Diamond District – March on Washington
Mello Music Group: 2014
It’s hard to imagine what kind of label Mello Music Group would look like today without the early efforts of Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO. In 2009, MMG was still in its formative years and those three rappers’ collaborative debut as Diamond District, In the Ruff, provided the label with one of its first landmark releases. Five years later, Mello Music Group is one of the premier sources of independent hip-hop music, from proven veterans like O.C. and Rass Kass to up-and-comers like Quelle Chris and Apollo Brown. The label has had an especially strong 2014, and the five-year anniversary of In the Ruff makes it the perfect time for new material from the trio that helped launch Mello Music.
Minutes into March on Washington, Diamond District is described as the “D.C. Voltron.” If any group deserves the title of Voltron, it’s these guys. Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO are all phenomenal rappers in their own right, but it’s when these individuals combine to become one cohesive unit that they really shine. The three MC’s are often on the same level, providing strong verses while rarely ever outshining each other. They pass the mic amongst themselves so effortlessly that it seems almost impossible. It’s hard to remember a trio of rappers having such strong chemistry since the Beastie Boys. Tracks like “These Bammas” find Diamond District at its best, with each rapper dropping a few dope lines and handing the verse along to the next man up, never missing a beat.
Just as Voltron is the Defender of the Universe, Diamond District sees itself as defenders of lyrical hip-hop. On Mello Music’s description of the album, it is stated: “The truths remain timeless. Wisdom over rhythm. Slang turned into testament.” In an era where how hard a beat slaps may be seen as more important than the actual content of the song, the members of Diamond District seek to create a killer combination of gritty raps and raw beats. The final line of the album’s lead single, “First Step,” challenges the listener, and more importantly, other rappers, to “keep up with the pace.” The mighty D.C. Voltron is telling the competition that they cannot possibly reach their levels, and for good reason.
The idea of rappers trying to “preserve the raw and make it righteous” in 2014 might serve as a warning sign to many rap fans. When people read words like that, they associate it with a brand of hip-hop that is too retrospective and stuck in the past. The skill displayed on projects with such themes is often strong, but the focus on lyricism often allows for production to suffer. Luckily for Diamond District, Oddisee is behind the boards — a preventative agent stalling any possibility of weak beats. No two tracks on March on Washington sound the same. Oddisee often switches up the instrumentation on different tracks, pulling from his impressive toolbox. “First Step” features prominent guitars and record scratching; “Say What You Mean” is backed by horn samples; and tracks like “These Bammas” feature Neptunes-esque synth lines.
While the members of Diamond District see themselves as a holy trinity of rap, not everything they do is exactly godly. The album starts to feel its length towards the middle, often on the records that are more hook-heavy. The soul singing of “A Part of It All” and “Ain’t Over” provides even more variation between tracks, but the choruses elongate an already hefty album. These artists don’t have to branch out much farther than their comfort zone here. All the group needs to do is let their lyrical prowess and Oddisee’s soulful production do the talking. The album finishes strong with heavy-hitting single “Lost Cause” and the absolutely bonkers “Bonus Flow,” but this could’ve been an even greater triumph if they trimmed just a teensy bit of fat.
4 out of 5
You can purchase March on Washington on Amazon.