Revered rapper-producer Diamond D established himself as one of rap’s best double threats in the 1990s. The Diggin’ in the Crates Crew member has impacted top acts such as Fat Joe, Brand Nubian, and the Fugees, and he’s got even more in store with Talib Kweli and their Gotham project.
Diamond D didn’t know what to make of it. It was circa 1994 and Wyclef Jean had approached him at the Tunnel, the then-preeminent New York City nightclub. Wyclef wanted Diamond D, an in-demand rapper-producer, thanks to his work with Ultimate Force, Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth, Brand Nubian, Fat Joe, and others, to submit beats for consideration for the new album his group the Fugees were working on.
“We exchanged our contact, but you know in a club artists tell you any fucking thing,” Diamond D says. “You don’t know if it’s real or if a nigga just wants to chop it up with you.”
Even though Diamond knew of the Fugees, he was familiar only with the “Nappy Heads (Remix)” produced by Salaam Remi, which was gaining traction. Diamond did, however, have an idea of the type of beat he thought Wyclef would like.
“I did know that he played guitar,” Diamond D says. “That had a role in the beat that I submitted to them.”
Anchored by a sample of a guitar progression on Cymande’s song “Dove,” Diamond D’s beat ended up as the title track of the Fugee’s landmark 1996 album, The Score. It sold more than 6 million copies, won Best Rap Album at the 1997 Grammy Awards, and launched the solo careers of group members Lauryn Hill, Pras, and Wyclef Jean.
“It turned out all real,” says Diamond D, who rapped on and produced The Score. “I am glad to be associated with that album.”
While The Score is the best-selling album on which Diamond D’s production and rapping is featured, it wasn’t the last. In fact, the Diggin’ in the Crates Crew (D.I.T.C.) member has remained one of rap’s most prolific rapper-producers. He’s alternated between releasing his own material, most recently 2019’s The Diam Piece 2 album, and producing songs for a wide range of artists, including Sadat X, Dilated Peoples, J-Live, and Pharoahe Monch. His witty wordplay and slick phrasing has earned him accolades among rap’s lyric fiends, while his sometimes bluesy, always hard-hitting beats have emerged as timeless recordings that have become the foundation for the careers of several artists.
Building his brand as both a rapper and an artist has been paramount for Diamond. It’s also been organic. “There’s no real method to it,” Diamond D says. “It just depends on how the track hits me and how I vibe to it. But also, if you want to be a successful producer, you have to be unselfish. You can’t just keep all the hot joints for yourself. I mean you could, but then your production career will suffer. So you’ve gotta try to find balance. A lot of joints that I gave away and produced for other people, no question, I would have kept them if I just wanted to keep all the best beats for myself.”
When he works with others, the results are often magical. His stirring beats for Brand Nubian (“Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down”), Fat Joe (“Flow Joe,” and “Watch the Sound”), Tha Alkaholiks (“The Next Level”), and Ras Kass (“Soul on Ice Remix”) helped make each of these songs a single, one with an accompanying video and promotional push.
One of Diamond D’s primary production attributes is his ability to enable artists to come into his sonic world and remain true to themselves. “D knows how to weave music around himself and other artists,” says fellow D.I.T.C. member O.C., who appears on The Diam Piece 2 track “Got It Covered.” “What’s ill about him is he can use a rock sample, a blues sample, a reggae sample, and no one else can ever get it the way he does it. I’ve always said that people listen to Diamond to take his samples. He’s way overlooked. I think he’s a genius. I think Kanye and a lot of them owe a lot of shit to D.”
With The Diam Piece 2, Diamond gave the album’s featured artists the freedom to express themselves. For instance, on the politically charged “Bodied,” Diamond let David Banner approach the beat in his own way.
“When I sent it to David Banner, I didn’t give him any direction,” Diamond D says. “I just said, ‘Yo. Here’s the beat.’ I already knew David. He’s definitely someone we would call conscious in the Black community. When he sent it back, he set the tone for that track. Then I sent it to my artist Big Rec. He picked the ball up, and he and everything just came together.”
The same synergy exists with Diamond D’s forthcoming Gotham project with Talib Kweli. They’re in the process of recording and are about 10 songs in, something that surprised Diamond D.
“I sent Talib a couple of beats, just to vibe to,” he says of the project, which he anticipates wrapping this summer and releasing soon thereafter. “I sent him like maybe eight joints last year. Then when I met him in person, I’m figuring he might’ve just picked maybe two of them. He said he winded up vocaling all of them. That’s how it started.”
As Diamond D works on Gotham and other material, he pulls from his experience and lessons learned after decades as both a rapper and a producer.
“I’m much better than when I started off,” Diamond D says. “I mean, I don’t care if you’re a construction worker, a truck driver, or you make sneakers in a factory. If you haven’t progressed in your craft in 25 years, what’s really going on?
“Everybody’s got to find their lane and just be active,” he says. “At the same time, they’ve still got to be a fan of the music. You’ve got to listen to what’s going on. Maybe switch up your cadence. Try different flows. Whatever you gotta do. Or you can just be nice with the bar work, and then you ain’t really got to do nothing fancy. Just be yourself.”
* HEADER CREDIT: Diamond D attends Sa-Ra Creative Partners' Showcase at Canal Room January 11, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)