Diplo
Florida

By Masta G

 
With Ty just nominated for the Mercury Prize and Infinite Livez attracting widespread and deserved critical acclaim, it seems that Big Dada can do no wrong at the moment. Their latest outing, released at the end of August, is Diplo's LP, named after the Sunshine State where he lives and works. The switch of focus from the UK to the US seems surprising from a label which is indelibly associated with reggae tinged South London hip hop, but the Miami based DJ and producer is more than comfortable with the bouncement sound peddled so successfully by Ty, Roots Manuva and others.

Diplo made his name through DJ sets at his Hollertronix parties in Miami and the wilful eclecticism which has seen him feted as a turntablist is in evidence in his debut album. But what's striking about this LP is that it largely ignores the demands of the dancefloor in favour of a more laid-back, contemplative style. This is the Florida of murky, alligator infested swamps and gothic abandoned mansions rotting in the heat – a place where the imagination wanders and the vegetation runs wild. A wash of chirping cicadas over the opening track sets the mood and prompts a melodic instrumental hip hop excursion. Like his compatriot RJD2, he blends his tightly produced beats with a variety of different sounds, ranging from the urgent strings which complement the heavy drum lick on Big Lost to the mellow brass and piano of Sarah (which recalls mid 90s DJ Krush) to the deep bass of Summer's Gonna Hurt You.

Where Diplo distinguishes himself from his contemporaries is in the heavy, crunching quality of his beats, which sound fresh and original, avoiding the derivative, funk-based breaks heard so often in the frequently navel gazing genre of indie/instrumental hip hop. The driving, jiggy feel of the dancehall inflected Diplo Rhythm (a new version of the Newsflash riddim mentioned earlier) suggests a talent for dancefloor friendly production which has not been fully exploited here. The choice of guests on the album also distinguishes it from the work of less adventurous artists – JA's finest, Vybz Kartel, drops a really tight verse on the Diplo Rhythm and contributions from Sandra Melody and Brazilian crew Pantera Os Danadinhos make it one of the standout tracks. One time Tricky collaborator Martina Topley Bird lends her ethereal tones to Into The Sun, her voice, as on Tricky's classic Maxinquaye, cutting a clear swathe through the stuttering confusion of the beats. Rapper P.E.A.C.E. from legendary hip hop collective the Freestyle Fellowship makes a telling contribution to the understated, twisted funk of Indian Thick Jawns, his flow combining pin point accuracy with a relaxed feel and a catchy half sung chorus.

Vocal interventions provide Florida's standout moments but are far from dominant. Perhaps as a result the album hangs together only tenuously and pushes the association between crunked up dancehall beats and atmospheric instrumental hip hop as far as it will go. But its inventive drum programming and swirling, slightly eerie psychedelic atmosphere give it an unusual feel and it offers something new with each listen. While the swamps may be difficult to navigate, they are full of surprises.
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