen sampler, taking inspirational cues from Shadow and DJ Premier and J-Swift, and trying to conjure up ethereal, spooky weirdness with limited means. What he came out with was inspired by “the truest thing I know”—where he lived, and what he took from those environs.
Diplo’s Florida is a place to escape before it swallows you: the sun goes down even in the Sunshine State; it’s a place of late-night post-job bus rides and weed-and-headphones rumination sessions. The album has the feel of a Southern Gothic elegy for an early life since abandoned, which makes the uncharacteristic nature of the record a bit more compelling. Bummer Diplo isn’t a facet we see or hear much of, and even when the album is derivative and simple, if offers some insight into where his head was when he started.
But this is the work of someone who’s not quite there yet, especially because his “there” isn’t even mapped out. Wesley Pentz has been everything from savvy adapter to clumsy appropriator, but in the process he found a route into a distinct persona. Florida, meanwhile, is little more than the sum of influences. Given the Diplo we know now, it seems (proto)typical that even a primordial release of his would boast a Vybz Kartel appearance; the Nintendo-cartridge banger “Diplo Rhythm” makes his Major Lazer moves seem like a foregone conclusion in retrospect. It’s a bit more surprising that this record would also have a guest spot by Freestyle Fellowship‘s P.E.A.C.E., right in the middle of an era where left coast indie rap was maybe the last thing your average Hollertronix party attendee would claim allegiance to. But the fact that it’s a rubber band double-time over the Timbaland-tabla pastiche “Indian Thick Jawns” at least makes it a stealth classic in both artists’ catalogs, one that plays to both their familiar strengths.
It’s the atypical moodier stuff that’s more mixed. Sometimes it’s just a loop that sounds interesting until it doesn’t. There’s some ambition in the longer cuts, an urge to fit in all sorts of ideas and sources in tracks like the snare-riddled, soul-jazz gloom of “Way More” and the swampy, bleary-eyed nine-minute break parade “Works”, which pulls strength from restlessness. It all comes together brilliantly in “Summer’s Gonna Hurt You”, a keyboard-driven Brit-prog lament that he rewires with intricate boom-clap drums. It’s like he heard the thunderstorm breaks on Shadow’s “Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain” and pledged to make a version informed by UGK.
There’s more of that on the bonus material, the best of which comes from 2003’s Epistemology Suite EP, triangulating early Funkadelic, sound collage, and Mannie Fresh snare rolls. Other material’s a bit shorter on weirdness and personality. The remixes go even further in tracking a big muddy footprint all over the context of this record—I know things have changed for Diplo, and as goes Diplo so goes the pop world and all that, but hearing Metronomy rework “Diplo Rhythm” progenitor “Newsflash” into galumphing synth-horn overload or Derek Allen slather wubwub seizures all over “Summer’s Gonna Hurt You” doesn’t say much for progress. Diplo’s music hasn’t regressed over the last 10 years, and neither have his sensibilities. But sometimes it’s best to let the weirdness stand on its own, make a special place for it, and wonder where else it could’ve been taken.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yo6uuc