Happy 25th Anniversary to Diamond D’s debut album Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, originally released September 22, 1992.
When it comes to creating hip-hop music, it’s not what you do that makes you successful, but how you do it. Dropping dense double and triple-entendre laden bars or finding the perfect record to sample alone doesn’t make your music remarkable. The important part comes from taking the tools that you possess and utilizing them in the correct manner. Joseph “Diamond D” Kirkland is second to none in maximizing the tools in the skill-set he has developed over the years, and this goes a long way in explaining how he created an album as timeless as Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop.
The South Bronx native came up under the tutelage of the original DJ Jazzy Jay, he of The Zulu Nation and Afrika Bambaattaa & the Soulsonic Force. Learning his way around the studio with Jazzy Jay, he linked with Master Rob to form Ultimate Force, who were signed but never released an album. Their first single “I’m Not Playing” caught the attention of the listening public and record label executives, in no small part due to the production skills that Diamond possessed.
Diamond eventually connected with fellow Bronx residents Lord Finesse and Showbiz & A.G. Some of Diamond’s first production credits appeared on Lord Finesse’s debut album Funky Technician. One of his first lyrical appearances was on A Tribe Called Quest’s classic 1991 album The Low End Theory, dropping the final verse on “Show Business.”
But things really came together for him when he contributed the first verse to “Diggin’ in the Crates,” a Showbiz & A.G. track that appeared on their first independently-released EP. The song become the foundation of a crew that went by the same name, made up of Diamond, Showbiz & A.G., and Lord Finesse. Like the name suggests, the members of the group remained committed to going to the most out-of-the-way, underground spots to go excavating for obscure and undiscovered records to transform into hip-hop tracks.
About a year after the song’s release, Diamond’s debut album, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop dropped. During a period when sample-based hip-hop production was at its peak, Diamond D created one of the best produced albums ever with this debut opus.
With Stunts, Diamond demonstrated immaculate crate-digging abilities, as he unearthed rare grooves that he was able to transform into classic records. He was also capable of taking known samples that may have been used by another artist and adding his own touch to make them his own. He knew when to chop and when to straight loop. And no matter what technique he used, he always kept the sound simple. Stunts’ production is one of the keys that made it one of the strongest albums of 1992 and among the upper echelon of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made.
While recording Stunts, Diamond saw himself primarily as a producer who raps, and by his own admission, he wasn’t the sharpest rapper to grip the microphone in 1992. But he still possesses a unique style and way with words and phrases. Diamond’s album-opening line is that he “skips to my loo like Napoleon at Waterloo” then proclaims “he goes on and on like popcorn with the butter.” Later he brags “Brothers can't believe how the skills have gotten spicy as a steak with potatoes au gratin.” His off-kilter style, combined with references to semi-obscure movies, commercials, and athletes, gives Diamond’s raps a definite charm.
You can tell Diamond and his crew had a blast recording Stunts, as evidenced by the frequent skits consisting of his obviously inebriated homies talking shit, joning on each other, and doing bad Wolfman Jack impressions. But beyond the skits, there’s a palpable sense of fun that runs through much of the album. Though D.I.T.C. was very much its own entity during the time of Stunts’ release, the exuberance that permeates the album suggests a continued Native Tongues influence on the recording process.
Stunts begins with “Best Kept Secret,” the album’s first single. The song showcases Diamond’s ability to put together a straight-forward song, delivering his lines with both style and panache. The beat also demonstrates Diamond’s ability to make familiar samples sources his own, as both the guitar sample that drives the track (taken from Three Dog Night’s “I Can Hear You Calling”) and the flute sample (originally from Kool & the Gang’s “N.T.”) had been previously used on other rappers’ albums, but here they sound wholly unique.
The album’s other two singles provide different flavors of Diamond’s skills as well, both lyrically and musically. Diamond spins the tale of a former fly girl turned prostitute by her lust for material possessions on “Sally Got a One Track Mind.” The beat, created by Diamond, practically shimmers, as he kicks his verses over a refreaked soul bassline and airy flute sample.
On “Fuck What U Heard,” Diamond pulls together many disparate musical elements to coalesce into a driving, yet jazzy track. As Diamond explains, rapper Lakim Shabazz gave him the record with the bassline, and then he layered in the drums and two different horn samples, in the end creating one of the best-produced songs on the album.
Diamond also flexes his quite adept storytelling skills on Stunts. With the fast-paced “I’m Outta Here,” Diamond spins three separate narratives, each exploring the lives of three different “John Does” who find themselves on the lam after getting into precarious situations. On “Red Light, Green Light,” he details his misadventures with a woman who’s solely interested in his financial ends.
Diamond employs guests on a few tracks to bolster the accompanying narratives. Brand Nubian members Lord Jamar and Sadat X join him on “A Day in the Life,” a mellow tale that features all three emcees sharing their descriptions of a laidback day where they live positively and get to hang with friends and relatives. Later, fellow D.I.T.C. rapper/producer Showbiz joins Diamond on “Feel the Vibe” to exchange tales about two separate and nameless rappers who compromise their integrity for financial gain. Over a laid-back vibraphone sample taken from the intro to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Bad Tune,” both Diamond and Showbiz use a little humor to chastise rappers who sell out and end up sounding like Donna Summer.
On the Jazzy Jay-produced “I Went for Mine,” Diamond expounds on his pursuit of success and describes his motivation for making great music. Over an obscure disco sample, complete with a flute solo, Diamond raps, “Beats are selected with the highest scrutiny / I played Mr. Christian in just take mutiny / ’Cause this is my destiny, a lot of brothers keep testing me / But you haven't heard the best from me.” The result is a sublime and transcendent track that’s inspiring without being heavy-handed.
Throughout Stunts, Diamond excels at flowing on top of uptempo tracks. “Freestlye (Yo, That’s That Shit)” is one of the album’s strongest tracks, showcasing Diamond kicking stream of consciousness rhymes over a funky jazz guitar loop from George Benson’s “Footin’ It.” In between references to British Walkers shoes with thick rubber soles, Quaker Oats commercials, and NYC-based weather reporters, Diamond raps, “I’m giving hand shakes for you and your man's sake / ’Cause I write rhymes so much that my hands ache / It's ’92 so what you gonna do? / Barbecue or buggalo?”
However, some of Diamond’s best lyrical performances on Stunts appear on the slower tracks. “Check One, Two” features one of his best lyrical performances on the album, as he kicks witty punchlines over a bluesy guitar sample taken from Bloomfield, Kooper, and Still’s “Stop.” He brags that “The sound is raw, don't need a million samples / The kids just love it, next year my budget / Will be much fatter, because of my platter / See I'm the flavor in the hip-hop batter.” Diamond later proclaims that he’ll “catch you out there like Rick Cerrone,” proving that he’s always game for a reference to an obscure New York-based athlete.
On “K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid),” co-produced by Q-Tip, Diamond rhymes over solely a sparse bassline and occasional horn stabs, weaving in references to Ken-L Ration dog food and world-renowned horse jockey Willie Shoemaker, then rapping, “I catch wreck just like Butch Cassidy / So don't sleep, money-grip, or that ass’ll be / Out of the frying pan, into the fire / Now I'm dead on your ass like Spencer for Hire.”
Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop remains a great example of the alchemy of dope tracks and witty yet sharp rhymes that was often created during the early ’90s. The album doesn’t try too hard to be great, but nonetheless achieves greatness due to the Diamond D’s musical vision and the resulting quality of his songcraft. Everything about the album fits into the right place, and every song possesses a role that builds upon the larger whole. And in the end, as he raps on “Step to Me,” Diamond D is dope, ’nuff said.