5x5: Diplomats Interview

As part of last year’s Red Bull Music Academy World Tour, five hip hop legends – each representing one of the five boroughs of New York, the birthplace of hip hop – took to the couch over five days. Coinciding with this week’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, we present the highlights of this lecture series, one session for every day this week. Today: The Diplomats, who held court at the Harlem School of the Arts, with hip hop's official gossip queen and radio presenter, Miss Info at the helm.

RBMA: Do you feel like Harlem is a very different place now? Like, are you a stranger in Harlem?

CAM’RON: Never could be a stranger, but, it’s changing, but that’s like if you not around, you not going to see the changes. We see the changes as they happening, so I like the change.

JUELZ SANTANA: I ain’t gonna front. Ten, 15 years ago I probably wouldn’t have liked the change, but just being a little older, you know, maybe having kids and understanding that things have to change, and maybe change for the better. It may be good, but I mean, being young and just running around Harlem I definitely feel that we got some of the glory days of just, you know what I mean.

CAM’RON: The biggest change is the cops. You can’t even stand on the corner and eat some chips, man. It’s crazy. Like, they run down on you for anything. I’m in the back of a car, drinking out of a Styrofoam cup, which was juice, and I got a ticket. And I’m not even on the street. That’s how ridiculous it is.

RBMA: But let’s compare to back when, when you guys were first coming together, first coming out. What were you doing on the corner then? Just compare from now to then.

JIM JONES: Cases of champagne on the floor, Styrofoam cups, weed in the air, hustling…

JUELZ SANTANA: No good, no good.

RBMA: So, do you feel like there could have been a Dipset in 2011, like could that have even happened? Would you have been different people?

JUELZ SANTANA: Oh, we like the Renaissance, we always would, see we still here right now.

RBMA: Like the way that you guys basically taught a generation about your lifestyle in Harlem. If you had more restrictions, you wouldn’t have even lived that lifestyle.

CAM’RON: Yeah, I ain’t gonna lie, it’s tough outside, it’s tough. Yeah, we used to be on 145th and Broadway, doing some wild stuff, so I don’t even think you could do that, what we was doing back then.

RBMA: So, I think that you guys, if you could talk about the influence that the Harlem streets had on what you wanted to talk about, what you were influenced by, what you aspired to, what your goals were. Because you were seeing more like a wild lifestyle. Extravagance, fashions, and all of this stuff that we will never sort of see on the streets like that again.

JIM JONES: We were fortunate enough to put the official soundtrack to Harlem, as far as painting the picture of what we witnessed. Our good times, our bad times, the people that we looked up to, the things that we saw when we looked out our window, the things that we did when we came outside. This is what we put all into our music, and we was fortunate enough to be able to witness an era. Might not have been a part of the era, but was fortunate enough to witness an era that led us to do what we doing today. Like, we were lucky. Where we from, you got a chance to sell drugs, or you got a chance to make it out of the hood by going to school. Going to school’s usually not the first option. Selling drugs is. When we got famous and when we got our first deal, this was like in between of like, yo, it’s either to make money we gonna go hard on these streets, or we gonna take this opportunity serious, and go all the way to the top and make some money, and let them know how instrumental the streets was to us, and how we would like to give back, and maybe we could lead by example.


FREEKEY ZEKEY: We was out of here. Listen, it’s Cam’s fault. He pulled his hamstring. Cuz we was gonna go pro, you know what I’m saying. That’s what really happened, you know what I’m saying, we was out of here. He went to that one game, what was it, St. Mark’s or something? And he pulled his hamstring, so that’s what led us to the other two options.

JUELZ SANTANA: I ain’t gonna say I’m happy that he pulled his hamstring, but I couldn’t play basketball. So, if he wouldn’t have pulled his hamstring and went the rap way, I probably wouldn’t have never met him, for that. Cuz I came a little bit later, you dig what I’m saying, so thanks to that hamstring or whatever, then he got that.

JIM JONES: I think that was a decision, because they was rapping all through high school. They was getting busy. Him, Bloodshed, Ma$e. They still was doing the rap scene.

JUELZ SANTANA: Between his hamstring and Biggie Smalls keeping his word when he passed is the two reasons that we are here today.

RBMA: Yeah, there are so many crazy things that went into, like, so many crazy things that came together at the right time for Cam to hook up with Untertainment and Biggie, and be part of that. So, a lot of people know that history, but I kinda want to get into when you guys all became a collective group, right? So, it’s wild to think that it was about eight years ago, but Diplomatic Immunity was 2003, right.

JIM JONES: So, you mean come together, doing the album, cuz this was something that been going on since we graduated from high school. Like, we’d been together, it was Legacy before it was, remember that? It was Legacy before, then Cam said, “Yo, somebody got that name trademarked already. We can’t use Legacy, we gotta do something else.”

RBMA: Like, who came up with the logo for the Diplomats?


RBMA: Really? Six Figga Digga.

JIM JONES: It was Digga. We was all, we all came with a little bit, but Digga was the one to bring the dollar bill, like, “We need to go with this with the Diplomats.”

RBMA: And that’s just to clarify, a producer who started with Untertainment and then he was also, you know, producing for you guys afterwards. Really, so is that why he at one time claimed that he owned the trademark, because he came up with that logo?

JIM JONES: He owned a silkscreen machine, I don’t know if he owned a trademark. Shout out to Digga, man. He was definitely a part of this Diplomat history in the beginning stages.

CAM’RON: Digga, he didn’t want to go get the Diplomat tattoo, talking about, “Well, when Jim gets it together and Juelz learns how to rap right, then I’ll go get a tattoo. I’m not with all that.” You know, he was like, the business man. He didn’t really see all that. I’m like, “Yo man.” He’s like, “Imma do Six Figga Entertainment.” This is my man, we cool now, I’m just telling you a story. He’s like, “Imma do Six Figga Entertainment. I’m like, I don’t even like the way that sounds. You stopping at six figures, and I ain’t even really with that six figure joint. So, I already don’t even like the way your company sounds. I’m take the Diplomats name, you take Six Figga, and Imma go this way, you go that way, cuz we started falling out over, you know, like the artists and everything, trying to get the company to go. Then, when we poppin, he’s like, “I own the Diplomats, and they owe me money and yadda, yadda. We cool now, I’m just telling a story.

“Cam always had that tough love on me. It was times we would be on the road, and if I ain’t had a new rhyme written, I couldn’t go to the club, I had to stay on the tour bus and write the rhyme.”

RBMA: You guys knew each other for a long time. How far back do Cam and Jimmy go?

JIM JONES: Age ten, 11?

CAM’RON: Maybe eight or nine. His grandmother and my grandmother lived in the same building. So, you know how you go to your grandmother’s house on the weekend? We always seen each other, no homo, every weekend.

RBMA: And what about Zekey?

JIM JONES: Zekey, I knew Zekey literally from eight. We went to summer school together. That’s how I met Zekey. In summer school, Catholic school.

CAM’RON: And they from the Eastside, too. I met Zekey when I was about 13, 14.

CAM’RON: I met [Juelz] when I just finished my first album, going into my second album. My man Tobe, I knew Tobe since I was five years old. Like, me and Tobe went to kindergarten together, graduated elementary together, then he went to another school, whatever, but we always stayed in contact or whatever until then. He kept telling me about Juelz, and Juelz was in a deal, and the deal was messed up that he was in, and he was in a group. I heard the group, and Juelz’s partner wasn’t as good as Juelz, I felt. So I was like, “Yo, you know I know you loyal, but you should try and work with us and get something poppin’,” and that was that. But, Tobe kept telling me about him, but I’m like, “Yo, man, let me get my thing together. I only got one album out, let me get it together.” So, I fell asleep in my car one day, and I was sleeping in my car, Tobe was driving, I woke up, he woke me up, he like, “Yo, here go my man in the back seat right now, ready to rhyme.” I’m like, God, I’m looking at him like, “Yo, man, I don’t got time.” He was 16.

JUELZ SANTANA: Tobe had just called me downstairs. He like, “Yo, come down.” No, he caught me on the phone. He said, “I’m driving around the block, Cam’s sleeping. Come downstairs.” And like he said, I was in a group, my partner wasn’t home yet. Shout out to my partner, Malik, at the time. So, I came downstairs, I got in the car. Like he said, Cam was sleeping in the passenger seat, dead sleep. He woke up wiping his face, or whatever the case. And he just gaped, he didn’t even really look at me---

Juelz Santana

CAM’RON: You gotta realize, in Harlem, like, before Ma$e, we used to think like Harlem got the jinx. Everybody from Brooklyn get on, and Queens was poppin’. This person’s poppin’ from Staten Island, and Long Island, like, Big L and Gruff was our rappers, but it was never was like nothing national, so we was like, “We got the jinx on us.” So, after Ma$e, we was like, “YES, the jinx over”, you know what I’m saying. So I got everybody now in Harlem trying to rap to me, know what I’m saying, so I’m like, “I ain’t got time for this.”

JUELZ SANTANA: Yeah, but I knew that look he had, cuz he looked at Tobe while he was driving, like, “Oh, you really just gonna drive over here and got this little nigga in the back of my car.” But I knew that was my only chance. He said, “Nah, this is my cousin I was telling you about. Rap.” Basically, so I rapped.

RBMA: So, you had to rap for a guy who had just woken up and was grumpy as hell, and did not want you to be sitting next to him.

JUELZ SANTANA: So, I had to be kinda good, right?

CAM’RON: It was tight, and then he start rapping, I was like, “Hey, yo, Shorty, nice. Hey, you know what I’m saying.”

JUELZ SANTANA: But he didn’t show me that. He didn’t really show no emotion. I just got out the car, and kinda waited for Tobe to call me.

CAM’RON: I went back to the crib, I told Jim, cuz me and Jim was at the same, I was like, “Yo, it’s this young kid that Tobe got uptown. He’s poppin’.”

JIM JONES: I remember the bars. The bars you said. He said, “I keep guns in my trunk, when I go swimming I keep guns in my trunks.” [laughs]

CAM’RON: Nah, you know the line that got me. Man, we keep it 100 when he said something about, “We still stealing cable. We got the chip in the box,” and everybody was stealing cable at that time. We got mad free cable, so I was feeling it.

RBMA: And I do think it’s very important to make a note of the fact that there are people that I have literally known for 15 years as your friends. Like, the same people all the time, the same faces. Whether it’s Tito, or, definitely a very tight crew. But, if could just really quick give us some background on what was the group that you had before, how did you even get on?

JUELZ SANTANA: Um, actually, shout out to my partner, and even once Cam kinda told him that he wanted to kinda push forward with me and not my partner, it was something that I sat down and talked to my partner about. And, you know, know what I’m saying, it was something that we both thought was the best thing to do, know what I’m saying, cuz you know, at that time, I hadn’t known Cam. So, it was a move that I was making, you know, on a person that was like my brother, you dig what I’m saying. So, we sat down, we chopped it up, we both understood that it would be the best move for both of us. We actually um, we had a little deal, like Cam said. It wasn’t a good deal. We was real young, like 15. Know what I’m saying, I was still kinda, you know, worried about what was going on in the street, til I met Cam and I saw that it was really like, uh, something that could be bigger than just, if you know, it was something that I put my all into. And I still got a lot of discipline from Cam, cuz I wasn’t fully focused. Like, I had good rhymes, but I didn’t have that many rhymes, you know what I’m saying. So, Cam always had that tough love on me, the way it was like, like I said, I tell people the story all the time. It was times we would be on the road, on the tour, and if I ain’t had a new rhyme written, I couldn’t go to the club, I had to stay on the tour bus, and write the rhyme, know what I’m saying.

JIM JONES: Tell ‘em about Chicago. That’s like, the most important song.

CAM’RON: Nah, like, it was a few. Like, Imma keep all his, his stupid-ass songs was under pressure like a shot clock. Like, we was living in Chicago. We all get dressed for the club, he told us early, he like, “Nah, I finished this song”. So, we getting dressy like we are, we like, “Nah, throw the beat on, this finished?” He like, “Uh, uh.” It was supposed to be a finished song. We like, “Yo, we bring you something back. Knock that out, whatever.” Word. And it was “Gangsta Music”, it was some Dipset anthem, though.

JUELZ SANTANA: It paid definitely. Always paid off. Tough love is sometimes, you know, you may not want it from some people, but when there’s some people that’s giving you tough love for a good reason, and like I say, he was older than me. He had been through a lot more than me in the game. So, I respected it, I was a fan of his before I met him, you understand what I’m saying. So, like I said, it was a learning process for me, and every bit of it paid off.

JIM JONES: Nobody. Cam walk on in the studio now, it’s pressure on niggas, like, “I gotta get my verse done fast.” Cuz Cam come in and do his verse in three minutes, and have you looking crazy, like, “Yo, you gonna do this or what?” You be in and sweating, still to this day. I go to his house there before, I be like sweating in the basement, like, “Yo, I gotta get my shit together.” He a perfectionist when it comes to music, and he don’t like to waste time.

“You ain’t going to have too many people in the music business teach you the business. Everybody else is so worried about making a dollar off you, that they’re not going to teach you the business.”

RBMA: Obviously, before you were on Sony, then you made the change over to Roc-A-Fella. That was a life-changing transition. And it also changed, I think, everything for the rest of the crew. I mean, yes, you already knew each other, you were already working together, but life was much different on Roc-A-Fella, correct?

CAM’RON: It was just good energy. You know, we on Sony, we fighting for spins, they not doing the videos right, you know. Un lost his deal, SDE don’t do the numbers that we wanted, and then we had somebody that we used to hustle for in the number one spot in the rap business, which was [Damon] Dash. We kinda had a little falling out over something in the street years ago, but Harlem dudes are stubborn. We won’t apologise til it’s like, “Man, you know what, just forget it, I’m sorry,” you know what I’m saying. So, me and Damon fell out over something in the streets. So, when I started doing my music thing, and he started doing his career at Roc-a-Fella, it took off. And I was at the point in my career where I kinda hit a brick wall, and I’m like, “I did a lot of things for Dame, now he gonna have to hear my ‘sorry’ at least.” So, I went and apologised, and he’s like, “Yo, it ain’t nothing, Cam. Come on, let’s go.” And that was pretty much it. You ain’t going to have too many people in the music business teach you the business. Everybody else is so worried about making a dollar off you, that they’re not going to teach you the business. With Dame, sat down and broke down with us what our problem was on Sony, and kinda taught us how to make money in the business.

RBMA: Do you also think that Dame wanted you guys there because, maybe for whatever reason, what was happening within Roc-A-Fella, he felt like, “Oh, now I have my friends here.”

CAM’RON: I just think he was a businessman.

JIM JONES: If we was wack, we wouldn’t have been there.

CAM’RON: He’s smart. It wasn’t about… first of all, he didn’t have to do that favour. They was at the peak of their music career. They had just sold more records than DMX, when DMX was beating them at that time. They didn’t need us, you know what I’m saying. So, it wasn’t because something was going wrong, their machine was running smoothly.

JUELZ SANTANA: Just like Cam said, Dame wanted everybody to be bosses. Even, like Beanie Sigel. Beanie Sigel had his own clothing line. Like a lot of that, like, Jay didn’t – Jay was an artist until Dam left. Jay didn’t really take care of none of the business. Dame took care of everything, that’s why he was looked at as the bad guy and it was easy for people to kinda shut him out after Jay did. You know you got ‘good cop/bad cop’? And he fought to everything, so, whatever. But Dame was very smart, though.

Lecture: The Diplomats (RBMA World Tour 2011) from Red Bull Music Academy on Vimeo.

RBMA: But he does have a reputation for being hard to deal with. Did you guys not find that? Did you not have those infamous arguments with him, um, where his, um, you know, he has a very interesting ego.

JUELZ SANTANA: Another cocky Harlem nigga. That’s what you say. Like, we from Harlem, so we know what Dame was all about.

CAM’RON: Yeah, cuz what happened was I started rockin’, well, whole Diplomats started rockin’, and I was telling Dame, I’m like, “Yo, it’s time for my niggas to start rockin’. What’s up?” He like, “Just chill Cam, chill, it’s gonna be good, just wait a minute. You just gotta.” I’m like, “I hear you, but I don’t really hear you. We gotta go now, you know what I’m saying.” So, I went upstairs to Kevin Liles’s office. And Kevin Liles, he seen Juelz, he’s like, “Diplomats? Bam, I’m signing.” And, you know, Roc-A-Fella was on Def Jam, so Dame went upstairs flipping. “How the fuck you gonna,” pardon my language. “How the fuck you gonna sign? Imma ask you for the money to sign them.” So, he cursing Kevin Liles out. And Kevin’s like, “Look, man. Signed to us or signed to you, I make the same amount of money. It doesn’t matter to me, Dame, I really don’t care.” And that’s kinda what happened. So, me and Dame started flipping, and saying we was going to do the deal through Roc-A-Fella. He keep telling us, “Hold on, hold on, hold on.” I’m like, take the money out your bank account and give it to us. You can’t tell hungry niggas, ‘hold on’, you know what I’m saying. And every day, every day, every day, every day, every day, every day, it was like, it might have been three days, but it felt like 87 days. We just ended up like, I was like, “Yo, you better have my money tomorrow. I ain’t playing.”

RBMA: Once you guys did get rolling, I mean, you were already featured on “Come Home With Me”, but then there was Diplomatic Immunity. This is when Cam, as kind of the head honcho of this, you made a decision of ‘I want to go forward with this group’. Did you think of it as another Roc dynasty, did you compare it to some other type of mega-group?

CAM’RON: Know why I think people liked us so much is cuz lifestyle. It wasn’t formulated. It isn’t like there’s some dude from Philly. We’re not dissing them, but it was like, guys from Brooklyn, guys from Philly, another guy from Brooklyn, dude from Chicago. We all kinda just, we all from the same neighbourhood, so it’s kinda natural, you know what I’m saying. When we got into rap beefs with everybody, everybody jump on the song, whether they had beef with them or not, know what I’m saying. We’s beefing with Nas, it was like, whatever, you know what I’m saying. It was more family orientated, so I think that was why people kinda liked what we had going on.

JUELZ SANTANA: We came there at a time, you know, Jay definitely was Jay. Don’t take no nothing about from Jay. But as far as just Cam, he did, you know, the “Come Home With Me”, that was a great success, for numbers and just a great time for us. Like, we were real hungry. We knew what we was coming there for, like, we came to Baseline [Studios] to work. Not to gamble, not to do none of the other extracurricular activity.

By Miss Info on July 12, 2012