In October, just a few days before this Diamond District album dropped, Sasha Frere-Jones proclaimed yet another death knell for hip hop with a piece in the New Yorker talking about the decline of hip hop (and Jay-Z) as evidenced by the overall quality of Blueprint 3 and the influence of disco on most of the popular rap tracks du jour.
What Frere-Jones should have said is that rap is dead, not hip hop, because it seemed like what he bemoaned was the fact that all the rappers people talk about – all the cats with big label backing and videos visible on basic cable – aren’t as good as they used to be back when popularity had more to do with skill than corporate money support – basically another Golden Age rap fan over the age of 30 saying the genre as they once knew it is no longer there.
Newsflash: things change, and in this case, what has changed is how real hip hop is accessed, ie – not through TV or the radio, as opposed to any diminishing of the quality of the artists who are truly pursuing the art form. Are there more bad rappers than ever before? Yes, both in the mainstream and the underground – thanks internet. But, on the flip side, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any good ones left either.
If he’d dug around a bit, he might have stumbled across Diamond District, a DC trio whose goal is two-fold – 1) make incredible music, and 2) give the nation’s capital the boom bap tradition it never managed to establish during the early 90s when every hip hop aficionado could recite 5-Borough slang regardless of their upbringing, geographically speaking.
The production is courtesy of Oddisee and a few special guests such as underground notable Kev Brown (who on a side note, will probably succeed J-Live for the title of illest producer/emcee to gain notoriety in the underground off the strength of skill and rigorous touring, but with little or no name recognition beyond circles of true heads – the price of truth these days).
Early on, the beats are brooding and anxious, like El-P back when he was still with Company Flow, or the joints on Big L’s Lifestylez of the tha Poor and Dangerous (everything except “MVP” and “Put It On”). The hauntingly keyed sample chops, a hallmark of classic East Coast production, are combined with powerfully layered kick and snare samples that give it the unmistakable boom bap feel. Not to be pigeonholed into some purely backpack shit though, by the middle of the album, everything has opened up and joints like “The District” and others will put a crick in your neck.
The beats are interesting, but without being overpowering – leaving ample room for the group’s strong, street-wise flows. I don’t know how I’ve never heard of YU before – but he’s got to be one of the illest I’ve heard this year, like an eloquent ODB – seriously. He’s got all the raw delivery you can take, but his flow is crazy and his words are choice. Don’t sleep on X.O. either though, whose Takeover Pt. 2 tape was dope earlier this year. Both he and Oddisee hold it down.
This is a real hip hop album. There are moments you’ve got to rewind to catch what dudes say, because they actually have some shit to say; there are moments when the beats are so live you’ve got to roll down the windows and turn that shit up when you’re in the car. Plus there’s loads of DC slang – so get familiar with mumbo sauce and all night take out because these cats aren’t going anywhere.