Five years ago, established solo MCs Oddisee, Uptown XO, and yU came together as rap trio Diamond District to release In the Ruff, a refreshingly traditional rap album during one of the genre’s (and the music industry as a whole’s) most tumultuous years. Since then, all three have continued on with highly acclaimed solo careers and are now returning to their group dynamic with a new album, March on Washington, out October 14.
We have the premiere of the album’s second single, “Lost Cause,” and spoke to Oddisee about what makes their new album different, and how the group maintains chemistry between such distinct styles.
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What made you decide on “Lost Cause” for the second single?
Traditionally, Diamond District has been deep-rooted in boom-bap early ’90s hip-hop, with the tempo ranging between 86 and 96 [bpm], and this one is a half-tempo beat. Even though it’s familiar with our sounds, it’s a little bit outside the range of what people would usually expect from us. We chose this track because of content matter and to display some diversity from us.
It’s been five years since In the Ruff, a year of major industry shake-ups in itself; how different is prepping March on Washington for release today?
It’s definitely a different climate for numerous reasons. When we put that record out, it was somewhat a conscious decision to fill a void. Not in a negative way, but hip-hop at that point was becoming extremely progressive and experimental, which is a great thing, but it left a void to create a record that was retro. The direction of hip-hop itself was going in such a drastically different direction, it created a curiosity to listen to [Ruff]. Fast-forward to now and Diamond District, there’s so many examples of it, there’s such a renaissance in hip-hop where the focal point is back to lyricism and a lot of different changes in production. What we started out to do is something that a lot of artists had like-minded thoughts on, and you see so much of it now. Even on a mainstream level on a major label, there’s so many artists that are a lot more lyrically savvy, where that element of metaphor and poetry has found itself back into music. There weren’t a lot of examples of that at that time, but now there’s so many. I’m really interested myself to see how this record will be perceived by current listeners.
As a rapper/producer, you have a very defined sound. Being how distinct all of your styles are, does that present challenges when working as a group?
It’s that diversity that really makes Diamond District what it is, and that’s something we encourage and not something we shy away from. The fact that we’re all from different perspectives of the same city allows us to tell the same story from different angles. That’s always been the key formula to creating the record for us. We all observe the same scenario from different outlooks, and that’s one of our strongest assets.
Conceptually, when doing a track like “Lost Cause,” what’s the writing process like?
Traditionally, as the producer of the group, I provide the soundscape by selecting the tracks that we’ll use for the album. Once I create a bunch of tracks or acquire tracks — on this record, there’s only outside production on one track — everyone puts in their two cents on what the subject matter should be, and we do our best to combine. Oftentimes we’ll get the same feeling from tracks. They’ll be slightly different, but if one track says “happy,” we’ll have different interpretations of happiness. We’ll oftentimes come up with several different hooks and we’ll record all of them to see which one gels better. There’s a lot of cutting and a lot of post in a Diamond District album, so we all get equal input.
You relocated to Brooklyn shortly after the last Diamond District album. Do you find living in New York has affected the way you make music?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I’m a person who works very much at my own pace at my own studio. It went from my studio being in D.C. to my studio being in Brooklyn, and the guys coming over routinely in D.C. to coming over routinely in New York. The process itself is still relatively the same: We’re all in the same room at the same time being creative. I guess I’m at the point where a city affecting my thought process was already formed within me. It doesn’t hurt, also, that the majority of the people I encounter and establish close relationships with in New York happen to be from the D.C./Maryland/Virginia metropolitan area. There’s three people in my house right now, two from Prince George’s County and one from a neighboring county. There’s a lot of us up here; we have a strong community. You don’t really lose it.