Hip Hop has always been a rigidly regional genre of music. New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, the south, and other areas each have their own distinct styles of rhyming and producing, along with landmarks and hotspots that natives call their own and outsiders long to visit. So why can’t the DMV—the central point between Washington D.C., Marlyland, and Virginia—have the same? The prolific producer/emcee Oddisee [click to read] (known for his beats for the likes of Little Brother [click to read], Freeway [click to read], and others, though a formidable emcee in his own right) thought the same thing, and he formed the Diamond District with area emcees X.O. and yU to show what his hood had to offer.
If Diamond District is any indication, DMV really does have what Oddisee refers to as “the hottest edition of what you’ve been missing.” Armed with Oddisee’s multi-layered boom-bap production, the three of them use nimble flows, vivid rhymes and unique accents to put their area on the map. Diamond District goes through the same things their other Hip Hop peers do—street life, women, materialism, and everything in between—but the way they cover their subject matter makes them stand out. “Streets Won’t Let Me Chill” sees X.O. vividly and honestly describing his thoughts while deliberating self-defense from a would be stickup kid, as he quips, “all I got is my mission and my daughter, nah’msayin?...I would much rather give a brother dap, than to see a black man with a hole up in his back, damn.” yU describes he and his groupmates’ glow on “The Shining,” as he spits, “Since every man’s born a son / Sun, it’s only right / To shine like one, where I’m from there’s no light / D.C., Dark City.” And on the silky, soulful “Off The Late Night,” Oddisee recounts seducing a woman he met while cruising downtown.
While each member has his personal highlights, the primary reason In The Ruff works is because it’s the sum of its parts. Oddisee, yU and X.O. don’t have to utilize back and forth rhymes to show their chemistry: each member makes the very most out of their respective 16 bars, and steps aside to let the hook and his groupmate breathe. But unlike most other groups in today’s Rap world, Diamond District doesn’t sound like three emcees trying their best to stand out to secure solo success. Instead, it sounds like a trio of emcees focused on making the best product possible. Combine that unselfishness with Oddisee’s steady stream of high quality soundbeds and a tight, 50-minute tracklist of 12 songs and, and you have good Hip Hop—no strings attached. “First Time” sees them trading coming of age stories, “The District” describes the gritty D.C. streets with vivid rhymes and a chorus that samples various capitol shoutouts, and “Get In Line” simply gives each member an opportunity to spew blistering braggadocio.
So next time you’re visiting the country’s capitol or watching the Baltimore, MD-based HBO hit The Wire, throw on In The Ruff. With their mastery of the group dynamic, distinctive styles, hometown pride and consistent production, they’re as much a part of the DMV as anyone else.