Diplo has made a career out of hoisting under-the-radar regional sounds onto the world stage—and altering the course of mainstream pop as a result. His recent explorations into reggae and Afropop not only helped launch the careers of Mr Eazi and Wizkid, but had a serious ripple effect: In 2019, it’s hard to imagine much of American music—from glossy Top 40 to emerging hip-hop and dance music—without the rhythmic influence of Nigeria, Ghana, and Jamaica.
Here, he continues to drift away from the explosive soundscapes of EDM and looks instead to underground Europe. Enlisting some of Paris and London’s best up-and-coming beatmakers and vocalists—including the French-British rapper Octavian, who won the BBC’s Sound of 2019 award—he shows off his emotional side through downtempo hip-hop and R&B. Many of the artists use their voices as instruments: Algerian singer-rapper Soolking threads his Auto-Tuned vocals into a patchwork of drums and flutes (“Oh Maria”), and French heavyweight Niska makes a melodic trap-pop anthem sound celebratory and new (“Boom Bye Bye,” likely a nod to the Buju Banton song from the early 1990s). But it’s the sweet, gentle glide of “New Shapes”—a spell of warm synths and conversational vocals—that practically imprints itself onto your brain. How long before the rest of the world wants in?