These days, Diplo’s hair is bleached a ghostly shade of white and long enough to pull back into a bun. It’s the subject of consternation among his many female fans online, who have collectively decided it makes him look a little creepy. But he’s enjoying the backlash. “I go to Vegas, and every dude is the exact same guy,” he explains. “Every DJ looks exactly like The Chainsmokers! So freeing up my image is really important to me. That’s what Bowie did. Every fucking four months the guy was like a new human being.”
Walshy (his real name is Leighton Paul Walsh), 34, has a warm, chatty vibe, in contrast to Jillionaire (Christopher Leacock), 39, who is all laid-back reserve. The three DJ on their own around the world and maintain a wide variety of hustles. Jillionaire runs his own label, Feel Up Records, throws a touring festival-style party called Chicken & Beer and owns a Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn, Pearl’s Bake and Shark. Walshy throws a weekly blowout in Miami, Rum and Bass (which he’s planning to take on the road), invests in real estate and is working on an album inspired by a recent tour of Africa.
Diplo and his management team run Mad Decent, the indie label that releases Major Lazer’s music, along with hits by acts like Jack U and Dillon Francis. He also puts on an annual summer traveling festival, the Mad Decent Block Party, produces for A-listers like Beyoncé and Madonna, and is a savvy investor in major tech companies like Snapchat and Tesla. He has two TV series in the works: the Entourage-ish What Would Diplo Do? on Vice, starring James Van Der Beek as the DJ-producer, and a competition show, which NBC has greenlighted, where he and his team will try to help revitalize veteran artists’ careers. And that’s not all: “I’ve also been talking to American Idol on the side to try to help them with the [ABC reboot] with Katy” -- Perry, that is, his buddy and rumored former girlfriend. “I just like the idea of working with them. They’re cool.”
The whole squad is a little bleary today. The previous night, Major Lazer played a private show on a remote state-park beach for Bacardi, with which it has teamed on both a rum and the promotion of its new dancehall single “Front of the Line,” with the soca star Machel Montano and Jamaican hitmaker Konshens. It’s from the act’s new, summery six-song EP, Know No Better, which features everyone from Travis Scott and Quavo to Camila Cabello and Sean Paul, and world-spanning styles from tropical house to reggaetón to main-stage EDM to Afrobeat. “Doing a rum is easy,” says Jillionaire of the opportunity, “but it fits in with the lifestyle. You see people doing, like, a fucking ad for a Cadillac, and it has nothing to do with their vibe.”
To Diplo, the main advantage of the partnership is promotional. As he points out, dancehall is a niche sound outside of Jamaica, and by leveraging Bacardi’s marketing budget, the track might get a chance to compete on streaming services and, once that happens, radio. It’s a characteristically smart deal for the crew, which has operated independently while scoring seven Billboard Hot 100 hits, including “Lean On” (featuring DJ Snake and vocals by the previously unknown Danish singer MØ, which cracked the top five, topped charts around the world and has accrued 2 billion YouTube spins); and the smash Justin Bieber-MØ team-up “Cold Water,” a Hot 100 No. 2 hit that resulted from a favor its co-writer Ed Sheeran owed Diplo. “We did a show with him at Cannes,” explains Diplo. “So when we were like, ‘Oh, Ed, can we do a song later?,’ we got one. We don’t go through 16 channels to get to people.”