Hip-hop has been at the crux of innovation and inspiration for–I’ll just put it out there–life. Since its birth in the 1970s out of rugged South Bronx, the genre’s game changers have been planting their seeds in the soil of American society bar by bar. Hip-hop has sparked a noticeable majority of the dance crazes, fashion staples and trendy slang we’ve all used over the last few decades. Although the sound of hip-hop spurs new nuances to reflect generational signatures and takes, none of us can deny the people who stand at the helm of such a monumental force have earned their rightful places there.
Let’s get hyperlocal, though. Though hip-hop’s reach has gone global at rapid speed, New York City lyricists constantly prove why there’s no place like home. I’m a 90s baby, so of course the Biggie/Jay/Kim argument of hip-hop leaders is embedded in the discourse. Usher in the 2000s and we’re introducing a new roster of mainstream heavy-hitters. Enters The Diplomats (popularly known as Dipset) stage left, led by frontmen Cam’ron, Juelz Santana and Jim Jones. At the top of the decade, Harlem’s very own held us down with beats, wardrobe and video treatments that reflected the savvy of our city’s streets.t the time, very few may have noticed, but these three stars would quickly make their permanent marks on the state of hip-hop as we knew it.
$$$ FASHION KILLA CAM $$$
You simply cannot utter a word about innovation in hip-hop without mentioning the name Cam’ron. He embodied the phrase “carefree black boy” with an edge only a New York native like himself can add. Wearing the color pink was such a stark contradiction to the assumed image of rappers–and men in general–that Cam’ron was able to finesse it without so much as thinking twice about public opinion. Effeminate styles sported by men in hip-hop were always a thing, from body suits and furs seen in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, to crop tops worn by The Fresh Prince, and even Snoop Dogg’s signature perm.
Cam’s assertion of “I will do what the f**k I want” spoke more in this bold choice of clothing than anything he could ever spit in the studio. In fact, watching him perform or be himself while wearing pink added to the value of his lyrics as well as his image. How iconic is it to watch a rapper spit the following verse in something like a pink fur coat and dripping in diamonds?
Observe: cock and spray
Hit you from a block away
Drinking sake on a Suzuki we in Osaka Bay
Playing soccer, stupid, stay in a sucker’s place
Pluck ya ace, take ya girl, fuck her face
She dealing with Killa so you love her taste
She swallowing Killa cause she love the taste
– Down and Out (2004)
Pushing boundaries as Cam’ron was especially important on a local level. The amount of guys from around the way who suddenly found it okay to wear pink after Cam did it was remarkable. Many found that the soft touch to the gangsta style increased its appeal after Cam’ron did it. They were right.
$$$ PRETTY BOY JUELZ $$$
At 18, he lived a crazy life. Plus, he knew what the ladies liked. Juelz Santana stood beside Cam and held his own. Though only a teenager when first introduced to the genre of hip-hop at large via mainstream radio spins and landing multiple spots on song countdowns, Santana’s bars and quips were enough indication that he wasn’t just rolling with the big dogs, he was a big dog.
“Dipset (Santana’s Town)” reverberated through the streets upon its release. Santana’s wordplay was arguably one of the strongest out of NYC. In the group’s signature style: slow but strong, sturdy and unforgiving with a dash of humor, he created an anthem in his own name with Cam’s hook serving as the golden cosign. His debut album From Me To U reached the top ten on the Billboard 200 and gave more to the arsenal of hit singles cranked out by The Diplomats.
2005 was a good year to be Juelz Santana. Specifically because his sophomore album What The Game’s Been Missing! carried hits like “There It Go (The Whistle Song)”, “Mic Check”, “Oh Yes” and so much more. This was also the same year he was featured on Chris Brown’s “Run It!”.
Santana also had his own fashion staple, sporting the patriotic look in stars and stripes. From bandanas to jerseys to coats and other pieces, the rapper made the symbol of our nation a centerpiece for his hot boy image in the early 2000s.
$$$ BOSS MAN JONES $$$
Co-CEO of Diplomatic Records, a top ten, certified platinum record on Billboard’s Hot 100 (“We Fly High”) and even an acting career in the hood classic film State Property sequel, State Property 2 as well as HBO’s The Wire. Jim Jones lent himself to multiple business ventures while still managing to keep up with the skyrocketing success of Dipset and making sure New York City rappers had something to aspire to.
On the entrepreneurial side, Jones has always been about his business. He has done as much behind the scenes as he’s done on the front lines. This includes directing a lot of Dipset’s early music videos, forming a new hip-hop group by the name of ByrdGang and launching ByrdGang records.
He has also been credited for sparking the mid-decade rockstar fashion trend: skulls and chains, boot-cut jeans, Ed Hardy shirts and high fashion scarves were suddenly the wave for much of the urban youth population as well as fellow rap stars.
While his name had been attached to many controversies throughout his career, Jim Jones’ stint with Dipset could never be forgotten.
Though this bad boy trio are the most known in the squad, The Diplomats ran bigger in size than Cam, Santana and Jones. Known names like Max B, Freekey Zekey, Hell Rell and others were also part of the elite, both making appearances in music videos as well as being featured on tracks.
Dipset brought an unparalleled level of charisma to rap music. Comedy skits and jokes weren’t too prevalent in the music and works of New York rappers. Their collective image made them high-ranking hoodstars, approachable yet untouchable. In November, it had been reported on multiple news outlets that the group is set to make a comeback after an appearance on MTV’s revamped ‘TRL’. The reunion is set to be sealed with an official documentary and EP.
Though in retrospect, the appreciation for Dipset’s impact on hip-hop culture (and subsequently aiding in hip-hop’s impact on the world we live in) is huge. Their reputation as taste makers, rule breakers and game changers for this community is a mark you simply cannot wipe out.
Now, let’s close this out with one of my favorite Dipset bangers…