The trio has always harboured immense musical ambitions, but the level of success they’ve achieved remains mind-boggling. Major Lazer had humble origins as a side project through which Diplo (real name: Wes Pentz) could explore his love of Jamaican music. Following the success of his second full-length, 2004’s Florida, and production work for
M.I.A. and Santigold, he formed the group with British DJ Switch and hypeman Skerrit Bwoy, quickly developing a reputation for outrageous live shows and an omnivorous musical appetite. They devoured everything in their path, from dubstep and surf rock to moombahton to samples of whinnying horses.
For their first tour, the group enlisted Trinidadian DJ Jillionaire (a.k.a. Christopher Leacock) as an emcee. “We had two DJs, two dancers, and I had the crowd,” he recalls. “It’s very funny looking back on that set-up now. I got back home after the tour and thought, I can stay in Trinidad and get a real job or I can see what this DJing is all about. I chose the
second one.” He would eventually join the group full-time, bringing a cerebral spirit and playful soca rhythms to the music.
Major Lazer mutated and evolved, shedding two of its founding members but recruiting Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in Florida, Leighton Walsh is Major Lazer’s street team and hype man, a relentlessly energetic emcee who can rouse a crowd of any size. “I got into music by being a fan of it, going to parties, going to
the dancehall,” he says. “I started selling dancehall cassette tapes in the streets. I’d just walk around with the radio on and a box full of tapes.” He pursued a career in computer technology, however, and even worked at IBM before quitting to make music full-time and co-founding the groundbreaking Miami sound system Black Chiney. He and Diplo worked
together a few times, and then “Wes called me up and asked if I wanted to do a show with him. I went there thinking it was going to be one or two shows, nothing long-term, but we crushed and here I am, years later.”