Super Pak: The Spiritual Odyssey of Mad Decent's PO PO

The Philly-born Pakistani's first album, Dope Boy Magick, is a wonder to behold.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 28, 2012

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Photo by Ryan Strand Greenberg

As it turned out, there was someone from Philly hanging out in Athens around the same time. And that someone wasn’t just anyone. His name was Thomas Wesley Pentz, though he’s better known by his DJ name, Diplo.

Man ppl always askn me how rich is @diplo ? I always tellem if he puttn out my album he got money to burn ;(
-@ZEBsDEAD, Feb. 2, 2012

Thomas Wesley Pentz. “Wes.” Diplo. DJ royalty. Hit maker. Booty shaker. BlackBerry spokesmodel. His label, Mad Decent, is a tastemaker. A cool factory. Its artists span multiple genres, but all of them are a means to roughly the same end: Get your ass on the dance floor.

In its few short years of existence, Mad Decent has crammed Brazilian baile funk, Angolan kuduro and a renewed interest in dancehall into American ears. It’s been instrumental in breaking dubstep, too, that bass-heavy behemoth that threatens to devour whole every human on the planet under the age of 22. Add PO PO’s “if the Ramones played Bollywood,” as super-producer Nick Launay describes them, to the exceedingly eclectic Mad Decent mix. PO PO is the first band on Mad Decent’s roster that aims as much for the head and heart as it does the feet.

Diplo also introduced the mainstream to MIA, for whom he produced her only bona fide hit, “Paper Planes”—but try not to hold that against him. He’s more good than bad, more an actual artist and deep lover of music than the ignorant hordes who write him off as a culture vulture give him credit for.

“PO PO are the American dream … Pakistani brothers that love family, basketball, girls and Philly,” the always-busy Diplo says via email from Jamaica. “They are just tryin’ to reach Mecca on a rainbow bridge of distorted guitars and flea market wardrobes.”

They met in Athens, when Dark Meat brought Diplo to a PO PO gig. Diplo dug it, and showed his affection by setting off fireworks on stage. One of them went off dangerously close to Zeb’s face. It was perfect Philly, love at first spite.

Since that night three-and-a-half years ago, much has changed about PO PO, both sonically and aesthetically.

Mike Collins got married, started a family. And, one by one, Zeb’s brothers left, too. Hassan has started his own band, Sunny Ali and the Kid, and plays in another, Kominas. Shoaib simply burnt out. The brothers remain close.

“I’m proud of all my siblings and just feel blessed to be part of such a talented family,” says Hassan. “It blows my mind sometimes. I’m looking forward to [Zeb’s] album.”

In the roughly six years since they started schlepping out to open mikes, PO PO have managed the world’s most anemic discography. There’s the Bryn Mawr house demo, which was heard by a few important people, but not much more. There was a 10-song demo recorded in Athens in the kitchen of a guy named Timmy Tumble, which was heard by Diplo, and few else.

Diplo released two of the songs from the Athens recording via Mad Decent in ’09, on a 7-inch single called Kill Tonight. It remains the band’s only officially released output.

That changes this week when Mad Decent lets Dope Boy Magick (out Feb. 28) loose on the planet.

“I’m fresh ta death everyday/like I jumped up out a casket/ How you do that/ I call it dope boy magic”
-Yung Joc, “Dope Boy Magic”

Opening for Nine Inch Nails as early as they did, as green as they were, was more a curse than a blessing. Being hand picked by Reznor, Zeb says, “was detrimental to the band.”

It made them less hungry. They were handed something out of the gate, given a first-place trophy just for showing up. They hadn’t earned it.

“We got to see the end of this long race before it started,” says Zeb of the music business. “Trent was really angry that tour. He didn’t hang out with his band at all. We saw the view at the top of the mountain and the people up there didn’t seem all that happy. We began to wonder if it was what we wanted. We—my brothers and I—never wanted the band to come between us. Fuck that. We’ve been through too much together.”

After Athens, when the crew got back to Philly, they hooked back up with Diplo. They began playing basketball regularly together at the courts next door to Diplo’s Mad Decent Mausoleum near 12th and Spring Garden streets.

Mad Decent signed the group. Diplo made the brothers some of his early, near-legendary psych rock mixtapes, curated from deep cuts of rare gems he found while crate digging. Upon Diplo’s invitation, PO PO moved into the Mausoleum, which was quickly redubbed “the Mosque-oleum.”

“There was a shower!” says Zeb. “We were finally clean enough to pray.”

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