The Bronx’s first wave of hip-hop heroes were the visionary architects and progenitors of a largely live practice. But by the early 90s their heirs were distinguishing themselves with their command of the recording studio. Along with his fellow flagship colleagues in the Diggin’ In the Crates crew – Showbiz & AG and Lord Finesse – producer/emcee Diamond D was amongst the brightest young talents to come out of the BX in this period. Raised in Forest Houses and mentored by the legendary Zulu Nation DJ/producer/studio and label owner Jazzy Jay (who signed Diamond’s first group, Ultimate Force) he was already something of a rap industry veteran when he dropped a sage and savvy guest verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Show Business” from the group’s classic 1991 LP, Low End Theory.
But it was Diamond’s fittingly titled debut single with back-up crew the Psychotic Neurotics, “Best Kept Secret,” that revealed his skills in microcosm: expertly hooked-up drums and stinging guitar stabs supporting witty verses dispensed in a conversational cadence not unlike an East 163rd Street answer to ATCQ’s Q-Tip. Along with an infectious jazz-inflected B-side, “Freestyle (Yo, That’s That Sh…),” co-produced by Main Source auteur Large Professor, Diamond quickly established himself as a hefty force within NYC’s vanguard of MC/beat maestros, several of which he counted as collaborators. Rendered with the assuredness of someone who’d spent years honing his craft in the shadows, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop realizes that promise and then some, and is of a piece with the era’s finest purist endeavors.
Of his approach to production, Diamond is characteristically plain-spoken, noting, “The sound is raw, don’t need a million samples” (from the 45 King co-produced gem “Check One, Two”). What he does with said samples however continually impresses – whether pairing loops and complementary horn parts of the same key (“*!*! What U Heard”), re-pitching chopped guitars loops and charmingly anachronistic bells (“A Day In the Life” featuring Brand Nubian), cleverly incorporating sampled vocals in song choruses (“I’m Outta Here”), or filtering basslines to dreamlike effect (“Sally Got a One Track Mind”). The latter two songs – the first a series of confrontational street vignettes recited in Slick Rick-esque fashion, the second the somber saga of a girl of supposed ill repute – showcase Diamond as a particularly deft storyteller.
If his Bronx pedigree provides fodder for narratives, characters, and hilarious Fort Apache asides (e.g. “Word got around that my shit is boomin/ It ran through the Bronx just like Paul Newman”), it also offers a genuine sense of pride. On the posse cut “Pass Dat Shit,” featuring an early appearance from Fat Joe, Diamond reminisces about being a Catholic school kid who’d catch hell from his moms for staying out late at old school park jams, yet nonetheless convinced her to buy him a set of Technics B-10s. On “K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)” co-produced by Tip, he declares, “See I’m from the Boogie and I’m proud ‘cause our borough/ Was the first to take a five-second beat/ Make it repeat, then spread it across the Triboro.” And on the title track, he shouts out a roll call of pioneers from Kool Herc to the Funky 4 before concluding, “Yo back then it wasn’t done for cash/ I hope the legacy continues to last.” With Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, Diamond undoubtedly did his part.
In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, uDiscover Music is publishing 50 album reviews throughout 2023 that highlight the breadth and depth of the genre. The Hip-Hop 50 logo was designed by Eric Haze, the mind behind iconic graphics for EPMD and LL Cool J.