Track By Track: Diamond D Breaks Down The Diam Piece Album
Diamond D is releasing his latest project, The Diam Piece, on 30 September so I caught up with him to find out the stories behind each track and get a little bit of insight into the process of constructing a production project with so many guests.
Diamond D: It’s more or less a production LP, about two and a half years it took. A lot of tracks I didn’t even use. I had about 27 tracks but I only used 18. Some of the artists I was in the studio with, and others – because of their touring schedule and my touring schedule – I just sent them music and they sent me the session back. If the track that I give them has a sample in it that’s giving it direction then they’ll follow that. If there is no sample or concept at the beginning I just let the MC’s paint their own pictures and try to figure out how can make it connect. I use a lot more live instrumentation now. I still chop and manipulate samples, but my sound just sounds bigger now. Just using better equipment so the sample frequencies are better.
Domingo – The Unkut Interview
Domingo‘s latest album, Same Game, New Rules dropped this week, featuring a mixture of veteran MC’s (AZ, Kool G Rap, KRS-One) and new jacks (Chris Rivers, Kon Boogie, Joey Fattz), so I took some time out to discuss some of the highs and lows of his long career in the music game, and found out some amusing trivia about some LL Cool J and G Rap songs in the process.
Robbie: What sparked you off to start making beats?
Domingo: My uncle used to go to radio personality college and he started deejaying for a radio station in Chicago as an intern and then became a radio personality there. He would send me cassettes back of him deejaying and I was always fascinated. When he finally came back home to Brooklyn, he threw his equipment in the basement of my grandma’s house where I was living and he would DJ down there and play the drums. My uncle was very multi-talented, I would just sit there and watch him. I always remember him playing “King Tim” and then he played “Rapper’s Delight” and Kurtis Blow. When “Rapper’s Delight” came out, that’s when I was hooked. One day I started deejaying and then it transcended into me wanting to do demos and write my little raps and do battles in the street. I did my demos with two tape decks, back and forth how it used to get done, then I went on to four tracks.
What was it like growing up in East New York back then?
East New York was homicide central, like Jeru said. I grew up with Jeru, Lil’ Dap – childhood friends. A good friend of mine, his nickname is Froggy, and he’s like family to me. We always say that we “graduated.” We were lucky to live to 21. I could take you to the cemetery and show you a row of all my friends who are dead. East New York was a very rough neighborhood, man. Early childhood memories is gunshots, trains running past my house – the L train, cos my house is right near the corner on Sheppard Avenue. Growing up with my friends – my friends are still my friends to this day! And the fact that one of my good friends named Edison, who I grew up with, if it wasn’t for him putting me in his father’s Chevy Caprice Classic and telling me, “Domingo – this is you all the way! Let’s go see Marley at ‘BLS, he’s looking for people.” If he didn’t drag me there, I would’ve never met Marley.
Spoonie Gee – The Unkut Interview
Thanks to Will and Aaron from Tuff City records, I had the chance to speak to pioneering Harlem rapper Spoonie Gee last week, who set the standard for street tales and slick talk on his earlier work for Enjoy and Sugarhill before he enjoyed a late 80’s comeback with Marley Marl and Teddy Riley providing the cutting edge beats. After enduring some rocky times for most of the 90’s, he’s currently in the process of recording one last project before he retires from music for good.
Robbie: Being from Harlem, in the early days before records, did you have to travel to see shows?
Spoonie Gee: I went to The Bronx, that’s the first place I saw Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. First time I seen him, I think it was P.A.L on Webster Avenue. I used to go see the Funky 4 + 1, Fantastic Five.
How had you heard about them?
I heard a tape of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four MC’s at the time, this was before Raheim joined them.
Illa Ghee – The Unkut Interview
Illa Ghee was known as a Mobb Deep affiliate in the early days of his career, having appeared on Hell On Earth as General G, but his latest LP, Social Graffiti, has allowed him to free himself of any constraints and push his rhymes beyond well-worn street themes. While he was riding the subway the other night, we chopped it up about his early days and how Super Lover Cee inadvertently ended his cousin’s rap career.
What were you doing before you worked with Mobb Deep and Alchemist?
I was still rhyming, but I was more into the street life at the time. I went to school with Prodigy, they got cool with Alchemist and by the time I came home from jail Alchemist was hanging with them all the time so I started linking up with Alchemist too. My first actual CD I put together was called Body Music and most of the production on that was done by me. That was 2003.
Were you taking rhyming seriously at that stage?
I just wanted to rhyme on the radio! There was a show – Pete Rock and Marley Marl – at the time that was on the radio. That’s where most of the things I wrote were pretty much aimed at, just getting on the radio and lose my mind.
DJ King Shameek – The Unkut Interview
Having returned to the music game five years ago after an extended hiatus, DJ King Shameek is back rocking clubs on a regular basis in New Jersey and beyond, but you most likely first saw him do his thing with Twin Hype for their dance floor classic “Do It To The Crowd.” Shameek took some time out of his schedule to talk about his roots as a DJ and early production techniques, King Sun vs. Ice Cube and his involvement with the mysterious diss record “The Truth” in 1999, which may have inspired 50 Cent‘s “How To Rob.”
Robbie: What made you want to take deejaying seriously?
DJ King Shameek: I was living in California at the time – I’m originally from New Jersey – but my uncle was at a legendary club in Newark, NJ called The Zanibar, so every time he used to come to California he would always bring a couple of records and give me some stuff, and I would see photographs of him deejaying. That’s when I really started trying to persue it a little more, get turntables and stuff like that. This is when they didn’t even have a mixer with a cross-fader yet. I was getting these microphone mixers that just had the faders up and down, so I would just sit there with a left and a right, putting one up and then putting the other one down! It was hilarious if you think about it now. I was always collecting records and I inherited records from my parents – they brought me up on a lotta Motown stuff and some Spanish stuff here and there. I was preparing myself in my adolescent years, toying around with my father’s record player, trying to scratch on them! [laughs] I would try to do that when he wasn’t watching. I ended up leaving California in ’87. Before that I was just doing a few gigs by being featured here and there, it wasn’t until I came here that I started producing and deejaying professionally.
Memories of Big L
Just read this wonderfully comprehensive feature on Big L over at Complex, titled Casualty of the Game: The Big L Story, and was inspired to collate a few stories of my own from past interviews. T-Ray, Peter Oasis, Milano and AG all share some memories involving The Devil’s Son…
Him-Lo – The Unkut Interview
Him-Lo has been dropping music on these here internets for the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until his Horsepower mixtape that I really paid attention. Turns out this Philly Lo-Lifer has been deep in this here shit since the golden era of Philadelphia hip-hop, and his brand of non-progressive, anti-social rap is just what the city needs right now.
Robbie: How did you get started?
Him-Lo: We’ve been rhyming for a long time, ever since we were teenagers. We were part of a few different crews before we cut it down to just me and Clever One – The Buze Bruvaz. We were also in a group called Bermuda Triangle at one point with a few other members, we grew up with them also. Clever One, that’s my brother, and those other dudes we were at grammar school with, so we’ve been rhyming for a long time. Matter of fact, when we started rhyming the game was completely different. Now everybody’s rhyming. We would go somewhere and when people found out we were doing this they were excited, “Oh, you rap? Kick a rap for us!” It was so different at the time. So we were doing it at a young age, and I’m 40 now. We were so heavy into hip-hop at such an early age – not just the rapping, all aspects of it – we grew up as graffiti writers, battling people and breakdancing, deejaying, doing everything. That’s why even at this age now we still do it, just for fun. It’s what we do, we can’t really shake it!
Dino Brave [The UN] – The Unkut Interview
As a founding member of The UN with Roc Marciano, Dino Brave has experienced a lot of Long Island rap history first hand. Inspired by the Spectrum City crew coming up (which would later evolve into Public Enemy), Brave had his time in the spotlight cut short thanks to bad timing in the crumbling music industry. But with the recent re-release of UN Or U Out, a new generation of rap fanatics are getting the chance to hear Brave, Laku, Mike Raw and Roc Marciano in action once again.
Robbie: How did everything start for you?
Dino Brave: It was kinda handed down to me, man. A lotta people in the family did music. My older brothers played instruments – they played guitar, they played the drums, made beats, keyboard players – all sorts of things. I grew-up with production studios in my house! I got into deejaying, it was the cheapest equipment I could get my hands on, putting two record players together and a mixer. I started deejaying around seven, touching official turntables. I was doing pretty everything that I wanted to do with the turntable, that I seen the great’s doing – it was boring for me at that point. So I decided to pick up the mic at thirteen. I heard “My Melody” and that made me want to write my first rap. I went to school with it, dude’s used to bang beats on the table and stuff like that. I kicked the rhyme, and my cousin who I was in school with loved it. He was like, “Run with it,” so I ran with it. I kept writing, did talent shows coming up and just start making tapes after school. I went to school with dude’s from The UN, so they were those guys at the lunch table, beating on the tables and making rhymes.
Five Minutes With Pete Rock In An Airport
Pete Rock loves his food. So much so that he’s never let a pesky phone interview get in the way of his looking after the needs of his stomach. Back in 2008, while I attempted to extract some slivers of information from him for a cover feature for Hip Hop Connection magazine, the Soul Brother # 1 proceeded to chow down on an entire order of Chinese take-out while he fielded questions, noisily chewing into the mouthpiece like a bored boom-bap bovine. Six years later, I catch him between flights en route to Australia to play a series of club dates with DJ Premier, and the lure of the airport food lounge proved too much before he’d even made it halfway through my allotted ten minutes. Nevertheless, he did share a couple of interesting tidbits about his early days, which is what we’re here for anyway.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Matt Fingaz Interview [Guesswhyld Records]
Matt Fingaz is living proof that unpaid internships can be more than just slave labor for record companies, as he was able to parlay his connections into an independent record label with Guesswhyld Records before he made the move into project co-ordination with the B.O.C (Business of Coordination) management company with Stat Quo, which handles with music, sport and fashion. Matt took some time out to kick it about those idealistic days when making an underground rap record was as simple as knowing the right guys in the neighborhood, as he helped everyone from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Sha Money XL get their feet in the door of the music game.
Robbie: What led to you getting involved with starting a label?
Matt Fingaz: In 1994 I was a DJ for college radio and I interned for Blunt Records – Mic Geronimo, Royal Flush and Cash Money Click – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday I was interning at Relativity, when Common and the Beatnuts and Fat Joe and Bone Thugs was popular. I just loved vinyl, I loved collecting records – I didn’t even want to be in the music business! One day my friend Brandon put out this record called The Derelicts, and I said, “Wow! You put out your own record?!” He said, “Yeah, and I put it out in Japan!” He had this check and it said “$1,000”. I was like, “Oh, you’re rich!” Cos we were just kids. I was nineteen years old and I was really good with the college promotions and marketing, but I was terrible in the mail room. Basically I didn’t know how to tape up packages, and they hated me so they complained. I used to work under Irv Gotti – he was DJ Irv at the time – and I worked under this guy Chappy. Chappy was like, “I’m sorry but we can’t use your services anymore.” I’m like, “You’re firing me? I’m working for free!”
Ruc Da Jackel aka Mr. QB – The Unkut Interview
Following the Foul Monday interview, fellow Killa Kidz member Ruc Da Jackel reached out to tell his story. Having been in the game since the age of twelve, Mr. QB has worked with Killa Sha, Nas and Ron Artest, and is currently preparing his debut solo album, I Am Queensbridge and just launched his I Am QB clothing line.
Robbie: What got you started in the rap game?
Ruc Da Jackel: It was just the element of Queensbridge. It’s always been around us, rap music has always been a part of our community. Having all them influences of hip-hop around me had me making raps up, banging on the lunchroom table. From there, just kept going.
Foul Monday – The Unkut Interview
After enduring a number of false starts in the music game, QB MC Foul Monday is preparing his debut album title I Hate Fucking Mondays with a number of local and European producers. Having worked with Killa Sha and Ron Artest in the past, Foul has witnessed a lot of Queensbridge rap history, and he took a minute out to explain the finer points of that thun language with me.
Robbie: What inspired you to take rapping seriously?
Foul Monday: It was actually two different forces – one that made me start rhyming, and one that wanted me to start making music. I met Starvin B in the eighth grade – he’s Irish and Indonesian, so you can imagine what that package looks like rapping! At the time he was one of the best rappers in our school, so I was kinda inspired to be that. I’m thinking, “If this kid can do it, I can do it.” As fate would have it, he was transferred over to my class and we became good friends and he helped me find an identity with this rapping stuff. When you start out, you emulate, you steal, but he helped me find my own voice. As far as wanting to make music? That came from Killa Sha and the Killa Kidz. Those were my friends from the neighborhood, at that point they were already doing music and pressing up vinyls. Making music wasn’t realistic goal until I saw them doing it, so I just strived to get better and better until folks started acknowledging me for my talent.
Lushlife – The Unkut Interview
Philidelphia’s own Lushlife caught my ear in 2012 with his Plateau Vision album, which saw him realize the potential heard on Cassette City and match the quality of his production with his rhymes. Currently working on a new album with producers CSLSX, I caught-up with Lushlife over the phone while he was midway through attempting to enjoy pizza and beer at a local bar to find out what inspired him to channel “Broken Language,” his appreciation for The LOX and why drinks cost so much in London.
Robbie: Did you start out as a producer or a rapper?
Lushlife: It didn’t even occur to me that I would rap. I had been making beats and doing production for many years, and I didn’t even want to go into the world of trying to find people to rhyme over my instrumentals. The moment that I got a mic at 20 – after a lifetime of listening and memorising rap songs – something just came out. As a hip-hop fan, I was like, “This is worthwhile shit!” So I just ran with that. The MC side of it came way second.
Timeless Truth – The Unkut Interview
Superbad Solace and Oprime39 first made some noise with their Brugal & Presidentes EP in 2012, and followed-up with their debut album Rock-It Science the following year. With a new EP and album due soon, it seemed like the perfect time to build with these two brothers from Flushing, Queens to talk about music, their iconic neighborhood and the importance of dressing fresh.
Robbie: Did you both grow-up in Flushing, Queens?
Solace: We moved out here in in 1988 because my father was a building superintendent and he landed a gig right here. We were living in Corona before that and that was a dream job back in the day, so he took the whole family out here.
Oprime: He was a super out in Lefrak at the time and an opportunity popped up in Flushing. We’ve been out here ever since.
Solace: The ill shit with a superintendent job is you also get the rent-free apartment.
DJ Stitches – The Unkut Interview
The story of Charlie Rock aka DJ Stitches is a classic example of how brutal the music industry can be. As a founding member of De La Soul, only himself discarded once they signed their first record deal, he went on to score a contract with Mercury Records for his next group – Class A Felony – only to have the album stuck in limbo for two years after his MC was brutally murdered in a bungled robbery attempt. Having also been involved with records for Uptown and Ilacoin, Stitches shared a number of behind-the-scenes incidents during his extended tour of duty in the rap world, and revealed some untold Long Island hip-hop history.
Robbie: What inspired you become a DJ originally?
DJ Stitches: I’m from South Jamaica, Queens – Southside. The hip-hop scene in Queens – 1978, 1979 – I seen some DJ’s, and my cousin from The Bronx, Mixmaster TC and the Soul City Crew, he used to let me mess around on his turntables. I mighta been like eleven or twelve. Me and my cousin Blinky kinda had the bug since then, and I migrated to Long Island in ninth grade and then came to North Amityville.
Diamond D – The Unkut Interview
Growing up in Forest Projects in the South Bronx, DJ Diamond D embarked on a career as a local DJ before teaming-up with childhood friend Master Rob to form the Ultimate Force crew and release the “I’m Not Playing” single on Strong City. Following on from yesterdays detailed breakdown of his first solo album, we discussed his formative years as a music fan, his loyalty to those he grew-up with and some of his lesser known musical contributions beyond his work with the D.I.T.C. crew.
Robbie: How old were you when you first deejayed publicly?
Diamond D: First time I deejayed in public I was around 13, 14 in my projects at the jams outside. There were two DJ’s in my neighborhood – DJ Supreme and DJ Hutch. They would come outside and basically provide the soundtrack to our lives, through hip-hop. At some point, from me pestering them, they let me get on their set. To me that was the biggest deal, to be able to get on the turntables in your projects and feel the love of the people that were in the projects, basically.
Track By Track: Diamond D Breaks Down The Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop Album
Today marks ten years since I started Unkut Dot Com, and what better way to celebrate than to sit down with the original “Best Producer On The Mic” himself, Diamond D. Originally scheduled to take place in late 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of his classic debut album, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, it wasn’t until last week that it finally happened. We began by discussing his timeless debut, track-by-track:
Diamond D: I’mma keep it a hunned with you, I only wanted twelve songs on there. But you’ve gotta remember in the early 90’s it wasn’t uncommon for an album to have 18, 19 songs. You look at Pete Rock‘s album, Mecca and the Soul Brother. You look at De La Soul‘s first album. If it had been up to me it wouldn’t have been 21 songs on that album. But Chemistry was just like, “We gonna just roll the dice and throw all the shit on there.” I can’t say which ones I would have left off, but I can tell you I ain’t want all 21 on there! But it seems like it’s good that they did that, because I never put out an album with them again.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Spencer Bellamy Interview
After coming up with Howie Tee as DJ and then producer, Spencer Bellamy started East Flatbush Project and released a series of quality records on his own 10/30 Uproar label at the beginning of the mid 90’s independent hip-hop vinyl movement. Best known for being the man responsible for the legendary “Tried By 12” instrumental, Spencer talks about the ups and downs of his experiences in the rap game.
Robbie: Can you tell me about how you started off with Howie Tee?
Spencer Bellamy: He used to have a crew called Count Disco. We were a local crew – myself, his brother and Howie would DJ – and then he had the MC’s, the Sureshot 4 MC’s, so they would do their routines. I hooked-up with him when I was around eleven years old. We played together for a few years and then we just became cool. After he cut-out of deejaying and went more into the production side of it, I would just watch what he would do. I was kinda like an apprentice, so to speak. From there, I tried my hand at production.
Sir Ibu – The Unkut Interview
Born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Crown Heights, Sir Ibu cemented a place in rap folklore with a record called “Holy War (Live)”, which still stands as one of the rawest examples of beats and rhymes ever recorded, so much so that Ghostface recreated a portion of it on his own modern-day remake named “Mighty Healthy”. Beyond being an influential microphone god, it turns out that Ibu may also have been the first ever Conservative Rap Coalition member, as well as having an obscure connection to Australian culture. Salutes to BK Thoroughbred for connecting me with Brooklyn rap royalty and helping this interview happen…
Robbie: What sparked your interest in rhyming initially?
Sir Ibu: It was my cousin – I think it was back in ‘79. I heard him rapping, and I was like, “Wow! What is that?” So he told me what it was and then let me hear this record. I think it was by Spoonie Gee? I kinda liked that, so ever since then I just started writing. I just used to write about girls – all my raps were about girls. Girls this, girls that, just bragging about how I am with the girls. So then when I ran into Supreme – I would say was about ‘83, ‘84 – he told me, “Listen, you’re good. But you could be better if you changed your subject matter. Instead of talking about how good you are with girls, talk about how good you are on the microphone. How good you are with your lyrics and your music and your rhymes and your vocabulary. Just anything but girls!” I’m like, “Alright.” So I did it and I came back to him and I said, “How ‘bout this?” And he said, “That’s perfect! Do you wanna be part of my group?” I’m like, “Alright, let’s do it.” And that’s how I got with him and his sister. It’s interesting, ‘cos his sister – her name was Ice-T originally when we started – but Ice-T from the west coast started making a name for himself, so it was like, “Listen, you’ve gotta change your name.” So she changed it to Nefertiti.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode Four
The final part of my interview with Aaron Fuchs at the new Tuff City offices, which covers competing against Def Jam, his work with Funkmaster Wizard Wiz and the infamous “Crack It Up”, Freddy B and The Mighty Mic Masters and The Maximus Three, amongst others. Also features a random Bob Marley anecdote for good measure.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Joe Mansfield Interview
Starting out as a promising young DJ and producer in Boston, Joe Mansfield was responsible for the first Ed OG album and was heavily involved in Scientifik‘s tragically short career, while also producing some amazing white label remizes with DJ Shame and Sean C. as the Vinyl Reanimators. He also started Traffic Entertainment and Get On Down, while amassing an incredible collection of drum machines, some of which featured in his first book, titled Beat Box – A Drum Machine Obsession. I had the chance to pick his brain last Friday on all things drum computer…
Robbie: How did you start working with Ed OG?
Joe Mansfield: I was doing beats at the time, trying to find MC’s that were willing to rhyme over some of my tracks. A friend of Ed’s, this guy Money 1, was someone I working with and he happened to live nearby me. He brought Ed by my basement studio one day and we kinda clicked. I started making tracks for him and through that process we came up with his whole first album, pretty much.
So the Awesome Two were involved more in an A&R kind of role?
Yeah, they were more executive producers – Ted was Ed’s cousin. We would record tracks at my studio – well, my basement. It wasn’t a real studio, it was pretty primative. On the weekends, Ed would go up to New York and bring ’em to his cousins to check out, so they shopped the tracks to labels and got the record deal. I did the beats and they handled the financial end of that record. The backbone of everything was done in my basement and then I would go up to Power Play with my sequencer and my sampler and just dump everything down there.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode Three
Aaron Fuchs discusses working with Pumpkin, addresses the Ultramagnetic Basement Tapes controvery, names his three favorite Tuff City records and reflects and how the music histroy books will view his legacy.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode Two
Aaron Fuchs continues discussing key moments in Tuff City history, including working with Teddy Riley, Spoonie Gee, Marley Marl, DJ Hot Day and the Cold Crush Brothers.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode One
Tuff City Records founder Aaron Fuchs discusses starting the label in the early 80’s, his history as a music critic and the story behind some of the first records he released in the first part of this in-depth interview.