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Diplo's helping lay the groundwork for the new international underground

Hip-hop evangelist, entrepreneurial philanthropist, talented producer and DJ extraordinaire Diplo (aka Wesley Pentz) came to international prominence through his work with M.I.A. As a musical force for good in his own right, Diplo is helping to lay the groundwork for a new international underground movement. We caught up with him recently and asked about his musical roots and upcoming tour.

Westword: What is it about mash-ups that inspired you to incorporate that element into some of your own music?

Diplo: I don't really play mash-ups so much anymore as when we first started doing the party Hollertronix. Back then, we didn't know what it was; we were just mixing weird stuff together, and it became kind of a catchphrase, and you can capitalize on it now. But these days, I'm only playing mash-up in the sense that the songs that I play sample little bits of weird things. I would consider mash-ups an art form that's not dead, but we're past the irony of it. For me, hip-hop was an art form that was able to take little pieces of things... You have someone like 50 Cent, who will sample a weird rock record, or even when I sampled "Paper Planes" — that was bigger than just mash-up. You could consider it the same thing, like rapping over a Clash song, but it's not for the sake of it being ridiculous; it's part of the art form I grew up trying to be a part of and learn my craft doing hip-hop. It's just part of the hip-hop culture that you sample things and take little pieces.

Were you actually a teacher in Philadelphia?

Yeah, I did that until about three years ago. I just learned that those kids were getting their music straight from the Internet and playing stuff off these weird websites — a lot of homemade local music. I think developing the local scene in Philly is what really defined our movement. We weren't trying to break the mainstream songs to kids; we were just doing homegrown stuff. That's what the kids inspired me to do, because they didn't care that their older brothers were into commercial radio; they just played what they wanted, what made them dance, and all this new kind of eclectic sound that was happening instead of the Baltimore club stuff.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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