At the dawn of the nineties, Diamond D emerged from New York’s underground Hip Hop scene as one-half of the duo Ultimate force with his ambition as being a solo artist for fans to recognize him as the self-proclaimed “Best Kept Secret.” Today, Diamond is one of the high standard bearers for classic breakbeat sample-based Hip Hop music. He is at the center of a web that links the Golden Era’s most heralded acts with thicker than molasses-bass lines that comprise his straightforward boom-bap productions. His clientele of classic material includes staples by Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, The Likwit Crew, Outkast, Ras Kass, The Pharcyde and his own Bronx-based supergroup Diggin’ In The Crates, as well as an extensive resume of others amongst Hip Hop’s elite. He even won a Grammy in 2008 for his production work with R&B singer Natalie Cole. And let’s not forget that he assisted the Fugees in officially settling The Score as one of the highest-selling albums in Hip Hop history. All of that puts him in “by far he’s the best producer on the mic” territory.
Today, DJ Mustard is the producer in the highest demand. He dominates the airwaves with his signature, raw minimalism and with a dash of “Mustard on that beat, ho’.” You may be an older Hip Hop head or a youngin’ with enough real love for the culture if you peeped a parallel formula between the Los Angeles-based DJ/producer and Diamond’s career paths. DJ Mustard’s eventual takeover was a blueprint that Diamond had begun laying the groundwork for in 1990, the same year that Mustard was born. You can also cite their similar approach to production per Diamond’s lyrics on his 1992 masterpiece debut album Stunts, Blunts, and Hip Hop: “My sound is raw, don’t need a million samples.”
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, the South Bronx-bred beatsmith/emcee discusses the following: his latest album The Diam Piece; coming up as a DJ in park jams during Hip Hop’s formative years; his days under the tutelage of legendary Universal Zulu Nation DJ Jazzy Jay; the formation of the Diggin’ In The Crates crew with his Forest Houses projects neighbors Fat Joe, Lord Finesse, and Showbiz, as well as Big L , AG, O.C. and Buckwild; his predictions for the Hip Hop industry in 2015, and his take on the discourse surrounding white artists in Hip Hop.
Diamond D Talks “Organic” Hip Hop’s Place In 2015, J. Cole’s “Fire Squad” Lyrics
DX: What do you think is at stake for Hip Hop in 2015?
Diamond D: I think it may be a better year where there might be more balance. Some of the best albums to drop last year sort of mirrored that. The PRhyme album, the Run The Jewels album, my album, you know. I see a shift maybe in the balance. I just hope that it makes it to the radio stations. It doesn’t have to be older acts though because it could be somebody young. It’s just more in the music and the approaches to put it together. Like Action Bronson, he’s a new artist, but if you listen to his music, what’s it sound like?
DX: Sort of like the sound of Fat Joe’s “Jealous One’s Envy” album.
Diamond D: Right, and he’s not an old school artist. That’s why I said artists like him for the fact that he’s making that kind of music. My point is I see a shift somewhat going back to that, not totally, but something for the people will be more accepting. It’s never going to be a full takeover because music evolves. No matter what genre. And Hip Hop is a music of the youth, first and foremost. It could possibly be a resurgence.
DX: Who do you give props to for helping that paradigm shift or more balance of newer artists for today’s industry?
Diamond D: Yeah, I just mentioned Action Bronson. I like Joey Bada$$, he mixes it up. It’s not just what you would call “organic Hip Hop.” J. Cole, too.
DX: What did you think about J. Cole had a point in what he said in “Fire Squad” about white artists “snatching the sound” of Hip Hop?
Diamond D: Well, he’s right about Rock n’ Roll, Jazz music, and the Blues. Unlike all of those, Hip Hop was born out of poverty, young people who couldn’t go to the disco in downtown. It’s struggle music, even though it was party music like “Hip Hop, ya don’t stop” and “put your hands in the air,” it always came from the street. All your early Hip Hop stars all came from the street. It doesn’t matter how many white people do it, or do it well, I don’t think there will ever be a point where white people take it over. It’s just a mindset. Hip Hop is a culture, too. So I don’t see that happening. I’ve also been following a little bit about that Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks that they’re going through. And it kind of coincides with what we’re talking about.
Diamond D’s New York Underground Roots and D.I.T.C.’s Beginnings
HipHopDX: When you began your career with Ultimate Force in the late eighties/early nineties, it was a great time for New York Hip Hop.
Diamond D: That’s right. That’s like ‘88, ‘89. We were on Strong City Records. Of course, that was my mentor Jazzy Jay’s record label. At that time, the stars of Strong City were Masters of Ceremony, Grand Puba’s (first) group. They had a song called “Sexy” that was real big.
DX: D&D recording studios just closed it’s doors for good recently. It has been been a fabled recording studio for R&B acts of the eighties, then more legendary Hip Hop producers and emcees who booked sessions there since the early nineties. Did you help spearhead that movement in there after you started recording in there with Lord Finesse on his first album?
Diamond D: I would say that Premier was there first. We all worked out of there one time or another. One of my fondest memories was recording the D&D All Stars album. I was able to get my artists Big C on there too, just from my relationship with Doug (Grama) and Dave (Lotwin). They were doing picture deals and doing photos to market the project. On this particular day, they wanted to talk to all the producers. They was a couple emcees who said it was about “light,” because they thought the producers were getting more light. I thought that was the funniest shit in the world. But I’m an emcee so I can relate too (laughs). But we had started the D.I.T.C crew by recording at D&D. There’s a lot of good memories with that.
DX: What was the turning point in establishing the D.I.T.C. posse?
Diamond D: I would say like ‘91 or ‘92. When I was in Ultimate Force, it wasn’t Diggin’ In The Crates, yet. From where we all grew up from, I was the first one to get a deal. After Ultimate Force came Lord Finesse into it. He lived across the street from me. After Finesse came Showbiz and AG. Showbiz lived across the street from me, too. Then Fat Joe came, same projects. It was more like a domino effect.
DX: Fat Joe was a dope graffiti writer back then, too.
Diamond D: Yup, we both were. He used to write the word “Crack,” and I used to write “Z Rock.” (laughs)
DX: Where were some park jams that you deejayed at back then?
Diamond D: Forest Projects is where we would put up our equipment and deejayed. That’s what you did in the mid-eighties if you was into Hip Hop. You were outside throwing a summer jam. By the late eighties, the jams were no longer. It started getting out of hand. And police didn’t want to give out anymore permits, really. But definitely, I started out deejaying in the parks. And that was my first love — as a deejay. I realized for the rest of the country, the first time they ever heard of a Diamond D was on Ultimate Force. For the second time was as an emcee on A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory album when I rhymed on that song “Show Business.” That was a good look from Q-Tip to help set up my album Stunts, Blunts, and Hip Hop.
DX: Even now do you think the producer has exceeded the star power of the emcee in this era?
Diamond D: If the producer has a track record, then yes. If it’s a new producer, than “no” because the artist is taking a chance on working with you. If you’re established already, then I would have to say “yes.”
DX: Do you believe that producers get more shine today quicker than they did back when you were emerging as an artist? Or has it’s always been balanced for press and media hype for artists and producers?
Diamond D: I think it’s balanced. I feel it’s even. You know, a hit is a hit. Doesn’t matter whatever decade. I know a lot of people believe the nineties or the late eighties were the Golden Era. To me, the Golden Era was (Grandmaster) Flash, The Soulsonic Force, The Cold Crush 4. That’s what I would consider the Golden Era.
DX: With Fat Joe’s success over the past twenty-plus years, and Big L’s influence on today’s top-selling emcees in the game, along with you and other crew members, what should D.I.T.C.’s legacy be remembered for the most?
Diamond D: Diggin’ In The Crates stands for a movement of dope emcees. At that same time, a conscious effort to use samples that no one else had. It was just a concept of being original with dope emcees. The way that me and Showbiz came up highly influenced behind breaks. So the obscure drums that deejays would cut up that nobody knew the names of. But once we acquired most of those, we started branching out collectively to find new drums now. You know, new drum loops. In that regard, I would like it to be remembered as a collective of dope emcees, first and foremost, and the production behind it was just as stellar.
DX: What was the craziest story you can recall from recording with D.I.T.C.?
Diamond D: I will tell you something that people don’t know: Lord Finesse had to be coaxed into rhyming on “Day One.” At first, he didn’t want to rhyme on it.
DX: Interesting being that’s one of D.I.T.C.’s most beloved posse cuts by their diehard fans. One of many great examples of how initial rejection or resistance from an artist can turn into a classic for them.
Diamond D: Exactly.
Diamond On His West Side Connection & Lack of Sampling In Today’s Hip Hop
DX: As a Bronx-based producer, you were always a bicoastal beat supplier to the top rap acts based in California. What established that connection early on for you for those artists away from home?
Diamond D: I don’t know other than they were just reaching out to me for my beats. I would say it started maybe with House of Pain. And that led to The Alkaholiks even though there was no relationship. That led to Xzibit because he was running with The Alkaholiks back then. Then that led to Cypress Hill, then to Pharcyde. But yeah, during the nineties I was one of the first East Coast producers to work with a bunch of West Coast groups. Even in the midst of that whole “East Coast-West Coast” beef, which isn’t what it was other than beef between two individuals.
DX: Which groups from today’s Hip Hop generation compare to that of D.I.T.C. as a crew/label?
Diamond D: Well it’s sort of different thing now because the game is not really sample-driven as much. In the nineties, it was more of a laissez-faire type attitude if you wanted samples. Whereas now artists are concerned about retaining some of their publishing, and that’s understandable. And plus most record labels would rather you not use samples anyway. It saves them money and saves you publishing. So there not really many groups out now that I can judge, I guess as far as what D.I.T.C. did musically.
DX: What about T.D.E. or A$AP Mob as a crew with their own label?
DX: You have tons of other buried treasures in your catalog, like “This One,” “When It Rains It Pours,” and “Feel It” off the One Tough Cop soundtrack.
Diamond D: Out of all my productions, and all of my interviews, that song “Feel It” rarely comes up. On that track, the A&R put that together. He asked for three beats, and that’s the one he picked that one. The rest of the artists he put in there after. I think Noreaga wanted that beat too, but I’m not sure. There might have been another version with Capone-N-Noreaga on it.
The Mission Behind Making The Diam Piece
DX: When it came to creating the new Diam Piece album, what was the approach for getting that particular era in Hip Hop?
Diamond D: I just wanted to do an album with artists that were from my era, who I looked up to first and foremost. And once I found out that the artists that came aboard, it was my job to try to craft tracks that would match these artists. That was the task at hand because I sort of had the three years to complete. Because I started and I stopped but at the end of the day I was halfway to the goal.
DX: Are you happy with the reception of the The Diam Piece?
Diamond D: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s been like 95 percent positive as far as online is concerned. Ninety-five percent of the reviews have been saying so. So I’m appreciative of that. What’s your favorite tracks on the album?
DX: I would say the Pharcyde track “Hard Days Night,” your song with Granddaddy I.U. “called “The Game,” and the Kurupt with Tha Liks song “We Are The People Of The World” are my favorites on the album. But there’s so many others and you have many videos for the songs on the album already
Diamond D: I just shot another video for the Granddaddy IU track. I’m putting in work. When you independent, you only get out of it what you put into it.
DX: Now that Hip Hop is in it’s forties, do you feel more fans than ever are more accepting of forty-something artists?
Diamond D: Well, you got fans in that age bracket. Everybody that grew up on LL Cool J. You go to an LL concert, you’re going to see females age 21 to 45. No question.
DX: But with the Diam Piece, it seems like you were targeting that age bracket as well.
Diamond D: I guess you can say that. Because that’s the generation that I came up with. But I want to incorporate younger artists too. The ones who would be open to rhyming over the organic shit that I do.