The venerable DJ store Fat Beats on Melrose was welcome to L.A.'s first visit by Hip Hop artists Diamond District, an infectious charge of old school rap flavored by the emcees' region, the "DMV" -- the area spanning D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, a merging of affluent areas with impoverished neighborhoods wrapped around the heart of America's government. The group gets its name from the diamond-shaped layout that is the District of Columbia.
Oddisee, the group's producer and one of Diamond District's three emcees, explains that the juxtaposition of the poorest neighborhoods and the richest centers of power makes for "a terrible combination." Nonetheless, he asserted that having traveled the country and around the world, the D.C. area is still one of the best places to be African-American. At Diamond District's performance the previous evening at the Self-Help Graphics Center on Caesar Chavez in East L.A., Oddisee introduced himself to the audience as part Arab, part Black.
D.C.'s diverse music scene has been known in the past for Hard Core or Go-Go, and home to such multi-genre masters as Thievery Corporation. The array of cultures and sounds is a theme throughout Oddisee's layered arrangements and moody composition on the Diamond District tracks, and Oddisee openly aspires to the ranks of the late J Dilla, the innovative and influential DJ/emcee. Oddisee Music has put out several solo rap albums, an album of beat instrumentals akin to DJ Dimitri from Paris or DJ Shadow, as well as produced with other local artists.
Diamond District is a collaboration of Oddisee with emcees yU and XO, backed by DJ Quartermaine, all of whom are independently prolific solo artists. Their collective effort is an earnest attempt to revive the sound of early Hip Hop, a styled once termed "Boom Bap" by KRS-ONE for the classic old school rhythm comprised of a booming bass line, complimented by a bumping cymbal/snare sound.
Diamond District's socially conscious lyrics are a welcome relief from the played-out materialism of mainstream rap, removed from thuggery and overindulgence. Their rhymes and alliteration, punctuated with a staccato flow, carve dense portraits of scrapping to get by, direct outrage at corrupt powers, and map out their disciplines and dreams, while asserting their love of soul music with vigor. Their voices seem bigger than their years, their flows sharpened with a DC-area drawl, and their delivery confident and charismatic.
At this in-store performance in West Hollywood, this group that has traveled the world nonetheless warmed to the inauspicious setting as their introduction to the entertainment capital of the world. Oddisee even ripped on his DJ, Quartmaine, for being a Cancer-Leo cusp, a pretty L.A. thing to do. Though their debut album In The Ruff has only been out a few weeks, several in the crowd knew it well enough to request songs and sing along.
In this video, Oddisee explains Diamond District's musical goals, and the group performs their album's opening song, "Streets Won't Let Me Chill." Insisting on getting the small gathering hyped, Oddisee leads those present in call and response during the song, rather amusingly.
This video is the performance of Diamond District's single off In the Ruff, "I Mean Business." A mantra to discipline and ambition, the song features a hook from Gang Starr, a knowing homage, released before the untimely passing of Guru.
Diamond District aspires to the integrity and artistry of Black Star, the classic collaboration between Mos Def and Talib Kweli released over a decade ago, and they work it like they are determined to prove themselves worthy heirs to the cause.
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