Don Mclean pinpoints the death of Ritchie Valens, et al. on February 3, 1959, as the day the music died. Someone should do the same for the greatest rap group of the last ten years someday and pinpoint the day the movement died. The day it become okay for people to fool with the Dips. The day fur games were at an all time low. The day computers stopped ‘putin.
Modern chroniclers of sentimentality don’t have the luxury of the black box. They would be, at best, forced to select a time as early as the release of the Purple Haze and as late as the release of Killa Season. Some will say it was Jim Jones playing pool with G-Unit on B.E.T’s rap city, at the height of Cam’ron and 50 Cent’s spat. Some will point to Cam being the only rapper in America who didn’t appear on the ‘Ballin’’ remix as the instant in question. Others still will declare Cam’s bragging to any media outlet that would listen about selling Juelz Santana’s contract for millions as the movement’s final wheeze. Whichever Young and the Restless moment you decide on, the point remains. The movement is no longer moving.
Yes, a reunion track (‘Salute’) was recently released. Yes, Cam’ron and new protégé Vado had a minor club hit this summer (‘Speakin’ in Tungs’). And yes, Jim Jones has been soliciting fan suggestions on twitter concerning who should produce the upcoming Diplomats album (Kanye, Just Blaze, Heatmakers, Araabmuzik, and The Neptunes/Pharell/Whatever is going on over there – get it done Jimmy). But this is all, at absolute best, an ultrasound of a new movement. It’s not a continuation of 2001-2006.
During those years, The Diplomats put out some of the best New York hip-hop ever. Through a combination of the best in sped-up vocal sample production (a young Just Blaze and a younger Kanye West, career-wise), dissonant guitar tracks, and Southern bounce, the Diplomats created the logical extension to the boom-bap, Premier, Rza/Havoc, Trackmasters, Swizz Beats continuum. The hoody and timb, shiny green suit, and distorted bounce sonic mash up was the perfect backdrop for the New Jack City meets Toon Town world Cam’ron and company gave us.
Cam first flirted with the slow, conversational rhyme style he is now known for on his breakthrough album S.D.E (Sports, Drugs, and Entertainment). On the album’s title track he departs from the double-time flow that earned him next-up kudos from Biggie, and begins to show flashes of the style he would perfect on his opus Purple Haze. Cam takes advantage of his slowed-down flow to inject his trademark sense of humour with a little comic timing:
“Tried to fuck my P.O.” Stop. “She ignored that.” Stop. “(She) said: ‘You know what Cam? – pregnant pause – Get found with more crack’.”
After S.D.E, Cam, and partners Jim Jones and Juelz Santana, dropped the classic mixtape series, Diplomats Vol 1-5.and signed to Jay-Z and Dame Dash’s Def Jam imprint Roc-A-Fella records. Soon after, Cam and Juelz released the single “Oh Boy,” an ode to selling heroin (boy=heroin) that made it past even the most slang aware censors. "Oh Boy" marked the commercial apex of the Diplomat movement, but didn't really let the casual listener into the wonderful world of Cam’ron Giles like his later work would.
Cam’ron’s clever, crude, intelligent observations invite the listener into an infinitely more enjoyable version of the typical coke and guns rap record. Contrast his response to getting to shot with 50 Cent’s. 50 swears that the person who shot him “got hit like (he) got hit; but he ain’t fuckin’ breathin.” Cam, instead of badgering us with his gangster, takes the opportunity to brag about his Lamborghini. His shooters were merely “mad cause (his) car’s like an elephant: The trunk in the front.” Even when engaging in murder threats Cam steps outside the boundaries his genre has prescribed him. Cam won’t just pop you. He’ll “kill you, shoot the funeral up and Harlem shake at your wake.” Cam doesn’t just have ice, he has “ice like Winnipeg.” And just in case you thought for a minute that was going to be a typical punchline he quickly adds in that they are “gemstones, flintstones” and “you could say (he’s) friends with Fred.
On that same track (“Killa Cam” from the album Purple Haze), Cam’ron sketches out what he considers his central dichotomy: “I’m from where Nicky Barnes got rich as fuck/Rich and A hit the kitchens they were pitchin’ up/Rob Base, Mase, Doug E. Fresh switched it up/I do both who am I to fuck tradition up” (crack to rap).
Maybe so. But there’s more there. Cam’s is a marriage of violence and humour, of ignorance and intelligence, of odiousness and charisma. He’s a little bit above the fray he makes his living in. Yeah, he’s “girls, cash, cars”, but he plays with it. He pokes it and prods it. He’s aware of his fucked up world and rather than withdrawing from it, or mindlessly celebrating it, he takes charge and laughs. If Jay-Z's the wily profiteer, Cam's Yossarian in a pink mink.
Artists are allowed to grow. Groups are allowed to break-up. Rappers are allowed to stop calling the Heatmakers, Kanye West and Just Blaze for beats. And I’m allowed to reminisce about the five of the best years hip hop ever had. I’m not saying Cam’ron and the Diplomats don’t have another great album in them. They may well. Plenty of artists – Ghostface, Tom Cruise, The Clash – do their best work well after the zeitgeist that introduced them to the world has passed. But nonetheless, the movement is over. Those five years aren’t coming back and they shouldn’t. They can live on in memories and Itunes. And, hey, every once in while you can fire up windows media player, click play on Diplomatic Immunity disc 1, hold down ctrl+alt+delete, open task manager, look at processes and see computersputin.exe. It’ll be running.
Cam'ron - Get 'em Girls
The Diplomats - I Really Mean It
The Diplomats - Dipset Anthem
Juelz Santana - Santana's Town
Cam'ron feat. Kanye West and Syleena Johnson - Down and Out
Cam'ron - Killa Cam The Diplomats - Push It
Cam'ron - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Cam'ron and Juelz Santana - You Oughta Know
Cam'ron and Juelz Santana - Long Time Coming
The Diplomats - Purple Haze
The Diplomats - The First
The Diplomats - Bigger Picture
Juelz Santana - Mic Check
The Diplomats - I'm Ready