Twenty-five years ago, Joseph “Diamond D” Kirkland created Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop (1992), his debut LP and a unique album that captured the essence of early ’90s crate-digging creativity. It was born out of blunts and brew-fueled studio sessions filled with immaculate beats and all-night snap sessions with Diamond and his homies. It all coalesced into something that still sounds timeless a quarter of a century after its initial release.
Back then, the Diggin’ in the Crates Crew co-founder was still getting his sea-legs when it came to being an emcee, as he had primarily made his name before that as a producer for artists like Lord Finesse, Busy Bee, and even obscure Rap-A-Lot Records side projects. Up to the point, Diamond figured he’d make a name for himself more behind the boards than behind the mic. But the success of his inaugural album enabled him to sustain a rapping career fueled by a solid catalogue of albums, and he’s still going strong as a rapper and a producer. After releasing his album The Diam Piece in 2015, he produced two projects this year: The Sum of a Man for his long-time compadre Sadat X and Black Tie Affair, his collaboration with the Jacksonville, Florida-born Dillon. And he’s got a lot more on deck for 2018.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the man who famously proclaimed himself the “best producer on the mic” to discuss Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop and much more. Among other subjects, he describes his brief life as a college student, existing as both an emcee and producer, the most under-appreciated song on his debut album, and the advantages of new technology when recording.
Jesse Ducker: First of all, how do you feel now that Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop is 25 years old?
Diamond D: I’m feeling too old! You know, 25 years, that’s a milestone.
JD: Your album is old enough to rent a car legally now.
DD: Right. That’s funny.
JD: What was it like to transition from being a producer to being a producer/rapper?
DD: It was just weird. It was just a natural progression to me. I realized that I was kind of ahead of my time, as far as being a producer and stepping in front of the mic, but it was just a natural progression. I was hanging out with a bunch of emcees around me anyway.
JD: When you were recording this album, were you thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’m a producer who raps” or “I’m a rapper and a producer?”
DD: I was thinking I was a producer who rapped. I knew my bars weren’t real complicated, you know what I mean. It’s just hard to explain, but to answer your question, I saw myself as a producer who was rapping.
JD: How did you link up with Chemistry Records for the album?
DD: I was producing tracks, recording demos for a guy with sole control. And he had a situation...well, it wasn’t etched in stone, but he was going back and forth with Chemistry Records. Because they were interested in signing him. And what happened was around these demos…they called me down there but I’m thinking they’re calling me down there because they want to cut me a check for so many beats. So I get down there and Brian Chinn, who was the A&R of Chemistry at that time, or rather PWL as it was called first, let it be known that he was interested in me as an artist. So I’m thinking I’m going down there to get a check for the beats, but when I leave there I’m like, ‘shit, I got a check for the fucking project now.’
JD: Who’s the first person you told after you got signed?
DD: After I got signed and got that check, I showed my mom. But for most parents, hearing that your son or daughter wants to make records when they’re still in high school…that’s the last thing a parent wants to hear. I was bred to go away to college, which I did. I dropped out in my second year. You know, because I was already DJing a lot. After dropping out, I did the Ultimate Force thing, “I’m Not Playing.” That’s like ’88, ’89. Then after that, I did Lord Finesse’s Funky Technician. There was a quick spin-off group of the Geto Boys called the Ghetto Girls. I did something on their project.
JD: I hadn’t heard about that.
DD: That’s what I’m saying, that’s how small it was. But they had the budget, they flew me out to Malibu to record for them. But when I got the check, I showed my mom, you know just to put her at ease, to show her that there’s some money in this shit if you mess with the right people.
JD: What was her reaction when she saw the check?
DD: Her reaction was, “Let me hold some.”
JD: So where did you go to college?
DD: I went to [SUNY] Old Westbury, which is on Long Island. My mind was more on making music though. I was a horrible student. I was living on campus, I was at odds with the RA because I was blasting my music at night. Moving from the South Bronx to Long Island, just doing what the fuck I wanted to do. I didn’t really have any discipline. I was not focused at school at all, but I went to a few classes. [I was playing] just break beats. The college crowd back then in the late ’80s, they were into house music. I’m dead ass serious. I’m talking about my people in their early twenties. That whole Long Island shit. There were a lot of hip-hop heads on Long Island as well. But on my campus at that time in Old Westbury, house music reigned supreme, hip-hop was second. Also, looking back I should have gone farther away to college, because Long Island was only a train ride away from the Bronx.
JD: Do you think you would have ended up starting your career in hip-hop if you had gone away to college?
DD: If I had gone farther away to college, I don’t know if the Ultimate Force would have happened and that kind of was the springboard for everything else. So, no.
JD: Was Ultimate Force still together as a group when you started record Stunts?
DD: Yeah, we were, but I think once I started recording my album or maybe prior to that we kind of just parted. Master Rob had gotten married and he started a family, and I was more into producing at that point. We didn’t have booking agents, so we weren’t doing a lot of shows to begin with. We had an album situation with Capitol Records, and they were going to sign us, but the deal fell through. I think in 2007 or 2008, Jazzy Jay released The Ultimate Force album.
JD: How would you characterize your experience recording Stunts?
DD: Festive. Good attitudes, good vibes, positive vibes, you know a lot of joking, a lot of snapping on each other. That’s why with some of those skits, I got my friends snapping on each other. That’s all we did back then.
JD: What was your favorite experience recording the album when you look back on it?
DD: When I laid the vocals to “Check One, Two.”
JD: What made it so good?
DD: Just the feel of it. 45 King gave me the record; he actually cleared the samples for me. And I was like, “Yo, what you doing with that?” He was like, “Nothing.” He let me hold the records, I went home, I sampled it and I chopped up certain parts, and it became what it became.
JD: Speaking of The 45 King, I saw that Lakim Shabazz co-produced “Fuck What You Heard.” Was that a similar situation?
DD: Yes. The same thing. Lakim brought some records to the studio, he played the bassline for me, and I was like, “Yo yo, put that aside.” I didn’t make it at the spot, I took it with me. But the next time I saw him, I had put the drums under and the horns at that point.
JD: You mentioned your crew which was D.I.T.C. Like Showbiz and Lord Finesse, those are the guys you came up with in the neighborhood?
DD: We all grew up in the same neighborhood, Forest projects and the surrounding area.
JD: So was D.I.T.C. an official crew at that time?
DD: What’s funny is that we became an official crew around 1991 during the recording of Showbiz and A.G.’s first EP. It was this song called “Diggin’ In the Crates.” But prior to that, me and Showbiz had been DJs in the neighborhood. We were close friends. I would go to his house in the mornings, cut records and shit like that. When Lord Finesse got his deal with Wild Pitch for The Funky Technician, which might have been ‘89 or ‘90, Showbiz, myself and DJ Premier, we all contributed production to that first album.
JD: Now, your album dropped the same day as Showbiz and A.G.’s Runaway Slave. How did everyone feel when that happened?
DD: We thought it was dope because both albums were dope. I love their album.
JD: What would you say is an underrated track on Stunts that doesn’t get as much shine as you think it should have?
DD: Maybe “Confused.” I caught a lot of flak for that song. You know the album is considered a boom-bap classic, right? But then you got this song “Confused” on there, which is definitely R&B type vibe. You know a lot of hardcore boom-bap fans were not feeling that song. The females were feeling it, a lot of dudes were just like, “Nah, nah, nah, nah.” That made me go, “Nah, nah, nah, nah.” Now, like I said, I think it’s a great R&B flavored song. Then Dr. Dre wound up sampling it right behind me and it became a big hit. Also, I think DJ Quik had a song called “Tonite” where he sampled it.
JD: How would you say that recording Stunts effected how you recorded your subsequent albums? What did you learn when recording that first album that you applied to your other albums?
DD: I learned from DJ Jazzy Jay, the gentlemen who signed me and Master Rob and The Ultimate Force to his record label, Strong City Records. I learned about 95% of my production skills from him. And he was ahead of his time. Jazzy Jay produced “It’s Yours,” the first single on Def Jam. He also produced LL Cool J’s first single “I Need a Beat.” He’s the one who gave Def Jam their sound. He was also the DJ of the Soul Sonic Force when they had that huge hit “Planet Rock.” So he had been around the world a few times. Later he produced a big record for Busy Bee called “Suicide.” He also had a group called the Masters of Ceremony which featured Grand Puba early on. So you know he was definitely the man in the Bronx and I owe a lot to him.
JD: What would you say is the most important thing he taught you?
DD: Swing. How a beat should swing and the art of programming drums. Because you know at one time I just wanted to loop backwards and put the drum track under it, yet Jay he got me more into chopping. He would always say, “Yo, don’t loop all the time, you know, take pieces and pieces and make your own loop.” A good example of that is a song that Busy Bee did called “Running Things.” You ever listened it?
JD: It’s been a very long time since I did.
DD: The drum and the guitar program are nowhere near classic Jazzy Jay, but that would be one of the main lessons from Jay that I got.
JD: Jazzy Jay produced “I Went For Mine?” on Stunts, right?
DD: Correct, which turned out to be a loop. That’s crazy, but the drums were programmed but still on a loop. That’s the only Jazzy Jay record that sounds like that to me. So I always thought that was ironic that he produced “I Went For Mine.”
JD: Is there anything you feel like that you learned on this album that you carried forward to your other albums that you recorded?
DD: I mean, not really. Aesthetically, my sound was still the same. I still had the same formula that I was using. If anything, if you get more money, you get to record in better studios. You gotta remember, this is before Pro Tools.
JD: So I always wondered, do you like the days before Pro Tools or after Pro Tools better?
DD: After. Everybody got Pro Tools now. N***as have full-blown studios in their living room. Don’t everybody want to lug around those two-inch reel tapes. How old are you?
JD: I’m 42.
DD: Okay, so do you remember two-inch reels?
JD: Yeah. But it’s interesting because in hip-hop you hear a lot about how “We have to go back to the roots, back to the essence…”
DD: Yeah, we go back to the roots, but we don’t mean in two-inch tapes! Even though some artists, they want to sound warmer. Maybe it does. But guess what? If you record digitally and you’ve got a good engineer, he can give you that same warm sound, without lugging around them two-inch reels.
JD: So Fat Joe had one of his first recorded verses on your album.
DD: Yeah, that’s correct. That’s Fat Joe’s first time heard on a major label.
JD: You knew him growing up, right?
DD: He lived across the street from me. Directly across the street. Fat Joe’s brother, Angel, used to do promotions for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. So Joe knew about hip-hop early on.
JD: So how do you feel seeing him now that he’s become such a huge artist these days?
DD: It’s so dope because I watched the whole thing unfold, when it was just him. We went to a studio in the Bronx called K-Rock Studio. The sessions were $30 an hour. Joe would give $50, and we go in there for two hours and you know we just do what we do. I actually made the demo...Well, it was a radio drop for DJ Red Alert and that beat became “Flow Joe.”
JD: How many songs did you end of doing for Fat Joe’s first album, Represent?
DD: I think I did like maybe nine on there? Yeah, I think all but two. To watch Joe’s rise and his falls, to watch him come out of jail and get back on his feet and be relevant when his first single dropped over 20 years ago was no small feat for any artist in any genre of music. I don’t care if it’s rock, jazz, EDM. It’s a big feat for any artist to do that.
JD: Looking back, what would you have approached differently about Stunts?
DD: I would have done more shows. I’m a producer so I’m more comfortable producing records. Almost like Babyface. Babyface makes albums, but he don’t really tour a lot. He’d rather just sit in the studio and just make the music, but every once in awhile the label gives you a nudge like, “Please go out and make the album.”
JD: Did you feel like, as a producer, you weren’t very comfortable on stage?
DD: Well, I’m not going to say it was that. It’s just that you know around this time I was also super-busy producing everybody, so it wasn’t like I was just sitting around doing nothing. And I never saw myself as the emcee. I was a DJ who became a producer who made an album rhyming. If that makes sense.
JD: So when did you start seeing yourself as an emcee?
DD: Maybe my second album (1997’s Hatred, Passions and Infidelity).
JD: You still feel like you’re the best producer on the mic?
DD: No question. If not, I’m one of the best.
JD: Was there music that you were listening to that inspired you during the recording process for Stunts?
DD: Well Stunts was just a collection of beats and records I was just setting aside. It was more about, “One day I want to do something with this” ideas. And about 80% of that album I got from those records. Aside from the co-production credits that I gave out to Lakim Shabazz, 45 King, and Q-Tip.
JD: Q-Tip produced “K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid),” right?
DD: He gave me the bass line to that. Same bass line DJ Premier used around the same time for Gang Starr’s “Dwyck.” Either a little before or little after, but we use it in different time signatures. But the same bass line. When I made it, I hadn’t heard “Dwyck” and Premier hadn’t heard my version.
JD: What did each of you say when you heard the other’s version?
DD: I think we both said, “Yo, I liked the way you used the bassline.”
JD: So what would you say when you look back at the overall legacy of Stunts?
DD: Man. If I had to say a few things about that album I guess it would be that when I was recording, I didn’t have no blueprint. I just went in there and I made an album that I liked and I just hoped that people liked it. If you listen to the album, it’s definitely not a radio album. Except for “Confused.” Even the label didn’t really believe in “Confused,” that’s why it was never a single. But there was no blueprint, just some young men in the studio having fun, smoking weed, drinking beer, shit like that. You know, it just came together.
JD: When you look at your whole body of work, where do you personally think Stunts stands? You don’t have to say it’s your favorite or whatever, but how do you perceive it as a piece of your entire catalog or work?
DD: I don’t view it as my best work, because I was still learning to become the producer that I am today. Sonically and overall production-wise, my last album, The Diam Piece, I would rate that pretty high. But Stunts is special, as it helped start a whole movement. My album along with Runaway Slave in terms of the Diggin’ in the Crates crew. We made a lot of producers start digging for records.
JD: These days, at least in the mainstream, there doesn’t seem to be as much emphasis about digging for dope records as there used to be back in the early ‘90s.
DD: That was the time for it. De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, those were three groups that I was a fan of, and still am. They influenced my album. Listening to their albums, it just made you say, “There’s more out here besides James Brown.”
JD: You were influenced by James Brown, though.
DD: No doubt. But he’s not all over my albums.
JD: So is Stunts on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music?
DD: I believe it is. I need to have my lawyer jump on that because when that album was created, there was no internet. I think there's a class action suit right now against Universal because a lot of artists who came out in the ’90s before the Internet, your contract doesn't reflect downloads and streams. But it exists. Record labels aren’t going to send you no letter, go looking for this. You got to contact them.
JD: The Diam Piece (2015) was the last thing that you did that you were really rhyming on. These days you’ve been moving back towards the production side. You produced the whole Sum of a Man album for Sadat X and the Black Tie Affair EP by Dillon. Is there a reason you’ve been moving back to production?
DD: Yes, you’ve got to remember even though we’re 25 years later, I still see myself as a DJ who became a producer. I know how to spit, but my first love is creating beats, tracks, whatever you want to call it.
JD: You still digging in the crates?
DD: All the time. I got The Diam Piece Volume 2 coming. Got this rapper out of Harlem called Snooze; I just finished his album. I got an album on the way called the Blake Moses Project, which is like neo soul hip-hop, so I’m just staying busy.
JD: So tell me about The Diam Piece Volume 2. Is it going to be like the first project with a bunch of rappers appearing on it, or is mostly you rapping?
DD: I might be rhyming on one or two songs, but it’s still basically me behind the board, with some of my favorite rappers. So far I got Fat Joe, Twista, Oddisee, Erick Sermon, Havoc. It’s just coming together that’s all I’m going to say.
JD: OK, last question. What are your five all-time favorite albums?
DD: Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, James Brown’s Revolution of the Mind, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, and Nas’ Illmatic.