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Okayafrica Exclusive: Diplo + Chief Boima Debate The Politics Of Tropical Bass

STATS: What’s the collaborative process like for Major Lazer?

Diplo: Major Lazer is an interesting project because the first record was like recording dub plates. I went to Jamaica and I would pay $1,000 for a vocal, that’s an average price, you get an easy one-sheet deal—when we first did those deals, our label Interscope wasn’t happy with them, so I’d go back there and negotiate again, and it became very difficult. One person who definitely benefited from this project is Vybz Kartel who was [credited as] a writer on like, everything. He wrote on different beats of mine, he became a writer on “Pon De Floor,” he was on the Beyoncé credit. I think “Pon De Floor” probably has garnered more money for Vybz Kartel than any reggae record in the last ten years. But I still don’t believe he even collects all his royalties. There’s no infrastructure; he fires a manager every two months, or they end up going missing.

That’s one particular instance with Vybz Kartel. Another one that’s really cool is Mr. Vegas, but I had a really hard time negotiating that track because we sampled that whole record from “Barbwire” (by Nora Dean). Which is a Jamaican record, but it’s actually a remake of a Curtis Mayfield record, and Curtis Mayfield’s widow is like the craziest non-license person in the world. She’s got all of the publishing and negotiating with him (Vegas) was impossible, he didn’t understand the whole idea of us trying to legalize the sample.

STATS: So, even if you have the paperwork right on your side, is it going to make a difference on the Jamaican side?

Diplo: Even with [the deals we did], everybody’s getting 50% of the writing deal. I don’t buy vocals from people, everybody on there is a writer. It’s kind of hard to negotiate records when it’s like five writers, but that’s what the lawyers have to do, that’s what we pay them for. For me, everybody gets the writing credit for sure, but Jamaicans–I feel like–don’t collect their royalties, some of them don’t have publishing deals still. [Reggae labels] VP and Greensleeves have been really great. People always complain about them, but they want to put their artists on Major Lazer records, they know these records can promote them further and further, so it’s been real easy getting contracts with them–like Elephant Man for instance has been easy.

STATS: But there’s still this gap where, even though Caribbean music drives a lot of inspiration in the mainstream and makes somebody a lot of money…it’s very seldom that the originator in Jamaica and the person selling a million records are the same person. As a general question for both of you who work in this sphere—and I’ll include myself–how can we make it better? How do we negotiate that gap that exists between the market and the people that are inspiring that stuff?

DIPLO: One thing is…a lot of them are getting a lot more savvy. Like Mr. Lex for instance, I feel like we jumpstarted his career with “Hold The Line.”  He started to tour a lot on that single in Europe. In Jamaica there’s no sense of two to three months ahead, it’s always about the next weekend, it’s always been like that, even in Brazil, there’s not a lot of infrastructure to teach people how to make money on music, it pretty much goes show to show, that’s how people make their money. Major Lazer; we sold less records than our advance was worth, we made all our money on our shows and when we can we bring artists with us. We did two or three shows with Mr. Lex here in New York. But even visas for Jamaican guys is kind of difficult. Especially England; Vybz Kartel can’t go there, Beenie Man can’t go there, the issue of homophobia was a big problem. I remember when he first came out and Spin Magazine gave us like 2 out of 10 because we even featured Elephant Man. And he was homophobic, so the article was just about homophobia in dancehall, which is like…we have nothing to do with that.

Boima: But there’s kind of a responsibility to speak to that at the same time. You’re a vessel that carries this, and you recognize that Spin’s view on it is problematic, because they’re taking it out of context. You feel like you need Spin to promote the album, but are there ways to go against what Spin is doing?

STATS: Well, before we even delve into the issue of homophobia, I want to ask you (Boima) the same question: As you lay it out in your piece, there’s this recreation of the global economic system in our little DJ world. What, in your mind, is a solution? What is the best way to bridge that gap?

Boima: Best way, I can’t say. It’s definitely a case-by-case basis, because there are differences between what the structural inequalities are. I can speak about the Liberia project that I worked on, specifically. I’m in a different realm than Wes in some ways because…I can concentrate and make my focus on coming up with ways to create institutional change within the local scene. That’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in, the kind of things I’m trying to work on; work with the artists individually where they have absolutely no industry in this small scene. And maybe that’s a luxury that I have… because I don’t have the kind of audience where there’s a responsibility to create all the time or do this that or the other thing.

Diplo: I mean [for me] you can’t just do crazy ideas, you have to be able to market them as well, or you’re just wasting your time. I feel like I’m really good at marketing music. I have to do these things I don’t like, that I’m not that excited about, but for me it’s important not to do this all for nothing. It’s important to reach people, so that’s why I’m visible and I am an easy target but at least I’m aware of the world I’m living in and I try my best to try to be a person that’s less target-able.

Boima: That’s the thing, it’s not about you as a target, per se, it’s more what you’re talking about with these licensing issues–structural issues in Jamaica and all that stuff. That’s what I’m interested in challenging.

STATS: OK, Boima I want to put you on the spot a little, too—in your piece, the only thing you lay out as a constructive option—as opposed to a critique–was something to the effect of ‘allowing specific communities to collectively capitalize’ on their creative products. Isn’t that sort of like saying, Only Italian people should profit from pizza?

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Eddie "STATS"

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