It’s been awhile since we’ve heard any new music from you. It’s good to see you coming out with an album.
Yeah, man. I felt it was time so you know, it’s just a matter of me just changing the hats. Sometimes I’m in producer mode and sometimes I just want to spit.
What took so long to get a new Diamond D album from you?
Well, basically I just fell back from the industry for a little while. I just focused on my children. I did something with Natalie Cole last year and I got nominated for a Grammy on that. I don’t know, just sometime, maybe last year, I was like, ‘Fuck it, let me get back in there and do another album.’ I just felt inspired to do this shit.
Did the direction the game was going also have something to do with you falling back?
Nah, it really wasn’t that. It’s more or less just spending time with my family. That’s basically all that was.
When you look at the producers cashing in on styles you helped make popular and you know you could have been on big albums, do you have any regrets that you fell back?
Not really. The only regrets I have is not really focusing on the MC aspect of my career. I put in more time on the production tip. I didn’t really put in a lot of time on the MCing aspect of it. That’s probably one of the only regrets I have but you know, producing is my first love. Everybody knows that.
When you’re producing for yourself, does more effort go into the production aspect of the song because that’s where your first passion is?
No. No. I don’t feel that way. I did three joints on the album. There’s 11 songs on there. I did three. I got different producers on there. I got Illmind, DJ Scratch, Nottz, Jesse West, Def Jef and two new guys I fuck with, this guy named Anthony Accurate and this producer out of L.A. named Cook.
The trick was for me to fuck with the dudes who kind of had my sound. Damn-near all the tracks I picked sound like some shit I woulda did anyway. It gave me a chance just to fall back and to concentrate just on writing for this project, sort of like what J Dilla wanted to do. People who knew Dilla know that he had a deal with MCA around 2000, 2001 and everybody thought that he was going to produce the whole album but he wasn’t. He was just going to concentrate on the MCing aspect of it. I think he had a joint from Nottz. He had a joint from me. A couple of other producers too. I just wanted to follow in that range so to say.
Was it ever hard for you to give up control as a producer and have producers like Nottz and Illmind making beats for you or was that a nice break for you?
I think it was a nice break. I’ve reached out to certain people, even Q-Tip, but I didn’t have time to do the track that Q-Tip gave me. It’s just a blessing for me to be in the game this long and still have A-list producers fucking with me on that level. A lot of people thought that I was going to do the whole album myself but it just made it easier. I was able to focus on just one thing instead of trying to wear all the hats.
When you work with other producers, do you get meticulous with their beats?
Nah. But if there’s something I don’t like, you know, I verbalize that and the producer can either say yay or nay. But I didn’t have to go through that making this album. I pretty much picked the tracks I needed to do and most of them were already damn-near tweaked so there really wasn’t nothing for me to say.
Because you’re Diamond D and one of the most respected hip-hop artists in the game, I’m guessing you didn’t have trouble getting quality work from A-list producers.
Nah. It’s great to still get the love. And the funny thing is that all those guys will tell you, right out of their mouth, that I was an inspiration to them. It just came full circle. If you’re a producer out there and you’re making good music, I fuck with you.
I’m sure you get a lot of compliments and producers telling you that you inspired them to start. That probably doesn’t get old hearing things like that.
It makes me feel that the work I did in the past was not done in vein, so to say. More or less, people appreciate and respect what I’ve done in the past right up until now. Even the last mixtape I put out, The Diamond Mine, a lot of people were talking about that. It’s just a blessing to still get the respect. That’s why I named my album The Huge Hefner LP. It’s not about no bitches or fucking or all that bullshit. It’s mainly about still getting the respect in the industry as far as from people I respect like other producers. That’s why I called the album that.
Awhile ago The Huge Hefner LP sampler leaked online. Did all those songs make the album?
I had, like, three snippets off my MySpace page. “Dough Bag”, that’s still on there. “I Gets It In”, that’s still on there. I don’t know what the other one is. It’s probably “All Right”. Those three made it. The other one or two didn’t, but those three made it. They were just like little snippets, like the first verse and the chorus.
Were you happy with the response you got on your MySpace page to the snippets?
The response I got on my MySpace page was overwhelming. I think somebody took the snippets off my MySpace page and put it in a blog. As far as the response I’ve been getting on my direct page, it’s all been good.
Can you break down The Huge Hefner title in more detail?
It’s more or less an extension of myself. Ghostface has Tony Starks. Madlib has Quasimoto. KMD has MF Doom. RZA is Bobby Digital. ODB had Big Baby Jesus. It’s more an extension of me, no more, no less.
“D.I.A.M.O.N.D.”, the first single off The Huge Hefner LP, let people know where you’ve been and what your state of mind is today. How important was it to get that message out first to the fans?
It was either that or “You Can’t Be Me” that Scratch produced. At the last minute everybody at Babygrande said, “Let’s go with ‘D.I.A.M.O.N.D.’” I didn’t shoot it down. I said, “That’s cool, we can go with that.” As far as expectations, anybody that still respects good music, that’s the market that I’m looking for. It’s not no old school/new school thing. Good music is good music. Those are the people that I’m trying to connect with.
In the single, you say, “Some say Stunts, Blunts I could never surpass.” Are fans measuring your new material against your classic Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop?
Yes and no. I love my fans but I tell them for that time period, where record labels actually had sample budgets, some of them still do, but those albums, the N.W.A. Niggaz 4 Life and my album and the first two Pete Rock albums, those albums will never happen again. They cost too much. What we were doing was we were finding songs that nobody would use. We would take the bassline from that record and the thing was, we would grab a horn from another record and place it but the thing was, the horn had to be in the same key. There was a lot of layering and a lot of samples. Those albums right there will never be done again unless you’re on a label where they got at least $50-60,000 to clear samples. In this climate it’s not going to happen so what it was back then is it was a good thing but it would just cost too much to make those kind of records and I still make them just for my personal use. But you know, that’s the whole sample issue.
I’ve talked to other producers like Erick Sermon and PMD, K-Def and some others about how layering can never happen again. What do you think about that?
The magic of that was that when a lot of people found the samples that we were using, a lot of people thought that all of those samples came from one record. They didn’t know that the horns were from one record and the bassline was from this. The complexity of it was finding samples that were all in the same key so that it sounded like it all came from one record.
Is that one of those skills that has to come natural to a producer?
Right, right! All in the same key, that’s crazy! When I listen to albums from, like, ’91 maybe to ’94 or ’95, a lot of that was going on. It was just an extension and you really just had to be creative.
Is it too easy for beatmakers to make beats today?
Definitely! Definitely! You can go out here and get you a little laptop and get you a program like Fruity Loops or Pro Tools or whatever and get your plugins and you’re off and running. Yeah, it’s definitely a lot easier. You got programs like Reason who do the chopping for you. Yeah, it’s easier. It is. When we did it it was just more tedious but that made you appreciate it more.
Kanye said in an interview not too long ago that he sat for two or three hours just working on his drum programming for “Good Life”. You basically get out of your music what you put into it. Not all the time, but critically you should.
Even if labels want to clear multiple samples in one song, can that layered style ever come back?
Yeah. I got some joints on my album that’s going to make dudes go, ‘Oh, shit! Where’d he get that from!’ And the dudes will have to respect the way that shit was rearranged.
How much time do you spend now making beats?
I don’t know. I try to make at least two a day. I’m just real busy now but I don’t try to complete two, at least I’ll do the foundation for two and I just work on it gradually.
When you say “foundation,” does that mean you work on cutting the sample?
I work on the sample first because that’s going to dictate how I program my drums. I sample first.
Even when you were spending time with the family, were you still working on any beats or did you completely shut it down?
I never completely shut it down. I just wasn’t actively looking for production. I was comfortable. I still own all of my publishing and I just fell back for a minute but I’m back now.
Are you still improving and growing as a producer?
I’m better now than I was in the ‘90s because back then I was just using all samples. I really wasn’t using too much live instrumentation on top of it. And now I stepped my game up so now my shit just sounds a lot bigger. In that respect, yeah, I am a better producer now. You can only get better as you go, especially if you’re still a fan of this shit and I’m still a fan of this shit. And I still compare my shit to whoever’s hot and that’s how you stay on top of your game. You can’t just close the wall off and go into your room and do you. You can do that but you definitely gotta keep your ear to the streets and just see what the fuck is going on.
What music that’s come out in the last few years has inspired you?
Wow. There are a couple. I like what Just Blaze is doing production-wise. I like what Nottz is doing. I like what Scratch is doing. Illmind. Everybody that I work with. Kanye. Buckwild. I know I’m leaving people out but just those guys right there, everything that they’ve been doing. And I listen. I be on HipHopGame and I hear all the new exclusives and I read the credits and all that shit.
Why do you think Nottz is so underrated today?
Same thing they say about me. Same thing they say about Pete Rock and a lot of people. I don’t have an answer for that. And Nottz, he’s done big songs in the underground and with A-list artists. That shit he did with Snoop and R. Kelly, that shit was crazy. He’s staying busy working. At the end of the day, if you’re a producer, that’s all that matters.
Fans say that you, Large Professor, DJ Premier and Pete Rock, among others, are reasons the mid ‘90s was the greatest era of hip-hop. What does that mean to you?
I’m grateful. When I made my first album, if you listen to it, I really just made an album that I liked. I didn’t know what that shit was going to do. When it came out I was getting love in the streets but it wasn’t flying out of the stores. But even now, people say, “Yo, D, that shit was a classic. That shit was a classic.” That just makes me grateful.
Do you feel Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop is a classic album today?
Yes I do, just for that time period, all of the music on there and all of the skits on there, even the skits had beats. Just for the simple fact that we were able to layer and able to pull horns from this record, a bassline from this record and guitars from this record, all in the same key…You would have to go through a stack of records to find a sound that’s in key with the rest of the music. So yeah, in that regard, I feel it’s a classic.
You’ve consistently worked with Sadat X on his solo albums. How important is it for you to maintain connections with artists that you came up with?
X is my man. Me and him, we always fuck with each other. We got songs now that we never leaked out. It’s just more of a friendship thing. I also did some work with Sy Scott. He was signed to Dallas Austin’s label. I don’t know what happened to that project. I’m doing something new with Pharoahe Monch. That’s about to jump off real quick. I’m just keeping it moving, man, trying to get that music out there.
Do you work better with artists that you want to work with as opposed to artists who you don’t really know but have a big budget for beats?
It don’t matter who I work with as long as there’s a good vibe. The music is going to do what it’s going to do. As long as the vibe is good then we can make good music.
You’ve worked with Pharoahe Monch both with Organized Konfusion and when he first went solo. Why have you and Monch been able to maintain your chemistry over the years?
I like working with Monch. A lot of people like that song I did with him “The Light”. But my favorite was “The Truth”. I think that was with him and Kweli on his album and I think Common. That was on his first album. But that’s one of my favorite joints that I did with Monch. But this new shit I hit him with is crazy! I’ll be glad when that shit comes out.
There are artists who shout out producers like yourself, DJ Premier and Pete Rock in interviews and songs but when they have their major label budget, they go to the same flavor of the month producers. Do you look at those shout outs as fake and does that leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Nah, not really ‘cause at the end of the day, you can’t take this shit personally. This shit is a business. The accolades are cool but if someone is willing to break bread with you, that’s even better. But I don’t take it personally. If somebody wants to break bread with me, they know where to find me.
Take someone like Fat Joe, who shouts out D.I.T.C. in interviews and sometimes in songs…
(interrupts) Right. And then none of us are on his albums.
Right. To me, that seems like a slap in the face.
Right. Well, a lot of people see it that way but that’s a question that everybody has to ask Joe. Only he knows the reason to that.
Do you speak with Fat Joe on a regular basis?
I talk to Joe, not often, but we speak.
Can Diggin’ in the Crates ever come back together, even if it’s just for a song or two?
I got an album coming out. I know Finesse is about to hit the studio on his solo shit. O.C. and A.G., they’re just rapping up their albums. So hopefully at the top of next year we can all get in the studio and come together and try to do something. We’ve all been touring for the past two years. We be out on the road doing shows, everybody except Joe. Me, Showbiz and A.G., Finesse, we just came back from Canada like two weeks ago. We’re still on tour. It’s just a matter of us getting the schedules right and getting in the studio and making this music.
Are you ever surprised by the love you receive going overseas, especially when you haven’t had a lot of new music out recently?
Yeah and that’s a blessing too. A lot of artists that were hot in the ‘90s, if you made good music and you connected with the fans, you can make a substantial amount of money touring overseas, whether it’s Europe, Japan or Australia. It’s definitely a blessing.
Are you ready to be back in the hip-hop spotlight?
I’m trying to go hard with this project with shows, interviews, whatever I got to do. At the same time it’s a blessing but I don’t take shit for granted. Nothing is promised and the music industry is just like many other things – you only get out of it what you put into it.
Switching gears, how did you link up with Natalie Cole?
That happened through producer Dallas Austin. He contacted me and he asked me to come through and meet Natalie. I went down there and met her. I played her some ideas I had and we built on top of that. It was relatively easy.
What did you learn as a producer switching genres to work with Natalie Cole?
The musicality aspects of being a producer, just stepping away from the samples and picking up an instrument. That’s what I learned from watching them. It’s the same thing Dr. Dre has been doing all of these years, not really lately, but back in the ‘90s. He was still sample based after the first and second Chronic. He still had samples in there but the live instrumentation made it sound bigger and that’s where I’m at right now, just having my shit sound bigger.
If hip-hop’s A-list MCs ask you for a hit, can you give it to them today?
Most definitely! That’s not a problem for me. Most times when I sit down with someone, they’re going to hear something they’ll like.
Even though you only produced three songs on The Huge Hefner LP, do you think you’ll be getting more requests from artists for your production now?
It can go either way. The joints I did on my album are all three really strong songs. The whole album is strong. I can’t answer that. That remains to be seen.
We kind of touched on this earlier, but can you take us through the making of a Diamond D beat?
I start with the sample. If I’m just sampling sounds then, how can I put it, I try to put it in a four or eight bar loop with no drums, just the sounds. And I just listen to that for awhile and just in my head I hear how I want the percussion sequence to go. Once I lay the drums down then I just do some more layering, whether it’s the bassline or guitars or whatever sound I feel it needs.
If I’m sampling a loop and all of that shit is basically in there, I’ll just program my drums. Most of the time if I use a loop, whatever pattern the live drummer is doing in the loop, I’ll just copy that on the programming so that it sounds very clean. That’s one thing. I’m a stickler for that shit. This is my third album and on none of my albums will you hear any of the snares clashing. I know some producers don’t mind that shit but to me that’s just being lazy and sloppy. That’s just the way that Jazzy Jay broke it down to me. Everything should sound flawless and everything should flow. You’ll never hear any of the snares clashing on my shit. On some of the beats I made, you won’t even know that some programming is in there. That’s more or less how I do it.
Have you given any computer programs a try?
I’m not computer based. I still fuck with the MPC, the 3000, and I fuck with the Yamaha Motif. Those two, those are my tools right there, just to lay the basics.
Have any producers tried to get you on a laptop?
No. I know 9th Wonder uses one and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just happen to have come up in the era where if you got your hands on an S-950 or a 1000, you needed a sequencer because those machines were just samplers. In the early ‘90s, you had the Akai 900, the 950, the S-1000…Unlike the MPC that has buttons on it, those machines were just samplers. You had to have another machine to trigger the samplers. It’s just a matter of what era you came up in. I would tell a new producer who might not have a lot of money to get a laptop and to get their Fruity Loops and just do you. It’s cheaper and it’s just easier and it’s way more convenient, whether you’re going to sample or if you’re just going to try and keyboard it out. It don’t matter. Just do you.
Do you still dig for records as much today as you did in the past?
Not really but I still do. The last time I was up in Toronto I was digging with Large Professor. Shout out to Cosmo’s Records. We were in there for maybe 90 minutes. I still do it. There’s a lot of virtue in digging now. Everybody be in these different blogs trying to download shit. It’s just different now.
What did you think when you first heard the Busta Rhymes “New York Shit”, which was produced by DJ Scratch and had the same Soul Sensual Orchestra sample from “Faded Lady” as your song off Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop “I Went for Mine”?
It was what it was. DJ Scratch said he had never heard my version. I know Busta heard it. Dudes were like, ‘You know, you’ve worked on three or four Busta albums, why didn’t dude just come at you?’ I don’t know the answer to that. You’ll have to ask that man that answer.
But Scratch is my dude. He said when my first album came out, all he heard were the singles. I couldn’t be on no bighead shit, like, ‘You ain’t heard my album?’ He told me he had only heard the singles which was “Best Kept” and “Sally” and I didn’t get to a third single because I told the label to go fuck themselves. But he said he only heard the singles and back in ’93 he was on that Hit Squad world tour and he said at that time he hadn’t heard my album. He had only heard my singles. I believed him and I left it at that.
Scratch said he wasn’t aware of it until after he did it but people told him that was that Diamond D shit the same way. The only thing different is I had the drum programming under mine but the flutes are the same. Everything was the same.
And Busta never gave you an explanation?
No and I ain’t asked him for one. Busta, people have short memory spans. What was it, the Flipmode album? He used the “Gotta Get Away” beat off my first album. Then he said, “Yeah, D, we had to salute you and use that joint” so I know he heard the album but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not upset about it. I worked on, like, three or four Busta albums. Busta looked out for me in the past and he’s still my man and hopefully we can get it on in the future.
I appreciate everything and I’m grateful for everything I’ve done and everything I’m still allowed to do. There’s a lot of hate out here but I’ve been in the game for 15 or 16 years and I still have a new project that’s about to drop. So a lot of these hating-ass motherfuckers, I want to see where they’re at 15 years from now, whether they’ve moved on or whether they’re still in the game. I’m still relevant at the end of the day.
Did you feel the need to reestablish yourself at all as a producer and as an MC on The Huge Hefner LP?
My only regret in my career is not really focusing on the MC aspect of my career. I was on everybody’s album when I was carrying the ball, so to say. I rhymed because I wanted to, not because I had to. It was, ‘Yeah, I’ll rhyme on your joint’ and then work on production. I’m just glad that I’m able to go between the two. As far as trying to reestablish myself, as an MC, yes, definitely. Hopefully this album will do that.
I’m reading a lot of the comments and a lot of people are saying that it sounds hot but it sounds boring. He’s not yelling. I want to say to those dudes, all of my favorite MCs are guys like Jadakiss and Styles P, Nas, MF Doom, these motherfuckers, yo, you don’t have to yell to be heard. You don’t have to scream or yell on a track to be heard. Listen to the motherfucking words. So everybody that’s saying I’m sounding like I’m laid back, stop hating on me, fam. Listen to the music. You don’t have to yell to be heard.
And on “D.I.A.M.O.N.D.”, I was happy with the feedback because on HipHopGame, the fans are going to keep it 100 with you. If your shit is garbage, they’re going to tell you that and 95% of my shit is good so I’m glad for that. But that’s just one of the things that I noticed. They’re saying I’m not yelling and it sounds like I’m laid back and it sounds like I’m bored. These same dudes don’t say nothing about all of the MCs I just named. Everybody don’t have to be an LL or a Busta and just go in the booth and just yell at the top of their lungs. That’s not what I’m about. I’m about spitting shit that I’m about. Get that shit out of your mind, listen to the music and listen to the lyrics and just soak that shit in. That’s what I want to stress.
What should we expect from you after The Huge Hefner LP?
Another album. Hopefully get back out there and start doing some more production work. So yeah, it’s kind of a reentry for me. Only time will tell. Anybody who likes Stunts, Blunts or any of my past work, go out and cop this album. There’s a lot of good music on there. It’s 11 songs. It’s real quick. My album is maybe, like, 40 minutes long. There’s one skit on there. Everybody’s like, ‘Yo, D, there’s no skits on there!’ I’m all business. It’s 11 solid tracks.
You and Prince Paul had the skit game on lock at one time.
That’s right. After my second album on Mercury, I just became real disenchanted with the way I was handled over there. I’m going to be more accessible this time. I felt like after that second album, people were saying it was a good album and it wasn’t as good as the first album and I respected that, but just the way that Mercury handled that, there wasn’t no real promotion. I just became real disenchanted with that shit. I felt IO had some good songs on that second album. The shit with me and Busta was crazy.
Is that why you went independent with Babygrande this time as opposed to pursuing a major?
I went indie so I could see more of my backend, to be honest with you. Let’s say if I sell 100,000. If you sell 100,000 on a major, you’re in the red. On an indie, you’re good. You’re not rich but you’re definitely set up to do whatever you want to do. So that’s the reason I went to Babygrande. Shout out to Babygrande and shout out to Dru at Duck Down. He was trying to sign me.
I remember hearing the Duck Down rumors among some others. Why did it take so long for you to sign a deal?
Because…I don’t want a motherfucker to praise me and then when we get to the money part they’re not there. Don’t beat me in the head and tell me how great I am and then we get to the money part and it’s not there. Even with Babygrande, but I respect them because Chuck told me if I wanted X, Y and Z then I had to deliver him some shit. So basically that’s it. A lot of labels, not even a lot, maybe two or three, they were trying to get at me but we just couldn’t iron out all of the details and trust me, I wasn’t asking for no meal ticket. I wasn’t asking for no million dollars.
But you still want what you deserve.
Of course. But you know, I’m not going to let pride stop me from doing me. All the labels that were trying to fuck with me, I don’t have no bad words for them but I wound up on Babygrande so we’re just going to roll with it and see what happens.