★★★★☆

DIPLO

On “California,” world-renowned DJ, producer and pop mastermind Diplo delivers a set of summery instrumentals and A-list features for an EP that might become the soundtrack of the summer for 2018.

While Diplo has not released any other albums, mixtapes or EPs as a solo artist since 2013, he has remained prolific, collaborating with Skrillex under the group name Jack Ü and Caribbean dancehall DJs Jillionaire and Walshy under the group name Major Lazer. Diplo’s sound has ebbed and flowed depending on who is standing beside him behind the DJ booth, but he has stayed true to his roots of electronic dance music (EDM) influenced by dancehall music.

The opening track, “Worry No More,” showcases the charisma of past collaborators Lil Yachty and Santigold. The upbeat guitar and drum machine allow for Yachty’s signature positivity to come through with sincerity and earnestness, while Santigold rounds out the sound with verses celebrating the freedom of financial independence. The two go back and forth, as the beat swells to a refreshing drop.

Across the project, Diplo builds a sound around the lead vocalist, while also pushing the artists to step out of their comfort zones. “Suicidal” features Desiigner’s auto-tuned and almost indecipherable rhymes, but his sound is so well-incorporated and layered into the instrumental that the rapper acts as another instrument all together.  The melody is catchy despite the lyrics being essentially meaningless­­ — but the song is meant to simply make listener’s heads nod, not to inform.

“Look Back” featuring DRAM, and “Wish,” featuring Trippie Redd, bring more to the table lyrically. “Look Back” is filled with emotional lyrics within DRAM’s soaring vocals.  The song is a bit of a risk for Diplo, as he drops the classic pop formula for the structure of an energized rock ballad.  Nonetheless, DRAM delivers on the track, and the risk pays off.

“Wish” lacks the energy of the previous track, but delivers the same kind of raw emotion from Trippie Redd. The breezy beat is a new sound for Redd, as he pushes his voice to its limits on the chorus. He gets his melancholy mindset across succinctly on the hook, as he sings, “Ooh, baby, what you wishin’ for?/ Maybe you should wish it more/ Maybe the world is yours/ Maybe when it rains it pours/ I don’t know how to wish anymore.”  Time and time again Trippie Redd proves himself as one of the most versatile young artists to emerge from the SoundCloud generation, and this track is no exception.

The project hits its only low on “Color Blind,” featuring Lil Xan. The lyrics and delivery are uninspired, and despite his richly textured instrumental, Diplo can’t make up for Lil Xan’s shortcomings.

The concluding track is the classic Diplo song on the project. “Get It Right [Remix]” balances the airy voice of Danish singer MØ with the smooth flow of Washington, D.C.’s own GoldLink.  Diplo’s presence is felt strongly on this song, as he distorts MØ’s vocals for a post-chorus beat drop.  The only thing missing is the sound of the music festival audience in the background.  One can almost feel the energy that this song will bring to a crowd.

Diplo goes for quality over quantity on “California,” as each song is a distillation of his capabilities as an artist.  Influences from his time in Major Lazer and Jack Ü are apparent, as is the competitive pressure from fellow DJ Calvin Harris, who has been tactfully moving the EDM scene away from the chaos of the early 2010s toward a more radio-friendly sound. On “California,” Diplo stays true to his roots, while taking risks sonically and embracing a new generation of voices, furthering Diplo’s tenure as the man pushing the sounds of the Top 40 to new and exciting places.

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