Diamond D Reflects on 50 Years of Hip-Hop | Interview

Producer, rapper, and DJ Diamond D has left an indelible mark on the 50-year history of hip-hop. Hailing from the Bronx, he emerged as a prominent figure in the genre, benefitting from his proximity to trailblazing legends like Grand Wizzard Theodore, Melle Mel, and Jazzy Jay during his formative years. Today, Diamond D's impact on hip-hop is immeasurable, thanks to his integral role in the renowned Diggin' In The Crates or D.I.T.C crew, which boasts other legendary artists such as Fat Joe, Lord Finesse, and Buckwild.

Throughout the last couple of decades, Diamond D has racked up a staggering list of production credits, working with some of the biggest names in the game like KRS-One, Busta Rhymes, and The Fugees. He soon began to carve his own path in the industry, becoming one of the first DJs to also rap and defining what it is to be a producer-rapper or rapper-producer—whichever you prefer.

Though renowned for his work behind the boards, Diamond's skills on the mic are equally formidable. One of his defining moments came with the release of his debut album, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, in 1992. This 23-track masterpiece—produced in collaboration with legends like Large Professor, Q-Tip, and Jazzy Jay—showcases illuminating tales, powerful messages, and raw raps. Even today, the flow resonates as Diamond dropped his latest solo project, The Rear View, earlier this year. The album features collaborations with Posdnous of De La Soul, Westside Gunn, Ashtin Martin, Stacy Epps, and KP. Recorded over two months in New York, L.A., and Atlanta, this album truly showcases Diamond's prowess as a game-changer, all while staying true to his unique sound that made him shine throughout his entire career.

As an artist who has pushed the boundaries of rap, production, and DJing, Diamond D's legacy will undoubtedly be celebrated for years to come. During our conversation, we delved into the early days of his career, reflecting on the last 50 years of hip-hop and his deep connection to the Bronx, the birthplace of the genre. Diamond D effortlessly references the iconic names that originated from there, showcasing his profound ties to the neighborhood. We also explored Diamond D's remarkable journey from growing up in the Bronx to his current gear choices, and he even cleared up a misconception of his sampler of choice.

"Flying High" from Diamond D's album The Rear View, featuring Posdnuos.

How did your life in hip-hop start?

Well, I started up as a DJ. Probably when I was in middle school, I started up DJing in my neighborhood, just locally. But growing up in the South Bronx, I was able to go outside and see people like Bambaataa, Grandwizzard Theodore—people like that. Melle Mel lived in my neighborhood. Scorpio lived in my neighborhood. So I was just blessed to just grow up around it, more or less. The proximity really is what drew me into it, because the shit was just right outside. And then from there, from DJing, I got signed in a group called The Ultimate Force. We were signed the Jazzy Jay's record label, Strong City Records. And pretty much my career just springboarded from there.

I've seen you in a few videos speak highly of Jazzy Jay. I think I even saw you say that Jazzy Jay was who influenced you to start beat making. Is that correct?

Yeah, he actually taught me the art of production. When he signed me to his label, I used to sit in on a lot of sessions, just looking to observe, things of that nature. But yeah, definitely Jazzy Jay, he's somebody I hold high. The movie Beat Street, he was involved with that. And then from there, the song, "It's Yours," the first song on Def Jam. He did a lot of things, Jazzy Jay. He was the DJ in that group of Soulsonic Force. But fast forward to the late '80s, he was more or less the man in the Bronx. And yeah, I owe a lot to him.

That's what's up. What were the studio sessions like back then, and what were y'all using back in those days?

He was using the SP12s—not the 1200, the 12, the first one. And he produced a big record for Busy Bee called Suicide. And that was a huge hit, at least regionally on the East Coast.

That was a huge hit. So, basically your first beats were made on the SP12s?

The very first one we did, it's a song called, "I'm Not Playing." The group was the Ultimate Force. I was the DJ of the group back then. I didn't really know what a producer was at that point, but I more or less brought the record to the studio I wanted the sample, I told Jazzy Jay what parts I wanted to use, and he did the actual programming.

And, a little trivia: that song, "I'm Not Playing" is the first hip-hop song to incorporate a blues sample. Maybe two years later it was used by Chubb Rock. That's just a little trivia right there, little history.

When did you start feeling confident with your beats after learning the process a little bit, and when did that take off?

Probably early '90s. Early '90s, working on my album, Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop. And prior to that, me and DJ Premier had worked on Lord Finesse' first album, The Funky Technician. So yeah, right around that time I would say. Also Showbiz produced on that album too.

Wow... I'm kind of sitting there just thinking about the stuff in my head, you've really kind of seen it all. And correct me if I'm wrong, in those early days, being a producer and an MC and somebody that could DJ, that was pretty rare, right?

Exactly. Exactly. Lord Finesse grew up across the street from me, and I would see him rhyme. He started off as an MC, and then he started practicing DJing. And now more or less, when you see Lord Finesse out here now he's usually doing DJ gigs. But we both from that era. Fat Joe too, he grew up across the street too. So if you was around in the late '80s—mid to late '80s—you did it all. Whether you break danced or rhymed, DJed, or if you did graffiti. If you lived in the South Bronx, you definitely was doing one, two or three of those elements. And shit just stuck with me and Lord Finesse because we both do a lot of MC gigs and DJ gigs.

How do you kind of decide on beats that you want to keep for yourself versus beats that you actually want to shop as a producer with other artists and whatnot? What's the process like?

It's not really a process. Of course, you want to keep a lot of ill joints for yourself, but there's no way you can be considered a great producer if you did that. So you got to find balance. A lot of joints I wanted for myself, I let go. Because even if it's not for yourself, if you're working with an artist that you believe can take the track and take it where it needs to go and expand on your brand, then by all means, you got to find balance. You can't just keep everything for yourself. The object is to make hits, whether for yourself or for other artists.

Can you take us back to the forming of the D.I.T.C crew? Was it kind of like y'all would just go dig records together, share samples, or was it just kind of y'all all had deep crates and everyone just brought it all to the collective?

Basically it was just a way of life back then for us. It always mattered what you sampled. Where everybody was leaning toward certain artists to sample, we wanted to look for artists that maybe were not on the radar. So that's where the term digging came from. Actually, my man Latif, he used to say, "Yo, I'm going to go digging." And I just kind of ran with that shit. But I got to give credit to my man Latif from Brooklyn, wherever you at, fam! Wherever you at, my brother. All right. But yeah, Diggin’ In The Crates—that's what it stood for. The next level of production, to do what the name says, to go digging, and just try to find rare samples or just some groups nobody really was messing with. And yeah, it just took off from that.

Later throughout the '90s, after your first solo album, you went on a prolific run as a producer, what were these sessions like during that time? What was your gear of choice back then?

The Akai 950. Yeah, I was using the Akai back then. And the sequencer that I was using was in Alesis HR-16. People thought I was using the SP12, but I wasn't. I was using that [HR-16]. But I wasn't using any sound from that machine, I was just sequencing on it. But a lot of them joints I did from the early '90s to about '96 I did on that, up until The Fugees.

What happened then? Upgraded?

Yeah, I jumped on the MPC 2000 at that point, around that time.

Wow that MPC 2000. Can you talk about what that experience was like upgrading from the 950 to the 2000?

The MPC 2000 definitely was a revolutionary machine. The tracks I did for Mos Def back then, Yasiin Bey, Hip Hop, the tracks I did for Pharoahe Monch, the Light, the Truth, Ras Kass, Sold on Ice. That's the era I was on the MPC 2000. Yeah, that era right around there.

Do you feel that coming up in the days where samplers had substantially less sampling time than that of today's helped you define your sampling skills?

Yeah. And I think also for the people who use the SP12... Because I didn't use the 12 or the 1200, that's a misconception. People think I used it. But I do know people who did use it, like Pete Rock, Easy Mo Bee, Lord Finesse. You only had a certain amount of sampling time, which forced you to be creative. So I would attribute a lot of that creativity, that a lot of producers from my era. We had to work with what we had. And then when we finally got the technology where the sample memory was not a factor, it just made you even that more nice.

But speaking of that, you have been around multiple decades now. You have seen this tech move along, particularly with catering towards sampling. What're your thoughts on all this AI stuff and all the stem separators we got out here now? You been using any of that?

The stem separators? Most def. Yeah, I love that shit.

It's crazy, right?

I love that shit. I love everything except AI using people's voices and record labels profiting off of that. That's some real bullshit. Why not just pay the artists? It's almost like saying, "We don't want to fuck with the artist, but we going to use his voice." And that shit is ridiculous. It starts there, but where will it end? Where will it end? Somebody can call your job and say, "I quit," but it ain't you, somebody just called with your voice, called your place of appointment and quit. So where does it end? But that's the part of AI I'm not really feeling.

It seems like you've been keeping busy out here doing these beat battles, How's that been going and what else have you got cooking up these days?

Yeah, yeah. I got one coming up this weekend with Large Professor in Charlotte, so I'm looking forward to that. That should be nice. Also, my man Ski Beatz is going up against Rashad Smith. That'll be good too. That'll be good too. Both incredible producers. It's also going to be a beat set by the Beat Miners. Shouts out to Gene Brown who put it all together. Right now, I'm working on the Dime Piece Three, and that'll complete that series, the Dime Piece series. I just dropped a new video with me and Posdnuos from De La Soul. I just dropped that two weeks ago. It's called, "Flying High". That's from off the new album, The Rear View. Possibly working on some stuff with Fat Joe for his new album, and definitely Pharoahe Monch. So just staying busy.

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