How Major Lazer Finally Landed the 'Untouchable' Nicki Minaj for 'Run Up': Diplo Tells the Story

Alexei Hay


The track also features PartyNextDoor.

Major Lazer's latest banger arrived last week with the electronic trio teaming up with Nicki Minaj and PartyNextDoor for the club-friendly, danceable tune "Run Up."

While Major Lazer fans are excited about such a star-studded collaboration (and a seriously catchy tune to boot), it may have been ML's Diplo who was the most thrilled to finally have a project with Minaj. Major Lazer has been trying to work with the hitmaking rapper for a couple of years now, Diplo told Beats 1's Zane Lowe, and the timing was finally right this time.

Diplo chatted with Billboard about the new song, sharing his thoughts on the "untouchable" Minaj -- who wrote 16 verses for the song -- and how PartyNextDoor's verse triggered it all. Check out an edited transcript of the story behind the collaboration below.

We’re always working on music, we probably have between 30, 40 songs at any moment, just building ideas. This one, PartyNextDoor had the chorus and we had the song -- a demo of it -- and we decided to try something different with the production. I think once we did this kind of futuristic, afrobeat, dance house kind of production, Nicki Minaj was really interested in that. She’s always someone to jump on new and cool beats and styles, so once we had the production, she was into it. Then after that, it was pretty easy to get everything else done.

It was simple: Five people helped build the idea of the song. Sometimes it takes three or four songwriters -- like "Cold Water" was a vocal and a chorus written together. But with hip-hop, you kind of throw things together -- a verse becomes a chorus or a word becomes a chorus. But the production [with "Run Up"], when that got unique enough, it was ready to send out to Nicki and people like that.

[Nicki] seems like so untouchable to me, like she seems so far away and untouchable. But when you get in reach of her, she’s so down to earth. It’s really cool to finally meet an artist like that who really understands how to perfect a verse. Because I have so many songs now, like four or five a week, and go through them real quick. And she takes her time on the record -- I like that vibe too. Artists like her or Madonna, some of the people I’ve worked with, are perfectionists and I can appreciate that a lot more when some hip-hop artists just run through songs so quickly. It’s cool to take some time to finish a song.

I was happy with the first [verse]. [Laughs] I was definitely like, "Ooh, I’m good," but she was like, "Nah, let me try again, let me try again," and it kept going until the last time when I was like, "Yo, we’re mixing this tomorrow." I was like, "You can’t write any more, I gotta mix this, we gotta release this now. This is it." But the final one’s perfect. She’s so good with her timing and style and adding an extra bar or whatever. She’s the master.

[PartyNextDoor] has been doing stuff with Drake -- his last single, “Not Nice,” was very futuristic, Jamaican, kinda Caribbean. So we thought, why don’t we have him do a record for us? He’s been doing the dancehall sound and we just have a bunch of songs that have been bubbling up, so we decided it was the perfect way to launch it. Major Lazer is always about cutting edge and new artists, and he just seemed like a new artist for a lot of people.

We’re always bouncing around until we find the right people who can work with us, who the labels will let us work with. There’s a lot of politics involved too, so we’re just at the mercy of everybody. We’re still a small group -- a lot of people want to work with us, but sometimes labels don’t, so it’s hard to find the right timing and the right politics that work for us.

I think [with "Run Up"], we’d done pop music with the last record, so it was time to do something like club and very urban, something progressive, something that feels like now. It’s a song for the spring and summer, but it was important that we put it out now because it takes, like, four or five months for people to listen to us. We know that now, so we always put stuff out early.

I want to take time and concentrate on each song one by one. We’ve always been singles guys -- even our last album [2015's Peace Is the Mission] only had nine songs on it. And I don’t think people listen to albums as much as they used to; some people just don’t have the attention span to listen to 16 songs. I think that hurts artists sometimes -- like pop albums having 12 to 20 songs is overkill, you know?

We have an uphill battle -- we’re independent, we don’t have a label behind us, so each song takes a lot of time and money for us to promote. Pop stars put out an album, they work on it for a year, tour for two years and promote it for two years. That’s the cycle, right? We’re DJs that travel around the world, we’re always on cycle and always working at the same time. It’s a different timing than what a regular artist would do -- they write, they promote, they tour. We do all of it at once all year 'round, so we can’t do it the old, classic way.

--As told to Taylor Weatherby