“Diablo on the beat, bitch.” Listeners have been hearing that four-word producer tag on some of the hottest songs of the past several years, by artists like Wifisfuneral, Craig Xen, Smokepurpp, and, of course, Lil Pump. Los Angeles-by-way-of-Florida producer Diablo, 23, has worked with all of these artists and more. Now he’s riding the biggest wave of his career with the impending release of Pump’s long-awaited Harverd Dropout.
Diablo produced three records on the album—“Dropout,” “ION,” and the controversial “Racks on Racks”—and recorded Pump’s vocals on more. “Racks on Racks” got some attention recently when Portishead’s Geoff Barrow claimed that the track sampled his work from the Annihilation soundtrack without permission. The song’s content also upset him. Barrow called the track “deeply fucking sexist,” and added that, especially since he and Annihilation co-composer Ben Salisbury both have daughters, “This shit needs to seriously fuck off.”
Controversy or not, Harverd Dropout is the culmination of a year and a half of Diablo and Pump’s work together. I called up Diablo (and his manager Henley, who weighed in with the occasional clarification) to discuss the making of Harverd Dropout, why the Florida SoundCloud rap scene was destined for success, and what all that fuss over an uncleared sample was about.
In about 12 hours, Harverd Dropout comes out. Which songs did you produce?
We were working that project for a long, long time. I would say for almost a year and a half. We made so many songs, at least 70. The final version [of the album] is the best songs that came out of everything. I recorded the intro, “Dropout.” And I did “ION,” which is with Smokepurpp. That's actually me and CB [Mix]. I also did “Racks on Racks.”
What was that 18-month period like? What was your process?
It was a crazy process. From recording him on a moving tour bus, which is really hectic from a producer and engineering perspective, to recording him when he was on house arrest in the garage while it's really cold outside—that was probably one of the craziest scenarios. “Drug Addicts,” I remember specifically recording him while it was super cold in LA. He was in the garage, he was on house arrest. That was a pretty dope experience.
You engineered songs that you didn't produce?
Yeah, I helped record most of his stuff.
"recording [Lil Pump] when he was on house arrest in the garage while it's really cold outside—that was probably one of the craziest scenarios."
Tell me about recording Lil Pump's vocals. Is it different than working with other artists?
What's dope about recording Pump is that we have really good chemistry, since I've been recording him for two years. It's really easy at this point 'cause I know exactly what he wants. Me and CB are his main producers, the main people recording him.
He doesn't really even like the studio that much. We do a lot of home setups or set up anywhere really that isn't a studio. That's where we make most of our hits. We make bedroom hits, basically.
How do you account for soundproofing if you're just recording wherever you can get him most comfortable?
People ask me that a lot. As long as we have decent setup, we don't need that much. If you can get a clear vocal, you don't need to record in a soundproof room. It all comes down to mixing them later on.
What is an unusual place that you've recorded Pump?
The most unusual one is definitely the garage while he was on house arrest. Other places? Just random Airbnbs around America. I recorded him in the tour bus while the tour bus is moving. That was really hectic when it came down to mixing the vocals. My favorite place is my first apartment. That's actually where we made “Boss.” That just went platinum, which is pretty cool, just to think that we made that hit in my bedroom.
There's been some controversy around “Racks on Racks.” Geoff Barrow said that the song samples his music from the Annihilation soundtrack without permission. Did you sample that soundtrack?
We delivered a final version of the song that did not embody any sample. And then for some reason, Warner Brothers delivered a demo version of the song that they put out, an old version, that had a placeholder with that sample in it. What you guys heard was the old version of that song for some reason. They didn't upload the final version to iTunes and all that stuff. That's where I think the whole confusion came from.
So what happens now with the song? Which version made it on the album?
The final version right now you hear on all the DSPs has no sample in it whatsoever. Not on the YouTube version, not on any version—SoundCloud, iTunes, Spotify. There is no sample in it right now.
How did Geoff hear the early version?
I have no idea. I just saw him tweeting at me every day. [Henley: “The early version was an accidental upload. That’s how he heard it.”]
But it was really funny to see him tweeting at me every day. He would tweet some stuff. I don't know how old he is, but I think he was confused, 'cause he was tweeting that the song was misogynistic and all this stuff. He was like, "Oh, there's rapping about titties." Like, I think he thought “racks” was titties. I'm like, "Dude, I don't know how old you are, but it's not talking about titties. It's talking about money." I think there's a lot of confusion in the whole situation.
His words were, “The song is deeply fucking sexist.” That's not something you agree with?
I don't know, man. He's very opinionated. I respect the guy a lot, but also, come on, look at Cardi B. She just won a Grammy for Rap Album of the Year and her stuff isn't the most deep music. She has some crazy stuff in there. I think you should respect everybody's music and look into the artist more before you just start criticizing left and right, you know?
Do you make beats for Pump differently than you would for other artists?
Well, yeah. I feel like my beats have their own personality, and that's why Pump really admires my style of music. I don't know any other producer that really makes beats like I do, that style of very bass heavy and also sometimes repetitive. But Lil Pump gets your attention and it becomes really good for him, 'cause it's like, "Oh, cool, I know a dope melody that would go for this." Then it becomes a really dope song.
Do you think the bass heavy aspect of your beats comes from Florida? Florida has a 35, 40 year history of bass music.
Yeah. We definitely created this wave of lo-fi heavy bass music that we weren't credited on. It's weird, 'cause Atlanta gets such big hype, but I feel like Florida didn't get enough love and press for all these artists that we put out the last couple of years. We really changed the whole SoundCloud game, the whole music game. We have all these new rappers that are definitely influenced by us. We created a new style of music.
A few years ago, you started producing for a bunch of people you know from school or around where you used to live in Florida. And then they all blow up around the same time—people like Wifisfuneral and Smokepurpp and Pump. What was that like for you?
I think it was destiny. I actually went to school with Wifisfuneral. He is one of the first rappers in West Palm Beach that I linked up with to make music. We went to elementary school together. We didn't hang out until later on, when we were both in high school. He wanted to record music and I happened to just build a studio in my room where I recorded Pump. We ended up working and then I was like, "Oh, man, I love hip hop." He made so many beats, 50 beats a month at that time.
I ended up linking up with Florida artists as they were coming up, like Pump. This is back when they all were nothing, like, under 30K [followers]. Everybody was just starting out. It's really crazy to see where everybody is. Two years ago, we were all not doing shit.
What was Lil Pump like when you guys first met?
Pump is an interesting one, 'cause he's exactly how he is now, but just now he has a shit ton more money. When I met him, I thought we were the same age and then I found out that he was 15. I was like, "What the fuck?" He was already smoking more Backwoods than I ever could.
You mentioned the song “Boss” earlier. Are we ever gonna hear the original version of “Boss” about Obama?
Wait, how do you even know that? That's so weird.
It's kind of like the original version of “Boss.” That's when we were in our bags, making music nonstop. The song is actually on YouTube. It's just called "Obama.” It's an old version of that style of music that we were recording at the time. It's really funny.
One of the things you do is tour doing solo DJ sets. What do you like about that? How is that different than being a producer?My first goal was wanting to be a producer/DJ and put on my own live shows with my visuals and my music. But I was focused on working on my music first—working on projects and stuff. I dedicated two years to working on rap music with as many artists as I can. Now I'm finished.
Honestly, I took most of my time with Pump, 'cause he records a lot of music. Now there's an album coming out. It's dope, 'cause I can focus on my album that I'm putting out, which is featuring Pump, Purpp, a bunch of other artists.
And then with the DJing part of it, now I can play live shows, play my music, and bring out these hip hop artists that I've worked with. That's really what I'm trying to incorporate in the EDM world.
Last year you talked about getting into EDM. That's a wave you're on?
Yeah. I have songs with Dillon Francis, I have songs with Alison Wonderland. I have collaborations with a lot of EDM artists. I'm working on putting them out this year and doing more festivals and shows.
What's a Diablo solo set like?
Really intense, really dope. A lot of hip hop, a lot of bass heavy music. Right now, I'm almost done with touring. It's been great, the reaction I've been getting for my live shows. I'm really excited to just keep doing this and build it bigger and bigger. I have a lot more fans than I thought I did.
Any potential date on the solo album?
I'm shooting for March. Now that I'm done focusing on everybody else's album, after I'm done with this tour, I'm back home. Then I'm just settling down, just working on this album and finalizing everything. [Henley: “Let’s call it May, to be more exact.”]
Who are you on tour with right now?
Dillon Francis and Alison Wonderland.
How's that going?
It's going great, man. We've been hitting so many cities, so many big shows. We did a show with 8,000 people. That was pretty dope. It's really a fun experience, from doing hip-hop shows and festivals to bringing that style to the electronic scene.
Anything else you want people to know about Diablo?
Yeah. I’m just excited to do my own stuff and become a solo act, performing at my own festivals and putting out my album this year. Stay tuned.