Having good taste is easy; translating it into great art is another thing altogether. DJ/rupture and Diplo have both made their names as curators of different strains of the beat diaspora. Rupture links Middle Eastern dub to Jamaican dancehall; Diplo, of the raucous DJ duo Hollertronix, digs Baltimore club music and Brazilian baile funk. And when it comes to hip-hop, they both like it grimy.
The Boston-born, Barcelona-based Rupture made his name two years ago with a pair of stunningly inventive mixes-Gold Teeth Thief and Minesweeper Suite-that tweaked the mash-up into an intellectual mission. Special Gunpowder, his first solo album, picks up on the same sonic themes. He imports reggae lifers Sister Nancy (“Little More Oil”) and Junior Cat (“Flop We”) to toast over his faithful versions of roots riddims. On “Bonechip,” he manages to make indie rap sound more adventurous than it has in five years. Even his abstract experiments-“Osaka-Ku Memory Depot,” which is less rhythmic than algorithmic-cohere elegantly. If Gunpowder lacks some of the kinetic energy of Rupture’s mixes, it nevertheless shows that he hasn’t merely been spinning records; he’s been learning from them, too.
Considering that Diplo’s DJ sets are so rowdy, and his ideas about beats so expansive and radical, it’s shocking that much of his debut, Florida, is relatively tepid. Diplo spent the fall touring with RJD2, and they share more than a little DNA. Florida opens with a nod to the drippy ballad “Time in a Bottle,” and two tracks later, on “Sarah,” he’s downloading files straight from the DJ Shadow server: drowsy horns, mournful piano counterpoint, funereal drums.
Halfway through, Diplo gets more adventurous. “Money Power Respect” nods to drum’n’bass and Muslimgauze alike, and the tinny, bopping “Diplo Rhythm” features jovial verses from dancehall roughneck Vybz Kartel and Pantera Os Danadinhos, Brazil’s answer to L’Trimm. “Indian Thick Jawns,” featuring Los Angeles freestyle fellow P.E.A.C.E., sounds robust and quirky enough to follow any Timbaland track in Diplo’s live set. Great DJs know how to unite disparate sounds into one grand arc. If only Diplo had adopted that ethos throughout instead of falling victim to the conservatism he so neatly elides behind the decks.
Grades: Rupture, B+; Diplo, B-