First-round Grammy voting is currently underway, and running through October 10th. For our 2020 Grammy preview, we asked a series of likely contenders to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and break down the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February.
Diplo is currently moonlighting as a country star. But he also dabbles in electronic, pop, rap, reggae, and any other genre that piques his interest. Which means that if he doesn’t get a 2020 Grammy nod for his collaborations with Cam and Morgan Wallen, he could easily earn one for his remix of country-adjacent smash “Old Town Road” or his contribution to Beyoncé’s Lion King soundtrack.
For the past 20 years, the producer has made a habit of breaking and remaking genre. These days, what excites the three-time Grammy winner is the same thing that energized him as an up-and-coming Philadelphia DJ: the multitude of possible styles to draw on. “There’s so many weird scenes happening,” he tells Rolling Stone. “And each one has their own language and culture to it,”
Did you have any specific musical goals for yourself in 2019?
Just keep working hard. I didn’t really have any goals. We kind of spread a bunch of different music out that we had for the last couple years that got released last year. We hit all these strange places from Coachella to Stagecoach to Carnival to weird touring things around the Russian side …or Stagecoach, the LSD album, some hip-hop, just kind of all these different ideas.
Do you ever get used to that Grammy-night feeling of being in this big room with a bunch of musicians and you’re all intensely going after this same award?
It’s not that weird. I think it’s cool. I think you get recognized with other people that are your heroes or idols. … In the finite world of music, it includes all these crazy characters. I kind of go there because the parties are great and you get to wear cool clothes. I’m always on the road, so the Grammys are one part of it.
Whether it’s “So Long” featuring Cam or your “Old Town Road” remix, why do you think a new generation of listeners, especially on the coasts and in urban areas, are ready to open their ears up to country as a genre and really accept it?
There’s just a lot of care taken writing country songs. It’s easy to immediately get into the music. I’ve always been a country fan, because I’m from the South. I got to watch music videos on CMT and then the radio was always on. That crowd that liked country music back when I was younger, they were kind of left behind when streaming took over. I think country was the biggest music back then, 20 years ago. Now it seems like it’s growing so much, because every generation is using the internet to access country music better. It’s growing fast.
Lil Nas X broke out by fusing two genres, which is something that you’ve been pointing toward since the beginning of your career. What’s it been like collaborating with him?
I think Lil Nas broke out of the music through the internet. I was a child of many different genres, because that’s how I grew up. And I think he was the same way growing up on the internet, knowing about music. He developed something very unique. That’s what “Old Town Road” is, something that’s half internet, half YouTube generation. You kind of create something that’s brand new. So that’s very cool.
One of your more surprising collaborations lately was with Beyoncé, on her Lion King soundtrack. How did that come about?
I worked with Beyoncé a couple of different times — the last couple albums. I’ve done stuff for Lemonade … before that I worked on “Girls Run the World.” I’ve just been in touch with her team. When she played Global Citizen Africa, she was interested in a lot of the new African music. A lot of producers that she met there put her onto my stuff I’d been doing in Africa, the last Major Lazer EP. So they hit me up for demos and I had a bunch of records for them, one of them being a demo of “Already,” that I wrote with Smooky Margielaa, who’s a young rapper from New York. We sent it over to them. They re-wrote some parts and just finished the record. They had four ideas they took from us, but that was the one that actually made the album.
What do the Grammys mean to you? For so many new artists, it can offer a sense of validation.
I still don’t have as many as Mark Ronson, so if I can get three more, I could tie with him. That’d be really cool. He might respect me more for some of the songs I gave him. Otherwise, it’s just cool, because every year I’m not just going downhill from here. Every year I try to take advantage of where I am and what I can do in music and do something different and bigger. It started 10 years ago and every year I’m trying to do something crazier. I don’t always go for the biggest hits I can make, but try to take advantage of my position in music to do something unique. That’s cool, because the Grammys pay attention to that.
Do you think the Grammys have gotten better with respecting a broader array of genres and getting those picks right, whether it’s for dance or hip-hop?
[The Grammys] needed to get younger. They needed to get younger people involved in the nominations and I think that was important for them. Because they don’t [only] have to worry about TV audience; they have to worry about people actually watching the shows and they have to worry about being relevant. You can’t always give the awards to the same stars. You have to open the format up a little bit. They’ve done a good job the last couple of years to really be smarter about the picks they use.
You’ve been teasing the return of Jack Ü. Is that something we could see soon?
Could be next year. I think Skrillex has a lot of material he’s been gearing to release. When that happens I think we might be able to do some new stuff, but I’ve worked on a lot of ideas for the project. It’s all in due time. There’s not any rush for it or anything.
Is there a piece of music that you didn’t create, but that you’d like to see win a Grammy next year?
There was some cool stuff. I really like the music that Joji put out this year. I liked Ed Sheeran’s album. I didn’t like it at first [laughs], but I really like some of the songs on that album. Billie Eilish, of course. I think Lil Nas X, they’re going to recognize the genius of that record. So I think that’s going to be a big nominee this year, “Old Town Road.”