Diplo’s great skill as a producer is not just being a creator in his own right but acting as a gifted conduit for others, possessing the vision to channel their flair into original and exciting shapes. Even without Diplo, MIA would have been a wild and charismatic talent but it wasn’t until the pair hooked up on the ‘Piracy Funds Terrorism’ mixtape that she found a sonic backdrop that did justice to her unique vision. Beyonce was in danger of drifting into middle of the road balladry until Diplo gifted her ‘Girls (Run the World’) to reassert her sassy feminist position as the modern Queen of Pop. And with his Mad Decent remix series the Philadephia-born producer reimagined records as diverse as Deerhunter and Marlena Shaw to produce rich, ethereal sounds a million miles from their original incarnations.
With the departure of Switch from Major Lazer, their shared dancehall collaboration, at the end of last year, Diplo has now returned to producing material under his own name and ‘Express Yourself’ is his most brazenly commercial material for some time. The Baile funk influence is less prominent on ‘Express Yourself’, a frenetic dancehall workout of cranked beats and bubbling synth bleeps and bursts. ‘Barely Standing’ featuring Canadian dubstep star Datsik and vocalist Sabi, has a catchy vocal hook that almost redeems the brostep/moombahton hybrid backing track that sounds like an angry cat being fed into a printer. As a pure club track it’s perfectly serviceable and Diplo’s production is typically tight but a talent like his could do much more. Too often the standard of his output seems to depend upon the quality of the artists he chooses to work with. The man can polish a diamond in the rough until it sparkles but he can’t turn lead into gold and the guests on ‘Express Yourself’ just aren’t of the calibre of Vybz Cartel or Buraka Som Sistema.
‘No Problem’ features Canadian singer Kay as his surrogate MIA and for about half a verse her brash claims to play ‘like a motherfucking champion’ offer a nice detour from the more typical pop vocals on the EP before Dubstep artist Flinch’s complex chords set up a blurring dubby drop which Diplo demolishes with a wall of synthesizer. ‘Move Around’ is another hookup with controversial Jamaican singer/MC Elephant Man to follow up their excellent reinterpretation of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ but this is heavier and places less emphasis on the vocals in amongst a cavalcade of plane crash drops and cymbal crashes that are less carnival and more sweaty rock club. Disappointingly ‘Butters Theme’ is not a fanfare for everyone’s favourite naïve and nerdy South Park character. Instead its forgettable, faintly progressive moombahton featuring Billy the Gent and Long Jawns neither of whom manage to successfully stamp their personality onto the track.
Diplo is clearly talented at turning his hand to a wide range of genres but despite the pin-sharp production too much of this EP feels like a selection of learning exercises. The title track aside, this EP isn’t his finest moment.