Music that doesn’t have its roots firmly planted in the United States has invaded the blogosphere and eked into the mainstream more or less over the past year. The hype surrounding Future Brown’s self-titled debut album, the seemingly inevitable emergence of grime music as a companion to American hip-hop, the European-tinged EDM pop that’s become a must-have for any artist looking to break into the upper tier on the charts. The melting pot formula is finally working for casual radio listeners and tastemakers alike, and for Diplo, the latest in pop’s definitions comes both a decade too late and just in time for his newest Major Lazer offering, Peace Is the Mission.
Though the album’s lead single is the Danish synth songstress MØ and DJ Snake (you know his brainchild, “Turn Down for What”) collaboration “Lean On”, the song sounds less like the international blockbuster that it is and more like Diplo getting first dibs on ripping the Soundcloud producer’s remix to it: her vocals float over a minimalist, clouded low piano before the hook’s familiar warped vocals and commanding drums ratchet the pace for a brief run. No, despite the song’s understood successes, the album’s opener, Wild Belle-sung “Be Together” has the greatest potential to turn this album into a stalwart of this year. Natalie Bergman’s forlorn vocals pleads “Let me escape in your arms / Baby, I’m yours”, and it’s understood that peace and love are dually important missions. As the song crescendos into the hook a la “Lean On”, the probability for this song achieving the same ubiquity as, say, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” becomes apparent. With two aces in the whole, Diplo understandably turned back to his global-reaching roots for the album’s seven other songs.
The “authentic” Diplo, the pre-M.I.A. airing her grievances against and pre-Taylor Swift feud Diplo, emerged as a star via Hollertronix’s Never Scared and M.I.A.’s Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol.1 mixtapes released in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The two showcased the pinnacle of his producing abilities, finding just the right obscure genres to act as bombastic underpinnings for the digestibly fresh vocals above. “Pon De Floor” from Major Lazer’s debut Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do reached similar heights, but the lengthy gap between hits found Diplo scrambling to rediscover his sound. Luckily, the K-Pop artist CL’s “Dr. Pepper” is generating buzz for all its dark synth weirdness, and tracks that made Peace indicate that he’s having fun once again.
Peace might be the mission, but that and the aforementioned fun are achieved from the peace pipe. While the album’s marijuana themes are evident (“Blaze Up the Fire”, “Light It Up”), they take a backseat to the booming trap and Jamaican dancehall nods that are found in conjunction with the drug. Unlike Snoop Lion’s overbearing Reincarnated, which Major Lazer produced the majority of, the influence is more reminiscent of the oddly charming Major Lazer FXX cartoon series, where it’s utilized as a facilitator of fun. The two tracks with direct drug allusions feature massive, pulsating beats that have a place in any respectable festival DJ’s playlist, while their danceability is understood. Unfortunately, only when he returns to this authentic setting features worldly artists are the highs, literally and otherwise, achieved.
Ellie Goulding and Ariana Grande, while impeccably capable pop vocalists on their own, feel out of place on this album’s international flavoring. Especially Goulding, whose love ballad “Powerful” feels like a B-side version of “Lean On”, and on Grande’s “All My Love”, her voice is given too much standalone time to feel like anything but another stab at radio placement. While bonafide rap stars Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and Travi$ Scott book in above-average appearances on “Night Riders”, it’s the powerful fireworks erupting under Mad Cobra’s verse that elevates the song to being included in the canon of must-hear hip-hop’s international pairings. If only he’d stayed true to this formula the whole album.
Peace Is the Mission is the second album Diplo’s had his hands on this year, following the rocky Skrillex collaboration Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü, and undoubtedly the better of the two. But evaluating it across his whole catalog, this occupies the second-tier below uncopyable classics that he churned out in the beginning of the 2000s. While that may be an unfair standard to hold any artist to, Peace Is the Mission provides the comforting thesis: if peace can be achieved by dancing, this is the album to spin.