Diamond D: The Hiatus Is Over
But where The Chronic helped to solidify Dr. Dres legacy as one of the most skilled sound providers of his generation as the album soared to sales in the stratosphere, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop proved to be Diamond Ds career peak as an artist and sold less than a tenth of what Dres solo debut did.
While arguably more proficient behind the MPC than the M-I-C, Diamond subsequently solidified his rep in the game not as a solo artist but behind the boards for a litany of his peers Hip Hop classics in the 90s (Brand Nubians Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down, The Fugees The Score, Mos Defs Hip Hop, etc). As along with Pete Rock, Large Professor and RZA, Diamond set the standard for soul sample driven Hip Hop, becoming a forefather to Kanye West and Just Blaze.
But as the 90s turned into the 21st century, the high cost of doing business as a sample-based beatmaker began to take its toll and Diamonds in-demand status as a producer-for-hire began to wane. So at the dawn of the new century he turned his attention towards the debut full-length from his then nearly 10-year-old crew of mostly Bronx-based producers and emcees, D.I.T.C. (Diggin In The Crates), which included fellow Forrest Projects natives Lord Finesse and Fat Joe, expanding to include Showbiz, A.G., Buckwild, O.C., and legendary Finesse find Big L.
Diamond kept busy in the 2000s adding mostly underground production credits to his resume (for Freddie Foxxx, Sadat X, Edo G, Akrobatik and others) while reigniting his solo career. And now hes finally set to release his first nationally-distributed full-length since his sophomore effort, 1997s Hatred, Passions and Infidelity (2003s Grown Man Talk and a 2005 mixtape, The Diamond Mine, were both handicapped by limited, primarily online, distribution). Rumored to be signing with Duck Down, but instead inking a two-project deal with fellow indie powerhouse Babygrande Records, Diamond recently spoke to HipHopDX regarding his new 11-track long player, The Huge Hefner Chronicles. And maybe of equal importance, the legendary producer revealed why he may never again make an album as stellar as his now 16-year-old classic debut.
HipHopDX: Before we get to the core interview, I have a very important loose question I need to ask you: Which album jackets make for better softcore porn, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass Whipped Cream & Other Delights or every Ohio Players album? [Laughs]
Diamond D: [Laughs] I have to go with The Ohio Players.
DX: Hey, pre-Internet it was either those or National Geographics. [Laughs]
Diamond D: [Laughs]
DX: Now, I wanna take a little trip down memory lane, if thats cool with you. Is it true that you started digging in the crates when you were only 10-years-old?
Diamond D: Thats false. [Laughs] Thats false, nah. Diggin In The Crates was started
DX: No, no, when you started digging, not the crew, when you personally started
Diamond D: Oh, when I started digging? Um[I was] maybe like 12 [years old].
DX: Do you remember some of the first breaks you caught?
Diamond D: Of course. UmThe [La Pregunta] Shangri La 12, [The J.B.s] Blow Your Head, [Samba Souls] Mambo 5, just like the easy stuff that wasI mean, the stuff that was pretty much you was able to just like walk into any store and just pick it out.
DX: How was you getting the loot at 12 to get the records?
Diamond D: My moms. She would look out for me.
DX: I understood though, or at least I read this somewhere, that you started out more as a B-Boy than a deejay, correct?
Diamond D: Um, slightly. I mean, like just doing it locally. I wasnt really like going hardbody at the breakdancing thing. I would just more or less go to the jams [and breakdance]. [But] I just wanted to be a deejay. So finally [at] about 12-years-old my moms bought me a little bit of equipment or whatever, and then I just started practicing.
DX: But you were at least better on the cardboard than Showbiz, right? [Laughs]
Diamond D: Nah, I didnt do that. I dont think he did either.
DX: Oh okay, I read somewhere that he used to get down too.
Diamond D: Nah, we was pop lockin together, not breakdancing.
DX: So youre deejaying up until the mid-80s when you met Afrika Bambaatas right-hand man Jazzy Jay, correct?
Diamond D: Right. And Jazzy Jay, he was messing with a female in my projects Forrest Projects in the South Bronx [and] he would come through and check her and me and Master Rob bumped into him that way.
DX: So he didnt have like any involvement in the first album you and Rob did together, the first Ultimate Force?
Diamond D: Yeah, that was recorded for [the label he co-ran], Strong City Records. We recorded it in his studio. So he had a lot to do with that album.
DX: And did I read correctly that [the album, Im Not Playin] somehow finally got released just last year?
Diamond D: Yeah, I think it was released through Traffic Entertainment.
DX: Did you have anything to do with that?
Diamond D: No. It was basically Jay still owned the masters, and it was something that he did. But he needed our signatures for it.
DX: Did that piss you off when you heard Chubb Rocks Just The Two Of Us riding that same steel drum sample you guys used on Im Not Playin?
Diamond D: Steel drum sample?
DX: Yeah, on Im Not Playin I thought it was the same sample that Chubb Rock used for Just The Two Of Us?
Diamond D: Uhwell, he did use the same sample, but theyre not the group that I sampled. But yeah, yeah, I was like, Damn. Yeah, I felt a little funny about it when I heard Chubb Rocks version [a few years later]. Also, Son Of Bazerk used [that sample] too.
DX: Theres another sample you used that I always wondered what you thought about [someone else using], and thats the sample you used for Bad Bad Man from Fat Joes first album. That sample is now locked into the Hip Hop conscience as being the foundation of Jay-Zs Where Im From. Does that irritate you as a producer, or is it just like it is what it is.
Diamond D: No, because I wasnt the first to use that [sample]. I think Biz Markie used that [first on "Check It Out"].
DX: So going back to Ultimate Force. Yall were on MCA, but then you were about to go to Capitol, can you explain that?
Diamond D: What happened was Strong City had a distribution deal with UNI/MCA. [And] I guess right before it was time for our album to come out I guess the deal had went bad and MCA just basically stopped dealing with Strong City. And around the same time, when I was shopping my solo stuff, Capitol Records had got involved. And [then we] just went back and forth through a bidding war and I wound up over at Chemistry/Mercury.
DX: I think I read that a Capitol Records employee heard Best Kept Secret and wanted you to do your own album?
Diamond D: Right. He heard Best Kept Secret. And I think he heard maybe Check One, Two.
DX: It sounds like your solo career was kinda forced on you.
Diamond D: Nah, not really. Like, it just happened at the right time. It wasnt really forced cause I was looking for a [solo] situation. And I told Capitol, You know, if you can match Mercurys offer then well do it. [But] Mercury wound up coming to the table a little bit better than Capitol.
DX: And this kinda forced the demise of Ultimate Force?
Diamond D: Well, not really. Rob, he was supposed to be on [Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop] with me. And for whatever reason, I think he just chose to fall back at that time and just focus on raising his family. He had just got married around that time.
DX: Lets talk about your official debut. On the intro to your new album Fat Joe speaks on Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, calls it a classic album. And adds about the LP: that music is so incredible. So what would you say, especially to younger fans who werent into Hip Hop yet in 92, to explain what made Stunts so incredible that were still talking about it 16 years later?
Diamond D: Well I think first and foremost a lot of those albums that were recorded back then would just cost too much to make right now, with just all the different samples. Just the way we were layering samples. Youd have to find a bass line, and then you might put another record on and grab a horn [sample from that]. But the trick is, you have to find all of these sounds in the same key. You not just grabbing records and forcing these sounds [together]. You had to just sit there and go through records and find all of these sounds in the same key, so that when you hearing it back you would think that all of these samples came from one record. And a lot of people thought that.
DX: Im old enough to remember watching the Sally Got A One Track Mind video as a kid and being hypnotized by that flute sample. And those horns on Fuck What U Heard made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. [Laughs]
Diamond D: [Laughs] Thanks man.
DX: And that video for What U Heard I think was the first time anybody like saw Big L.
Diamond D: Im not sure. Somebody else brought [that] to my attention. But Im not sure, maybe.
DX: Since there have been so many rumors about this I thought you maybe could help clarify whats going on with regards to another posthumous L album. You know anything about that?
Diamond D: Nope, I havent heard nothing about it.
DX: Do you have any unreleased Big L vocals you could put out there?
Diamond D: I got some stuff from my first album I never released, maybe about three or four songs.
DX: And while were on the D.I.T.C. tip, can you also clarify if theres gonna be another crew album coming soon? Last I heard O.C. and A.G. were putting together like their own Diggin album.
Diamond D: UmI think that might be right. I know O.C. and A.G., theyre doing an album calledor from what I heard I think its called Supreme Oasis. I know [Lord] Finesse say hes about to start on his new album. So I dunno, if [doing another Diggin album] comes around Im down to do it.
DX: But there hasnt been any like specific talk about ya know, were gonna do this and this is how were gonna do it and that kinda stuff?
Diamond D: Well, weve all talked about it. We just havent come together. But, we all still tour a lot. We do a lot of spot dates [together]. We did a bunch of em all year. We just came back from Toronto last month.
DX: And logistically thats kind of a problem too. Youre down in Georgia now, right?
Diamond D: Yeah. Im back and forth. I still got a place in Manhattan.
DX: Wanna bust a U-turn back to the 90s real quick and talk about your production work outside of Diggin. After Stunts you did a grip of producer-for-hire work for Brand Nubian, The Fugees, Mos Def, etc, and some crazy-ass remixes for Ras Kass [Soul On Ice], Outkast [Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik] and others. My question is over the years have there been any Diamond ghost productions and/or tracks that were stolen like Pete Rock had happen with Juicy?
Diamond D: No there hasnt [been any].
DX: Okay, just wanted to clarify that.
Diamond D: Yeah. Im not trying to give you short, boring answers either. Im just being straight up, thats all.
DX: Now by the late 90s, and after your second album dropped, your production work for major artists, along with your own solo output, seemed to trail off a little bit. So why was there a hiatus for real after The Hiatus in 97?
Diamond D: Umthat was like 98/99. Nah, I was still doing a lot of [production] stuff back then. I just became disenchanted with the rhyming side of it, just from the way Mercury handled that second album. I had a really big song on there called This One with Busta Rhymes [click to read]. I kept telling [the label], This is the one. It was a bigger problem than me. Mercury was going through changes, and then sure enough, a few years later they folded the whole imprint.
DX: Were you working on a third album, or did you just have em cut you loose after the second one?
Diamond D: Nah after that I just fell back and went on tour, did a lot of tour work. And then when I came back I was just back on the beats. It was around that time I did the Mos Def [Hip Hop] and then the [three songs on the] Pharoahe Monch [Internal Affairs album], the Too Short shit. All of that was around that time.
DX: Did the industry shift beginning in the late 90s from samples to synths affect your demand as a producer-for-hire and/or your desire to shift over to keyboard-based production?
Diamond D: No, not really because the sample thing, it did kinda fall off a little bit but at the end of the day if you got a hot track whether its a sample or notif its a sample in it and its clearable, theyre gonna clear it. People like Just Blaze, Kanye [West], they all kept it alive around that time.
DX: But did you find yourself running into more problems with the labels not wanting to clear stuff and that kind of thing?
Diamond D: Definitely. But like I said, it depends on how bad the label and the artist wants to use [that track]. And some samples you can replay the elements. But some songs, just to retain that grittiness you wanna leave the samples in.
DX: Your new album is a mixture of synths and a traditional boom bap sound my personal favorites being the Nottz produced D-I-A-M-O-N-D and the album closer Bad/Good so whyd you decide to only produce 3 joints on the album?
Diamond D: Well, I kinda wanted to do what J Dilla was trying to do back in the early 2000s when he had his solo deal with MCA. More or less, everybody expected Dilla to [produce his own] whole album, but that wasnt his plan. He just wanted to fall back into emcee mode. And he reached out to a few producers. And you know, I just wanted to do the same thing with this album, just fall back and let everybody do what they gotta do. But at the same time, I tried to pick beats that sounded like some shit I woulda made anyway. So that was the whole thing with that.
DX: And about a third of the album Baby, Good Tyme, Itll Be Alright and I Wanna Leave is aimed at the females. Is that why you decided to call the album The Huge Hefner Chronicles?
Diamond D: Yeah, that definitely was one of the aspects. The other aspect is just the respect that I get from my peers in the industry, even though I havent really officially released anything [in a long time]. People still respect what I do and what I did in the past. And thats why I named the album Huge Hefner, not really to play off the Playboy shit, but more or less just as me still getting the respect.
DX: Are you planning a follow-up to this album yet, or you gonna let this one rock for awhile?
Diamond D: Nah, I gotta do one more joint for Babygrande after this.
DX: You aiming for 09 or you not sure yet?
Diamond D: Definitely .
DX: Whats on the immediate horizon as far as your producer-for-hire work?
Diamond D: I got something in the works with Pharoahe Monch. Im trying to do a whole project with Sadat X. A lot of people been asking about that. And theres this new female artist out of Atlanta named Stacy Epps. Shes real dope. She reminds me of like where Lauryn Hill would be right now if she was still out doing her thing.
DX: The Pharoahe stuff, you know if thats like for another album? You know how thats gonna surface?
Diamond D: Yeah, I believe Pharoahes gonna go into the studio real soon.
DX: And my final question is in regards to a line you spit on D-I-A-M-O-N-D: A bonafide authentic, head of my class/Stunts, Blunts, some say I could never surpass. Has your classic debut proven to be a gift and a curse the gift of creating an amazing collection of songs, but cursed you to unattainable expectations?
Diamond D: Well, its bittersweet because of all the compliments and accolades I get, but you know I dont think that album went gold. I think it might have peaked at maybe like two or 300,000. So I just take it on the chin. It is what it is. But Id love to make another album like that. If I get into a situation with a major and I got a sample budget to do that, I would love to do that album again.