This brisk, summery, inarguably fun EP features Quavo, Travis Scott, and Jidenna gliding atop the trio’s tropical big-tent beats, which coincide with the all-too familiar riddims of Top 10 radio.
Who better to thrive in our island-obsessed pop multiverse than Diplo? A decade after he and Switch produced M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” the tropical collage favored by the duo, who officially became Major Lazer in 2009, dominates the airwaves. Acts as disparate as Daddy Yankee, Ed Sheeran, and the Chainsmokers share the Top 10, indulging in mid-tempo riddims and stadium-worthy hooks that take cues from dancehall.
Switch departed in 2011, but Major Lazer endures. Diplo and his new accomplices Walshy Fire and Jillionaire traded in any hint of countercultural signifiers for pop’s big tent and a collection of of-the-moment co-stars on its 2015 album Peace is the Mission. Know No Better, a new EP, released with little warning last week, mines similar territory. The first two tracks alone feature Quavo, Sean Paul, Travis Scott, J. Balvin and Camila Cabello—add the Major Lazer trio and that’s the kind of dizzying star-power on which Fast and the Furious franchises are founded.
Those initial two songs, along with a third, “Particula,” are the highlights on this brisk clubby delight of an EP, which doesn’t quite clear the 20-minute mark. Each has a standout section; on the title track, it’s Travis Scott, gleefully surfing a thumping bouncy-castle of a 4/4 beat in his opening verses. Balvin adds real feeling to the bridge of his feature “Buscando Huellas” the strongest overall song on the EP. And the Afrobeat-influenced “Particula” features the catchiest hook, thanks to the Nigerian vocalist Ice Prince and some nicely timed synths.
Mix and match those three sections and you might have a candidate for the song of the summer. But consigned to their separate slots, they serve as mere scene-setters on tracks that convey only mood and nothing more. All three songs are conceptually bankrupt, lacking even the simplest sentiments to coax listeners to return. That might help explain why the rappers here seem so adrift: Quavo, Sean Paul, and Jidenna slide by in near-anonymity, unable to hinge their verses on even the thinnest outcropping of meaning.
Still, no listener in a summery state of mind would object to the three openers, nor to “Sua Cara,” a too-short samba-influenced ballad featuring the Brazilian singer Anitta, whose thin, pretty voice may remind American listeners of the Nina Sky twins. It’s the heavier, more club-ready songs—“Jump” and the soca cut “Front of the Line” —that fall entirely flat, lacking the jots of inspiration that collaborators are able to provide elsewhere.
Diplo’s appropriator-in-chief act notwithstanding, it’s possible that the American producer simply has his hands in too many pots. In a recent interview on Beats One, he enthusiastically described the many projects he has in the works—a collaboration with Mark Ronson, another, rap-themed EP under his own name, a full Major Lazer album coming in the fall—while habitually forgetting who it was that he was actually working with. An eye for emerging talent has always served Major Lazer in good stead, but relying on features can only get an act so far, even in the most welcoming of pop environments. And as fun as it is at times, Know No Better doubles as a testament to the result of spreading a handful of good ideas too thin.