Let’s say you haven’t gotten your fill of Diplo just yet from the sets he’s kinda-sorta played at McCarren Pool and SummerStage this summer. Now there’s Top Ranking, the DJ-producer’s attempt to give Santogold a Piracy Funds Terrorism to call her own. Like the superior PFT, this mixtape allows Diplo to stress an acclaimed collaborator’s artistic influences without necessarily expanding on the significance of the original music. Diplo’s messiness is both his appeal and albatross, and Top Ranking is a nutty party record chockablock with sometimes euphoric, sometimes uninspired mashups. More so than Girl Talk, Diplo lets things simmer, but not unlike Feed the Animals, the wealth of references is so flabbergasting you’ll be feeling bruised and bloody after an hour.
You can’t—and shouldn’t—confuse Santogold for M.I.A., but Top Ranking doesn’t try very hard to distinguish itself from PFT. “Iko Iko” is to the former as “Walk Like an Egyptian” was to the latter, with shout-outs to classic oldies followed by equally obligatory shout-outs to more underground gems, remixes of Santogold tracks (most from her self-titled debut) intermittingly thrown in for good measure. Santogold has understandably shunned comparisons to M.I.A. but the M.I.A. cameos throughout Top Ranking, from Maya’s hot, practically legendary “drop” of Diplo’s name to samples from Arular and Kala, won’t do Santi any favors, even if one of those M.I.A. appearances (the Radioclit remix of “Get It Up”) is intended to be the last word on the Santogold-is-not-M.I.A. conundrum.
Because Santogold’s influences span a wider gamut than M.I.A.‘s, Top Ranking is aptly more spastic. From punk to Italo disco, Brooklyn to South Africa, Diplo takes us everywhere but keeps you feeling groundless, not least of which because Santogold’s unique essence feels lost amid the clutter. And even though there’s more brand-spanking-new Santogold here than there was brand-spanking-new M.I.A. on PFT, it doesn’t help that the hipster spaghetti western “Guns of Brooklyn” practically drowns out Santogold with its Morriconesque bells and whistles, leaving one to ponder what purpose it’s meant to serve other than to provide an irritatingly knowing and fashionable contrast to its third-world equivalent “Shanty Town”?
That said, Top Ranking‘s hotness can’t—and shouldn’t—be downplayed. One moment Diplo is phoning it in, lazily plastering “Lights Out” atop Panda Bear’s great “Comfy in Nautica,” the next he’s contriving an awesome back and forth between Santogold and Sweatheart’s Amanda Blank on a remix of “I’m a Lady,” smartly playing off Santi and Blank’s deceptively similar styles. The genius of the Switch mixes are already bygone conclusions, and some tracks (like “Gerri and the Holograms”) are so ecstatic it doesn’t seem to matter that Santogold is completely out of the picture. Top Ranking may be exhausting, but its near purposefulness seems like a small price to pay for its head-bopping infectiousness.