True story is that a few years ago I was bumping DipSet 24-7. I still liked listening to them and I found their style of crack rap teamwork to be a humorous diversion. My very first assignment for this bootleg no budget Hip-Hop ragazine was to interview the Dips. Like any good stan I wore my crispiest pink button up to salute the DipSet leader Harlemite Cam’Ron. True story is that when Cam walked into the interview room I got up to shake his hand and he turned around and walked away. After a few minutes Jimmy Jones entered the interview room with Freaky Zekey and a dude that looked like Juelz Santana’s uncle. You could tell he was related to Juelz because he had his face, except this guy was in his late twenties or early thirties. He had a scruffy beard and dirty fingernails. True story is that was Juelz Santana. The Dips were cool but not that bright or intelligible. Jim Jones is full of charisma, the kids call it swagger. I created an interview that makes you think that these were the guys keeping the lights on at Rocafella/Universal. Peep my steez…
Imagine this… being a young, black millionaire in the music industry while still in your mid-twenties. Scheduling recording studio sessions on one phone, while booking international first class flights and five-star hotel accommodations with another. And still another phone line connects you to one of entertainment’s current tycoons, mega-power broker Damon Dash. Your office suite, located in a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, is awash with activity. Young people looking focused and moving about quickly. It is a scene from a dream or a motion picture. This picture is very real if you are Jim Jones, CEO and part of the hottest hip-hop collective since Wu-Tang. The Diplomats. DIP SET is comprised firstly of these four main members, Jimmy Jones, the cool and calculating capo of the family. Freeky Zekey, the member most likely to get 7:30 if the situation calls for it. Juelz Santana, one of the great, young creative minds to emerge in the rap game since Shyne debuted back in 1999. Last, but certainly not least would be the leader and founder, Cam’ron. Also known as the “hustler’s poster child”, Cam’ along with Jim Jones has shown an uncanny ability in handling the business aspect of producing records. Their marketing savvy is unparalleled when it comes to getting their product in the street and making it that most sought after commodity. Video production is another facet that is becoming big on the Diplomats plate as they quickly become an entertainment corporation. All this is probably due in no small part to Cam’s great understanding that the word ‘business’ is twice as long as the word ‘show’. Real street knowledge has propelled the Diplomats to reach the next level.
THE NEXT LEVEL magazine caught up with DIP SET in their offices and spoke with them for a while on what it takes to excel in the rap arena, the differences, if there were any, between the street game and the music industry, and why the Diplomats are what’s really good.
TNL: First off, let me get this right out of the way, but the DipSet Anthem(Gangsta Music) is the official summer street anthem! Did you know that this was going to be such a hit?
Jim Jones: We had a few pop offs that we were going to make singles out of, but the sample clearances hadn’t come through when it was time to run. Matter of fact, we chose Gangsta Music on the last day available to submit a single.
TNL: I love that track. When I hear it on the radio it’s crazy, but when I hear it in the club it takes me to the next level. Especially that verse where Juelz talks about “that Pyrex vision”.
Freeky Zeeky: WHOA!
TNL: How do you chose a single for release?
F.Z.: When we are formatting tracks we take the time to make sure that ay’thing is crack. Nah’Mean?!? We make sure that ay’thing can get spins on the radio or what have you. Even a hater gotta admit that our tracks is hot. In front of his girl he be like, “them niggas is wack!”, but when she slide off he is playing our shit in his CD.
TNL: Why did the Diplomats issue a double CD as their first release?
J.J.: We just got too much music. It’s also a case of us wanting to give our fans more than what they bargained for.
F.Z.: Fans is fickle like fiends! They only fuckin’ with the sickest product on the streets, so we hittin’ em with two CD’s of straight crack!
J.J.: We had several mixtapes in circulation and we took some tracks off of the mixtapes to bless our fans with the real DIP SET shit. And to introduce some of our new fans to what is really good. That is how we build a strong foundation. Don’t get it twisted now, having a popoff right out the gate is good, but trying to match that instant success is hard. When you consistently build by putting out powerful music everytime. That is how you can cake up all day. Your fans know what you are about and they know what they can expect when they see your product.
TNL: Is that what you used the Diplomat mixtapes for?
J.J.: Exactly, we do that to keep DIP SET in your ears. You can be on the block and your man’s and them might be bumpin’ Cam’s joint “Oh, Boy” from the Come Home with Me album and then you got the mixtape Vol.2 with joints he ain’t never heard yet so now he is sick ‘cuz he want the “Oh, Boy” remix.
F.Z.: Just to add, we was the first people to start releasing our own mixtape CD’s. Put that in capital letters too.
J.J.: We stay in the studio also. Going from staying on the block all day and taking that same energy, that same desire to grind and now staying in the studio all day. You not gonna stand on the block all day and not do nothing, not have nothing to show for it. That is our mindset when we are in the studio, don’t be here all day and walk out of here empty handed.
TNL: There is a lot of real street knowledge that is embodied in your music and the way you conduct your business. Why is that?
J.J.: We come from the streets. We are on the streets everyday. The streets shaped our personalities and gave us our motivation to be successful. That can’t be taken away from us, it’s in our blood.
TNL: What is more difficult, staying afloat in the street game, or staying afloat in the rap game?
J.J.: They are one in the same sometimes. The game hasn’t changed. Some of the names are different but the game is still the same. Cash rules everything around me.
TNL: What is the meaning of money to you?
J.J.: Money is what’s really good nigga! More important to me than any money though, is the love of my family, my DIPS. I had their love, trust and respect before everything else. If I lost all my money and had to start from the bottom, then with my family’s love and unity we could do it all over again because that is how we did it from the beginning.
F.Z.: That right there is more realer than what you know. That almost put a tear in my eye.
The Diplomats music is powered by Cam’ron’s charismatic confidence, but his protégé Juelz
Santana, in a relatively short time has become the man that many industry insiders are abuzz about. Juelz’ graphic lyrical descriptions take the art of storytelling in rap music to the next level.
TNL: Juelz Santana where do you get these incredible images that you rap about?
Juelz Santana: That’s all real stills. This is shit I been around all my life. When they close the door to the booth I just tell my brain to let my mouth repeat what my eyes have seen. I just let everything out.
TNL: What is so crazy about that is I am almost forty years old and you can relate to my life.
Juelz: I am the youngest of four brothers and I have always been around older dudes. I have been able to watch them live and I try to learn from their mistakes and learn from their success. I feel like you don’t have to make the same mistakes if someone has gone down that path for you. By being around older dudes I gained their experience and their insight. My mindset became advanced and that is the perspective that I bring into the booth. Right now I am watching Cam and Jim. I pay attention to their business moves so that I am not put into a situation that I am unfamiliar with.
TNL: I have heard you use the word rock four times in a verse, and each time the word had a different meaning, a different context. Where did you get that sick style?
Juelz.: What you are referring to is a rhyme format that DIP SET created. A lot of dudes are getting on to this format and putting it in their joints.
TNL: I hope the Dips are seeing part of those royalties too.
Jim Jones: I like your style brother.
TNL: I see that the Diplomats are also bringing that Harlem fashion back into the rap game.
Juelz: Harlem sets the fashion trends for Black America, therefore Harlem sets the fashion trends for the world. 125th, 145th, Dapper Dan, A.J. Lester, basically Harlem fly guys. Ask anyone in NYC what they call the Nike Air Force One and they will tell you Uptowns.
TNL: How is Diplomat Records going to change the rap game?
Jim Jones: Like I said before, the game is still the same. This time however we are playing from the position of owners. Everything comes full circle and we are not workers, we are bosses. Not to say that we don’t put in work, but from the standpoint of an owner directly invested in the success of his business. Like if you owned a barbershop, before you turn out the lights and roll down the gate you have swept floor, put the chairs back into position. You make sure everything is tight before your day is done.
TNL: I like the fact that the Diplomats are all label executives. No one is just a rapper.
F.Z.: Yeah man, part of the reason why we are who we are is that everyone brings their own something to the table. No one here just ‘raps’. Diplomats is more than music.
TNL: Explain how the Diplomats are the next level?
J.J.: Diplomats is more than music, it’s more like a movement, that y’all need to be in tune with. We are the light that illuminates the answers to any questions that are asked about the nation’s ghettos.
TNL: and that’s what’s really good!
F.Z.: No! That’s what’s really, REALLY GOOD!
Editor’s Post Interview Notes:
The Next Level spoke with the the Diplomats a week before Freeky Zekey and his DIP SET rider ‘E’ were both shot in an alleged robbery attempt. The Next Level wishes a speedy recovery to Freeky Zekey so that he may continue to produce that powerful music and solemn condolences to the family of Eric Mangum who passed away.