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Diplo and His "Hero"es

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Thursday, Mar 13, 2014
The man who sampled the Clash's "Straight to Hell" for M.I.A. teams up with his heroes and Frank Ocean to bring summer to your speakers a few months early.

Now here’s a pleasant surprise. A few days ago the Converse sneaker company unveiled a collaboration between producer Diplo, R&B it-boy Frank Ocean, and Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon as the latest offering in its “Three Artists, One Song” single series. There have been eight previous installments in the series—all of which I have admittedly glossed over—but something primal about seeing those names in the marquee made me want to immediately investigate the results.
So is “Hero” a genuine gem, or a throwaway collab more noteworthy for the names plastered upon it? I’m wary of making any brash judgements after only a handful of listens, but it is worth noting that this under-three-minute Diplo/Ocean/ex-Clash joint is growing on me fast. Honestly, a mere few seconds in and its lazy beachfront vibe already had its hooks sunk deep into me. “Hero” sounds like it couldn’t wait for summer to come around and instead forced its way into the world a few months early so it could bask in the seasonal feeling. Perhaps “forced” is too strong a word—the shimmering “Hero” radiates easygoing contentment, and it entices rather than grabs out. Frank Ocean’s vocals, mellifluous and tastefully reserved, fit the mood like a glove; even though he was the one who selected the final backing track to sing over, I can’t help but feel this song was just waiting for him to come along to make it whole.

The unstated implication about “Hero” is that it’s some sort of Clash reunion—after all, the series title describes the union of three artists is integral to the whole enterprise, and logic dictates that the roster for this track only fits the stated requirements if Jones and Simonon are counted as one Rock Hall of Fame-enshrined unit. Certainly, the song’s dubby bassline instantly identifies itself as the work of the man who held down the low-end in the Only Band That Matters (and certainly, Simonon’s distinctive rhythm section work is one of the main parties responsible for the surges of excitement that course through my body every time I replay the cut). But erroneously saddling “Hero” with some Clash-redux baggage is a disservice to the contributions all four collaborators individually brought to the project. As the prime instigator behind this particular meeting of minds, Diplo’s imprint is all over “Hero”, and Frank Ocean’s voice is as integral to the track as Simonon’s bass and Jones’ heavily processed guitarwork (perhaps moreso).

No, take “Hero” on its own terms, for those terms are compelling on their own. It’s only March, but I think I might have my “song of the summer” squared away even before the winter is through.

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