From crafting hits with one of the greatest collection of musical talents ever assembled, the Diggin’ in the Crates crew, to carving out a successful solo career, Diamond D has earned true legend status. Oh yeah, let’s not forget how his dusty, head-nodding collection of beats helped to define what most fans would consider to be the greatest era of hip-hop. And then there’s The Diam Piece, Diamond D’s new compilation, produced entirely by the legend himself and featuring a slew of vets and new school MCs. Diamond D talks to HipHopGame in an exclusive interview to discuss The Diam Piece, his artist BigRec, the 15th anniversary of the passing of Big L, some new D.I.T.C. music, and much more.
I’m really looking forward to your new compilation The Diam Piece, dropping this April. After watching the trailer, you had a lot of producers and MCs on there. Were the double threats a conscious decision?
Yes, definitely. Definitely. It’s always a pleasure to work with Pete Rock, Nottz, and Hi-Tek. I respect their work behind the boards and behind the mic.
It’s not too often that you see new artists who are nice on the beats and mic, and you’re one of the pioneers of having both skills. What does it take to be nice as a producer and as an MC?
I don’t know. For each individual, it’s different, but speaking from my own personal experiences, first of all, most producers, not all, but I would say that 90% of all producers were DJs. So we know all about timing and rhythm. Me, myself, when I first started rhyming, I was around Lord Finesse, the Brand Nubians, Showbiz and A.G. I was around all of these dope MCs and it just kind of rubbed off on me, personally. But I think most producers, we have a sense of timing and basically, that’s, to me, one of the main aspects of being a good MC, having timing and of course having the right lyrics to go along with that. So the transition was not that difficult for me.
I was just talking to Psycho Les about this a couple of weeks ago about how important it is for a producer to have DJ experience. Can DJing also help MCs?
I don’t know. That’s debatable. One of the first DJ/MCs was Grandmaster Caz from the Cold Crush Four and he’s one of my idols. DJ Hollywood, who preceded Grandmaster Caz, DJ Hollywood was one of the first to DJ and rock the crowd simultaneously. The lineage is there. You just gotta know where to look.
As someone who can do it all, how do you make sure that you’re sharpening your craft in both areas without neglecting the MC or DJ side?
Well, because I’m still a fan of hip-hop. I’m still a fan of hip-hop. I listen to what’s going on. I listen to a lot of new records that’s coming out. You can’t alienate yourself and only listen to your stuff. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to your guns as far as doing you, but I think in order to be competitive and just so you’ll know what’s going on in hip-hop, it’s good to be a fan, so this way you can have something to measure yourself up to.
When you look at the era of music you came up in and what fans would expect from you, are fans ever surprised when they hear you listen to new artists outside of that era?
Yeah. You gotta find a balance. You gotta find a balance. I like what some of the young guns are doing. Troy Ave, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar. I can go on and on. These are new artists who are making hip-hop that some would a consider classic sound. And I only throw the word “classic” on there because it’s not a down south trap beat. It’s either going to be a down south trap beat or it’s going to be something organic, which people just call a classic sound.
As far as The Diam Piece is concerned, it’s something that’s boom-bap all the way through.
How important was that sound when constructing The Diam Piece as opposed to doing something more experimental that may not be received as well by your fans?
Good observation. I can only be the best me. I coulda made an album with a bunch of keyboard beats and maybe, you know, accumulated some new fans, but as you just pointed out, I would have alienated everybody who’s been riding with me up to this point. So what I did is I kept the sound classic, but it’s up-to-date classic. You know, it’s not no SP-1200, 8-bit shit. But I also reached out to a bunch of new school MCs as well as some veterans. The album is tight. I felt I had a lot to prove since that last joint I put out, which was more of a mixtape. I know a lot of my fans didn’t really take to it, but that’s neither here nor there. But this Diam Piece shit, I’m back behind the boards and I’m doing what I love. I feel good about this music and that’s the main thing.
It sounds like you want to forget about the Huge Hefner project.
I’m not going to say that, but I will say this. I do know that a lot of my fans didn’t really feel it. And you know, all I was trying to do was something that J. Dilla wanted to do before he passed away, and that was to create an album where I don’t have to produce every track, and that’s what I attempted to do. And also, The Huge Hefner was geared more towards the ladies. You can tell from the artwork and the shit I talked about. It wasn’t meant for the motherfuckers in the street, per se. And I know that might have rubbed some of my fans the wrong way, but at the end of the day, I’m an artist too. And I just wanted to try something different. That’s all.
And with everything you’ve done, you should be allowed to take those risks.
Look, right, I’ve been producing since Lord Finesse’s first album, 1990. So from 1990, it took me all the way to 2008 to finally do something that I didn’t produce the whole thing on. So yeah, I thought it was time. What was that, 18 years? (laughs)
Going back to 1990, did you ever see yourself being a 25 year vet in the game and having the longevity that you have?
No. In ‘90 I just wanted to get on and to make enough money to have some money in my pocket. You don’t ever think it’s going to last as long as it’s lasting. But as far as Diamond D is concerned, I didn’t oversaturate the market. I put out two albums and three mixtapes, really. I would call The Huge Hefner a mixtape. But what I’m trying to say is Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop and Hatred, Passions, and Infidelity and then the mixtape The Diamond Mine, Grown Man Talk, and then The Huge Hefner shit, but now with The Diam Piece shit, I’m back behind the boards and I’m doing what I love.
Do you still have something to prove?
I’m still competitive. I’m competing with myself and I’m competing with producers that I like. It’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.
It’s refreshing because that means we’ll be hearing a lot more from you.
Definitely. I got BigRec. He’s the first artist on Diamond Mine Records. I did his whole album. That’s called Doomsday. That’ll be dropping this spring as well. I’m putting out a lot of new music this year.
You and BigRec have been working together for a minute now.
Yeah, about a year. After recording a lot of songs and deleting some songs, we got it down to 12. We’re probably looking at a spring release as well.
When I interviewed Primo, I asked him this same question. What does it take for an artist to catch your ear and make you want to do a whole project with them?
With me, it’s lyricism, style, delivery, content, the look. It’s all of those things. And, you know, when I first saw BigRec at an MC battle, he was up on stage killin it. Killing it! And afterwards, I approached him, we chopped it up, and boom, here we are, a year later.
How often do you go out to showcases and battles to look for new talent?
I do my stuff and my own thing 80% of the time. 20%, I still fuck with the MC battles. Either I’m a judge or I’m just a spectator looking for talent. Because again, like I said, I’m still a fan of hip-hop. If I was just all cooped up in my house, I would never meet any new artists. And that goes for any producer. You gotta get out there and touch the people, for real.
I saw through Lord Finesse’s Twitter that it’s been 15 years since Big L’s passing. Is it hard to believe it’s been that long?
Yeah, man. You know, it’s amazing how time flies. It’s amazing. If you’re 18 now, you were three when he died. Just a bad loss. I don’t like talking about the Big L situation. But yeah, definitely a great loss for hip-hop. He was definitely one of the best to ever do it.
So many kids and fans still talk about his music and appreciate what he did. It just shows that you guys were really creating timeless music.
Yeah, you look on YouTube, and it’s amazing. And shouts out to Big Pun too. Shouts out to Big Pun too.
Primo told me how Big L would keep scraps of paper for all the lines he thought of so he wouldn’t forget. Did you ever get to see that?
Nah. I didn’t really get to see that. We’d all be in there writing, but it wasn’t like I was staring over him. For the most part, L already had his rhymes. For the most part, he already had it memorized.
It was dope to see A.G. and Fat Joe on The Diam Piece. One of the things I’d heard about back when Fat Joe was on Atlantic that it was hard to get in touch with Fat Joe for anything D.I.T.C. related. Now that he’s indie, is he easier to get at?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I know when I reached out to him, he got back to me immediately. Crazy.
Is there a reason someone like O.C. or Lord Finesse isn’t on The Diam Piece?
It’s just the way it happened. Finesse has been working on his Underboss project and the last I heard was that O.C. was doing something with Bumpy Knuckles, so I’m looking forward to that. But I reached out to everybody actually. A.G. and Fat Joe, they got back to me in a timely manner and they’re on the project.
Obviously there could never be a real D.I.T.C. album today the same way there could never be a real Wu-Tang album, but do you think something could happen with the members of the crew today?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I do know that Showbiz is putting together a remix album of the only Diggin’ in the Crates album that we made. He’s doing a remix project. He’s got Apollo Brown on there, Large Professor, 9th Wonder, I did a joint, Premier did a joint. He’s got different producers remaking the songs. I know the fans can look forward to that.
How often do you get asked about new D.I.T.C. music?
All the time! All the time! All the time! But you know, people know that I represent Diggin’ in the Crates, so of course the questions are going to come. And they come often. Is there going to be another project? How’s so-and-so doing? After 20 years, you get used to it.
You’d have to be worried if you weren’t getting asked.
Exactly! That’s right, Brian. You already know. When the fans stop asking, that’s when it’s bad.
Did you get that jacket custom made for the cover of The Diam Piece?
(laughs) Everybody’s asking me that!
I’m sure you got a lot of fans that would rock that.
Yeah, man. I better get on that! (laughs) I’m thinking about doing a KickStarter campaign and that could be one of my pledges.
Did a company make that for you?
It was designed but I haven’t seen it in person, as of yet. I haven’t physically seen it ‘cause I had it made in Europe.
I think so. It’s retro but it’s still futuristic.
How would you describe that retro yet futuristic sound?
Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop, that was 12 to 16-bit. What I would call brand new retro is a similar sound, but now at 24-bit. So now it would have that classic sound, but sonically, it would sound like some Quincy Jones shit. So that’s where I’m at with it.
How do you continue growing as a producer when fans already love your sound?
As an artist, you just want to keep outdoing yourself. That’s what we, as artists, strive for. How can I top this? How can I top that? Or how can I add on to my legacy? You have to want to give a fuck about your music and your brand. You can’t take nothing for granted. The album is crazy. The first single is called “Rap Life” and that’s with Pharoahe Monch. We just shot the video. We’re going to blast that off in probably two weeks and we’re just going to see how that rubs off on the masses.
How important was it for you to work with the MCs on The Diam Piece in the studio versus just sending them beats?
It was very important. Some MCs, I was in the studio with and some MCs, I sent the beat but I sent the concept also. It wasn’t like people were just running into the booth blindly. Communication is key, whether somebody’s in the studio with you or you’re emailing vocals to each other. Communication is key.
What’s a day in the life of Diamond D like?
Ah. I get up, shower, get my mind right, check my emails and shit, go by the record label, do label work. In the afternoon, I’m in the studio and that can just run until sometime the next morning. It all depends. Some days are busier than others. I don’t work every day. I think I work about four or five days out of the week. I’m a lab rat. I’d rather be in the lab creating. I still go digging. Of course, a lot of people on the internet are going e-digging. That’s what I call it – e-digging.
But you know, I still like to hit up a couple of record stores. I still want to get out there and touch the vinyl, but don’t get it twisted. I fuck with the digging blog sites too. I’m not stuck on, ‘Yo, if you don’t have the vinyl…’ Later for all that bullshit. As long as you can get a clear copy of the sample and the song you’re looking for, whether it’s digital or vinyl, then more power to you. When you’re in the studio and you sample something that’s hot and rare, when it hits the clubs, motherfuckers aren’t going to hit the dancefloor and say, “Oh, I can tell he sampled that from vinyl.” Nobody gives a fuck as long as it’s clean. And I say that because you still have your diehard diggers who say that it it’s not on vinyl, then it don’t count.
I’ve talked to producers like that too, who say they’ll never sample an MP3.
I don’t know about all of that because you could sample “Impeach the President” drums off the internet and you wouldn’t be able to tell if that was from the internet or the vinyl. It all depends on the quality of the WAV file. Me and you know that, Brian. Let me tell you something. I came across WAV files online of albums that I have vinyls of. Some of the WAVs sound a lot better and cleaner. They just do. It don’t matter to me. It don’t matter to me. I’m a collector first, so I love to have all the vinyl of whatever I’m sampling, but if there’s a sample of something that I’m looking for and I don’t have the vinyl, then oh yeah, I’m going to find the sample online and do what I do.
Your vinyl collection must be crazy now.
I got a nice collection! (laughs) I got a nice collection.
How do you know when a Diamond D beat is done and when it still needs some tweaking?
Good question. Hard to say. Hard to say, Brian, because some beats you can damn-near get a good foundation and a bridge in 30 minutes or less and then there are beats that I’ve made that I’ve had up for two or three or four days. With me, I try to make the basic sequence of the beat and then I try to make, at the minimum, at least a chorus part of a track, and then after I do those two basics, it’s still not done, but it’s good enough for me to shop or for me to give to an artist and tell them, ‘Here’s the blueprint. When you hear these sounds, that’s the hook.’ Once I have the main parts down, with the main beat and the change-up and the hook, sonically, then I’ll move on to the next one. But a track is never really done until it’s mixed.
Do you mix your own tracks?
I don’t mix by myself. I have three engineers that I work with, my man Kurt Lindsay, Vance Wright, and my man Dylan. I wanted to shout them out real quick.
Will we see you reaching out to MCs for other albums, like producing a track for a Sheek Louch album?
I’m going to focus on Diamond Mine business, and of course, I still plan to work with a few of the artists that I really like. Styles P being one of them. I definitely want to get at Styles P on some joints. You’re only as hot as your last release. I said, “Okay, cool, I’m going to pool my resources, fuck with the artists that fuck with me and that I respect, and put out this Diam Piece album.” And when that does whatever that’s going to do, then that’s going to draw in all of the extra-curricular shit that I can do afterwards. I’m not one of those producers stuck in the past, like, ‘Yo, I did this, I did that. I won a Soul Train award. I won a Grammy.’ All of that shit is true, but I’m living in the present.