Interview: Diamond D Recalls Fat Joe & Lord Finesse’s Early Days, Says He was Stunned when Big L Passed

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Words by Paul Meara (@PaulMeara)

Heads and historians have thoroughly noted Diamond D’s knack for elite crate digging and superior mic skills for over a quarter century. While most will point to his impressive production catalog, the Bronx native and Diggin’ in the Crates founding member is much more than what many can recall. Some of the earliest bars we heard from Lord Finesse, Fat Joe and even Big L was on Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop. D doesn’t like to take credit for their careers or even teaching them the ropes but he will tell you he was there from the beginning.

“Joe was doing his thing around the way and one day he approached me and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got some rhymes,’” Diamond D recalled when asked about developing D.I.T.C. artists. “He spit a couple of bars at me and I was like, ‘OK, boom let’s go hit the studio.’ We went in the studio and made a couple of demos.” From there, and with the assistance of DJ Red Alert, Fat Joe’s career was on its way. And that happened with so many noteworthy New York artists at the time.

Surprisingly, after 25 years in the game, Diamond D hasn’t had as much time for himself or his own catalog. It has been six years since D released a solo album and he has never released his own production compilation album. Until now.

On Tuesday (September 30), Diamond D released Diam Piece, a 19-track album fully produced by the Diam man himself. The LP features artists D admires. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Nah Right recently talked with Diamond D about the project, his early days and his involvement with some of hip-hop’s most coveted players.

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How have you been man?

I’m beautiful man. Just doing my thing. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my daughter, doing the daddy thing and just doing me. That’s it.

Diam Piece is what you’ve been working on for a long time now…

Almost three years [laughs].

Right. And it’s been a little while since you’ve released an album. How do you feel about just putting out music again?

I feel great. The last thing I put out was that The Huge Hefner Chronicles and the fans didn’t really dig it. I was like OK, cool, it’s whatever but there’s a couple of hot joints on there but for the most part… I never stopped making music. Maybe about three years ago I was like, “You know what…” I got inspired by the Jake One album White Van Music and I was like, “I’m going to holla at a few artists that I like and respect and just do what I’ve got to do to make a great album.”

What was your goal on creating this one and do you think you achieved what you were going for?

I’ve been seeing a lot of good reviews so that’s always a plus. I started producing in like 1990. [It was] Lord Finesse’s first album but I’ve never done a production compilation album. Pete Rock and Soul Survivor, Hi-Tek did Hi-Teknology but I’ve never done one. It’s an accomplishment for me and a goal that I set that I was glad I was able to reach.

I can go on and on but just in short if I had to sum it up I would call the sound “brand new retro” and once you take a listen to it you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Diam Piece Album Cover

You mention people you respect–you’ve got a range of features on Diam Piece. From newer artists like Rapsody to veterans like Kurupt there’s kind of something for everyone on here. How did you go about choosing who would be on the album?

It was random Paul. It was just random. I didn’t really have no specific strategy or anything. I just reached out to artists that I genuinely like and came up with. I’m seeing criticism on a couple of blogs. Some wise guy said, “Looks like a lyricist’s lounge tribute album” or some shit. My response to that is don’t fault me for being true to myself and fucking with the people I fuck with.

I could’ve done an album with all new artists from the south or from the west or whatever. Maybe I will do that at some point. My album is definitely a northeast hip-hop album and if people want to fault me for being true to myself then fuck it, that’s what it is.

Something I always think about when I think about you is your production on numerous classic albums. You produced songs on Runaway Slave (Showbiz & AG), The Score (The Fugees), Black on Both Sides (Mos Def). Do you ever think back and remember those times and did you ever think then that many down the line would label that work classic?

I didn’t. I was just doing my thing and making music that first of all, feels good and that I will feel gravitate to. I didn’t know it was classic. Yesterday on Instagram, out of the blue, ?uestlove posted that he was on his 30th time in a row listening to Edo.G [& Da Bulldogs] “Streets Of The Ghetto.” He said that in his opinion that’s one of my top three joints that I ever did and then he wrote the word “Classic.” Again, when I made that beat back then for Ed, [you] can’t predict those things.

You were on the inside of the early development of D.I.T.C. What was the most important role you played in its creation?

We were all friends before the music and when the music thing happened it was just natural that we gravitated toward each other or help each other when we could and things like that. I didn’t start Diggin’ in the Crates. Me and Showbiz started it together. I was the first one out the gate with a record with Ultimate Force, that was like 1989 and Lord Finesse came behind that and then I believe Show & A.G. came after that. And then Fat Joe, Big L, O.C.

You mention Lord Finesse; you were really behind a lot of his early work. I forget when the first time we heard him on wax but I know you produced it…

Finesse had won the New Music Seminar around that time. That was the big east coast emcee battle. His first single I believe was “Track the Movement.”

You were also very influential in the early days of Fat Joe as you mentioned. Take us back to those times and how he got started not just as a member of D.I.T.C. but also as a rapper.

In short, Joe was doing his thing around the way and one day he approached me and was like, “Yo, I’ve got some rhymes,” so I was like, “Alright, let me hear something.” He spit a couple of bars at me and I was like, “OK, boom let’s go hit the studio.” We went in the studio and made a couple of demos. [DJ] Red Alert played a big role in making Joe a lot more hot on the radio. He started making these station promos and they were original promos. I was giving him original beats and he was rhyming on them but was basically rhyming about Red Alert and the radio station he was on at that time. One thing led to another and Joe went to Harlem and to the Apollo [Theatre] and then I believe Red Alert got at Chris Lighty.

Chris Lighty was managing me at the time also. He comes into the picture and then everything just comes together at that point. About four labels turned Joe down at first. He’ll tell you that but everything winded up working out.

To what extent do you believe Chris Lighty was a visionary of and a finder of great talent and not just someone who did a great job at managing great talent?

Good question. A lot of Chris’ acts early on were Native Tongues–A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, I came into the loop. And then he branched off–LL Cool J, everybody Chris wanted to manage. He definitely had an ear for talent and then he had the business savvy to transform that into a management and marketing company. He was definitely a visionary. He started off as a road manager for the Jungle Brothers too. A lot of people don’t know that. He paid his dues.

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I know Big L was more to you than just another member of a group you were both in. You even have a piece of wall that he tagged that you cut out and framed. What was your initial reaction when you found out he passed?

[I was] stunned, hurt, sad. [I went through] a whole bunch of emotions. I don’t really like talking about [Big L’s death] that much.

As a producer/emcee who would you consider, aside from yourself, to be the best of all time in that realm?

I could start with Grand Puba Maxwell but I could run down a list of producer/emcees that I mess with. Some are known, some are not as known. I fuck with Hi-Tek, Nottz, Havoc, Q-Tip, Lord Finesse, Lord Jamar from Brand Nubians, Black Milk, Odyssey, Alchemist, of course J Dilla, DJ Quik, it’s a lot of people.

Looking back on your career what do you consider your biggest accomplishment to be?

Putting out albums 22-years apart and both of them are critically acclaimed. That would be it. That’s big for any artist in any genre of music. I’m still a fan of hip-hop. I still go digging for beats. I still love to do this shit.

What’s next coming up for you in the immediate future?

I just completed some work on the Dilated People’s album. I’m doing an album on Sadat X. I’ve got a hip-hop solo artist coming out called Blake Moses so I’m still putting out music. I’ve got my record label up, Diamond Mind Records and that’s where I’m at now.

Related: Diamond D ft. Talib Kweli, Elzhi & Skyzoo – Where’s The Love

Previously: Sir Michael Rocks Talks Solo Identity, Banco, and Favorite Miami Strip Club (Interview)

Catch up on all NahRight interviews and features HERE.

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One Response to “Interview: Diamond D Recalls Fat Joe & Lord Finesse’s Early Days, Says He was Stunned when Big L Passed”

  1. Grass Says:

    Well Paul.
    Lord Finesse already had two albums out when Stunts dropped and Big L never did any “bars” on Stunts. He just talked some nonsense on an interlude for about 10 seconds.

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