The Diplomats — known to most as Dipset — are woven tightly into New York City history, like the laces on a fresh pair of Timberland boots. The collective changed the face of hip-hop when they reinvented the wheel of street rap, thanks to a string of hits including “Dipset Anthem” and “I Really Mean It.” Now comprised of members Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey, the crew is arguably on some whole other business with their comeback project Diplomatic Ties.
The album presents a slew of new hits, translating the present landscape of rap music with what’s become that signature Dipset sound. Look no further than the track “Dipset Forever” for proof of that combination of the two worlds. Guest features from The LOX, Belly and Tory Lanez make the mission complete, though at the end of the day it’s really back to the original blueprint that was laid out 21 years ago and won over an entire fanbase who have been self-proclaimed Diplomats ever since.
After a return to music together, breaking the 14-year hiatus, the group has been omnipresent, albeit individually. Reality TV, solo albums and films are just a few of the ventures they’ve been dabbling in before this long-awaited return to form. Billboard checked in with Jones and Cam’ron about the Dipset reunion, onstage engagements, the legend of apartment 5H, and a chance encounter with Laurence “Don’t Call Me Larry” Fishburne.
After 14 years, how did the conversation go down to come together for this moment again?
Cam’ron: We tried to do it a few different times, but we were somewhere else earlier and Jim alluded to it that we’ve all known Tuma [Basa] for years and years and years and he kind of put it all together and got everybody back in a good space. We did the [Hammerstein Ballroom] show and then from the show—I believe it was in February—we just been continuing to work since then.
What has the experience been like? You started this over two decades ago, so being in this space is so different from the ‘90s until now. What has been the biggest difference that you’ve seen returning to this space as a group from when you first started?
Jim Jones: From the industry or within us?
Both, essentially. You’ve gone through your whole entire careers now and you’re coming back into this space.
Jim Jones: Honestly, the way that music is sold is the biggest change for me. Virtually, you don’t have to spend any money to buy music nowadays and you can still go Platinum. When we were selling records, going Platinum you had to buy a physical CD for $10-$15. It’s not that anymore! There’s streaming and all type of shit, the internet…everything is viral.
Is there anyone more extra than a Dipset fan?
Jim Jones: It’s just great to have people recognize the work we put in and enjoy the way we’ve been entertaining for all these years. I mean, to see people lose their mind sometimes is a little bit scary, but it’s dope! I don’t know about everybody else’s fans. I haven’t studied anybody else’s fans, but I know Dipset fans are definitely some good fans. They’ve been good to us.
Cam’ron: I just think that when it comes to our fans, it’s organic. I’m just trying to think now before I put my foot in my mouth about anyone else but like, before us? Definitely. But we’re the last, to me, organic group. When I say organic, I mean like not grab a dude from this state or that state or this place or that place. We really grew up around each other, and to be honest, it ain’t like we created that.
I was thinking about that the other day. I’m like, where is Silkk The Shocker at, man? Master P done made sure everybody in his house gon’ do something! Everybody gonna figure it out! [laughs] Like even with Jim—Jim’s our man and we’re like, “Yo, you gotta rap bro!” We were like, “Yo, you’re loopy. Direct the video, my n—a!” It was like, for real. But he embraced that shit and ran with it and turned that shit into a career! And it wasn’t like when we were telling Jim to rap that we had some type of deals or some shit. It was just like, “Yo, let’s all do this shit together!” You know what I’m saying? And even Cash Money—they may not all be related, but they all from the same projects. So it’s dope. I love watching organic groups, and I think fans realize what’s organic and what’s put together.
I think that’s the thing that separates Dipset from so many other collectives and groups. If you look at this new generation of artists now, who are pieced together from their SoundCloud pages and kind of get slapped together, they “yes man” each other. They’re not going to sit there and say, “You sounded loopy!” They don’t even know what that means, but they were bred from online. So there’s something to be said about that, because nowadays people aren’t pieced together from where they’re from. They’re pieced together from their laptops.
Cam’ron: Right, but I think that’s why our fans are the way they are. I realized you could watch the elevation. The revolution was televised! You could watch the elevation. Me and Jim was on Jenny Jones, man.
Jim Jones: Oh my God!
Cam’ron: I’m telling you, that’s how long! Teen Summit! You’ve watched n—-as grind together, so I think that’s why our fans is like that. And even like I said, we had Zeke singing hooks, Drugs was in like 9th grade. I think everybody grew up with us and everybody grew together. When we were growing, everybody was growing and then we’re so loopy and people like us still. My man Sug, he had a girl at my house a few days ago and she told me she was 22 and she was like, “Paid In Full is my favorite movie ever! Of all time!” And Paid In Full is probably like, 17 years old or 16. She’s like, “I watch it every week.” So the stuff that we do is a blessing to me because it’s timeless; whether it’s music, movies, TV, or whatever it is. I just think that they see it’s something legit and not no cornball shit that’s just gonna go away.
It is pretty crazy how you have fans who are like, 15 and fans who are 50. So when you were putting together the sound for this project, was there something in mind? It still sounds very you, but did you keep in mind anything that was going on in the current landscape when trying to get in the studio and make this project?
Jim Jones: With Diplomats, it’s just trying to stay current without chasing because nobody wants to stay outdated. But we still want to remain in the same vein that people love us for, so it wasn’t an easy task, but we kind of found that thin line that we were looking for. After that, I just started to get Cam and Juelz involved and let them hear different music and they started picking what they liked. Then Juelz starting sending in music and then it started to gel together organically. Like Cam was saying, the way it happened—I couldn’t have planned that. It just kind of all came together from working hard and just doing newer songs and stuff like that. I feel like we started off slow, but it’s like riding a bike. The more you ride a bike the better you get at it, so the more records we did, it started to come together real dope.
Cam’ron: To me, it just wasn’t that hard. Jim saying it was hard because he did mad work. He did more work than all of us. That n—a put the work in. I just had a lot of personal shit going on. It was like fucking back to back personal shit going on for me, but he put it in play for all of us just to do shit, so we really didn’t have to do that much work. He kind of executive produced this whole album by himself. I just think also it’s that, like I said, it’s kind of like we know how to rap so it’s not really that hard. I think it was perfect timing because it’s so much music out where the lyrics are whatever; it’s really not that important. And so much time has passed with lyrics not having been important and not saying that we’re the dictionary rappers or something like that, but we do like to put a little bit of content behind what we’re saying, and we really know how to rap. I think that was missed also for a while, so I think everything was just great fucking timing to be honest.
Did you guys know that Juelz was going to propose at the Apollo show?
Cam’ron: I didn’t.
Jim Jones: I was surprised! It was dope, though! Congratulations to Juelz and his fiancée.
Cam’ron: That’s some Harlem shit.
Jim Jones: I like the way he put on for Harlem. That was definitely a Harlem moment, at the Apollo, front stage and center!
Cam’ron: Yeah, that was dope.
There’s been this debate for years now, but it came back around that the “Dipset Anthem” is better than the national anthem. I wanted to hear your take on that.
Jim Jones: I mean, it is an anthem! Can’t take that away from it! [laughs]
Cam’ron: I’ma be honest, man. I ain’t got no comment! They had some newspaper for veterans hating on us, so I got no comment.
I don’t think it was the veterans actually hating on you, because veterans are Dipset fans! I think that people just like to complain.
Jim Jones: That’s what I was saying.
Cam’ron: I told Jim yesterday, “Anybody with a phone got an opinion.” So you can’t do nothing about it.
Jim Jones: You can’t do nothing right out here no matter what.
Cam’ron: So that’s just that.
But that’s been the fabric of The Diplomats: the idea of moving like an army. That has been part of your aesthetic for damn near 20 years. I have not seen one single veteran in two decades coming and saying, “I’m outraged!” But I feel like in the whole complain culture that’s going on, it was just really easy to get mad at something.
Jim Jones: It’s definitely a complain culture.
Cam’ron: There’s a bunch of other stuff to complain about besides what we do on stage, and besides that, Jim was just at an army base!
Jim Jones: I do a lot of stuff for the army! They have these events – the last one I did was in Virginia. They had an event for the kids, so I went by and spoke to the kids and stuff like that. Shouts to the army and all the armed forces! They definitely support a lot of Diplomat events and things like that, and they sponsor a lot of our events.
So tell me something about the Dipset history that people don’t know.
Cam’ron: You can tell yours and I’ma tell mine.
Jim Jones: Oh, I don’t know. People ask me questions like that, and I freeze up! I don’t be knowing what to say!
Cam’ron: It’s just so many different stories. For instance, what you may remember I may not remember. Like, I met [Spurs Head Coach] Gregg Popovich—that’s the head coach for the Spurs. He was walking down the street, and I hopped out my car because I’m a Spurs fan and took a picture with him. If I see Gregg Popovich again, he ain’t gonna know who the hell I was. That’s just a memory for ME. To him, I’m just some Black guy who hopped out the car and took a picture with him! If I go up to him in a year from now and go like, “Yo, remember me?” he’s not going to remember! So my personal Dipset story is not even really a Dipset story because it’s too many. This is actually a pre-Dipset story. Larry Fishburne—I loved him, but Fat Shawn just didn’t like him.
We see him in the airport. My first album’s not out or nothing; we’re just on a promo tour for my first album. Jim is like, “There go Laurence Fishburne!” Jim had done a couple scenes on New York Undercover and shit, so Jim had seen him somewhere else—like Toys R’ Us or some shit—and he was like, “If you call him Larry Fishburne, he loses his mind!” Like we’re just sitting there chilling in the airport waiting for our flight and Jim tells us this.
Jim Jones: Someone called him Larry in Toys R’ Us on Christmas and he wild’d out on the whole Toys R’ Us!
Cam’ron: Crazy! So, my man [Fat Shawn]—he just died like two months ago—but he was an asshole, though. God bless the dead, but he was another type of asshole. He hears Jim’s information, assesses it and just was like, “Yo what’s up, Larry?” [laughs] And this n—a Larry was so mad, he walks up to him like, “What’d you call me?” He’s like, “I said, ‘Hello, Larry!’ But you gotta realize…we’re not no celebrities! We’re just some guys trying to get a record out, so we’re like, “Oh shit! Fucking Laurence Fishburne!” And my homegirl is taping and he said, “Turn that off!” Like, he’s mad harsh and shit! So my man’s like, “What’s going on, Larry?” Blah blah, whatever. So he leaves and we’re like, “Ah man, Shawn! You’re crazy! You a ill n—a calling this n—a Laurence Fishburne ‘Larry.’” He’s like, “Fuck that, man! I want that n—a to hit me so I can get this bread!”
So we’re just in awe that’s Larry! So listen though, he comes back and sits down with us! Like, “Yo, why you keep calling me Larry?” And n—-s is like what! And this n—a Shawn is like, ‘”our mother named you Larry, I’m calling you Larry!” N—a pulls out his I.D. like, “What does this say?!” We’re like, “Get ‘em, Larry! Get ‘em!”
Jim Jones: Shawn’s like…
Cam’ron and Jim Jones [in unison]: “I don’t care what you showed me! Your mama named ya Larry, I’ma call ya Larry!”
Cam’ron: And Jim is like, “Yo, we’re trying to get on! We got the album coming out! I’m on New York Undercover!’ He’s like, “I’m not helping y’all!” We’re like, “Yo Laurence, don’t pay that nigga no mind! That n—a’s stupid, man!” He’s like, “I need to know what’s going on with y’all.” I’m like, “Yo, fuck him! My man on New York Undercover, I got the album…” He like, “Look man, I’m not helping y’all!” So then it got to the point where I’m like, “Yo you know what? Fuck you, my n—a!”
Jim Jones: Word up!
Cam’ron: “Fuck out my face before we fuck you up! We don’t give a fuck about you!”
Jim Jones: For real, man! We spazzed on Larry in the airport! He had the black gloves and he put his black gloves on like he was in the movies!
Cam’ron: Like he was in a movie and shit!
Jim Jones: I said, “Larry, we gonna fuck you up! You think this a movie with your black leather?!”
Cam’ron: Word! And then that n—a got up like a movie and turned his back and just walked away! So I was kissing Larry’s ass for 20 minutes, and he turned up.
Jim Jones: I remember them black gloves!
Cam’ron: But you know, back to what we were saying about memory. What’s crazy is, he probably just thought we were some ignorant n—-s who don’t know who we is. Because let’s say about 4-5 years later, my friend James is driving my pink Range Rover and Laurence Fishburne pulls up next to him and he’s like, “Hey, is that Cam’ron’s car?” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah!” He’s like, “Yo, tell him I’m a big fan! I fuck with him!” So James called me and he’s like, “Yo, Laurence Fishburne just pulled up to the car and said he loves your shit!” And I’m like, “See he don’t even know that that was us!”
Jim Jones: Larry love my shit, right? Haaa!
Jim Jones: Next is creating the Diplomatic Immunity 3 album, which will be coming with a full documentary, and me and Cam going back and forth on whether it should be a Diplomat biopic movie or should it be something like Diplomat Narcos. I think Diplomat Narcos because it’s just too much. It’s just so much because it’s four Platinum artists, not to mention everything from 1997… Cam went Platinum, and everything else we did from there on it went Platinum—to Juelz side and then he went Platinum to me catching a break and then I end up going Platinum and everything else was Gold. It’s just so much shit in between all of that shit and like you said, the past 21 years—I don’t think we’d be able to squeeze all of that into one movie. Like when 50 did his movie, he was probably on this third or fourth year of his real success, right? We’re on 21! We need 10 episodes! They need to see this action flick.
Cam’ron: I agree with Jim. We’re just gonna have to talk and see what makes more sense financially, because they might give us a check just to do a biopic on TV, but we fuck around and hit the box office for $400 million. I don’t know. The right way to do it is what he’s talking about, but is that the best way financially? So, I don’t know! I’m not in disagreement with either one. But we fuck around and just take a check like New Edition for one shit and then we could have fucked around and hit the box office on a worldwide tour, not just America, and fuck around and make $600-700 million.
Jim Jones: We could do the movie and still come back and do the television show and explain every scene that the movie’s about.
Jim Jones: Because you’re only going to be able to show a little bit. See a nigga get clapped and you’re going to want to know what led up to it!