The Next Spot is a recurring series dedicated to the albums that could’ve, would’ve, should’ve made the Decade Top 50.
Up in our merger, there’s foul murders
Turkeys to cow-burgers, the code of our murder
Child, if you style or a wild splurger
Stay away, okay? Mr. Giles will hurt ‘ya.
If there was ever a mission statement for The Diplomats, who– let’s not kid ourselves– pretty much ran New York during the early part of this turbulent decade, the opening bars of “DJ Enuff Freestyle” should be their butcher-shop mantra. Or maybe, “This is a movement, this is a union/This is more than what you people call ‘music’.” Diplomatic Immunity, less a double-disc album and more accurately a compilation of the best moments of Diplomats 1 & 2, which redefined rap bootleg culture by popularizing the single-artist mixtape. Carried by the record’s two star-players– one a longtime NYC rap underdog finally getting close enough to reach the city’s throne, the other a young gun-slinger given the opportunity to shoot from the front seat– Diplomatic Immunity was a coming-out party (I don’t think the term “no homo” has ever been more appropriate) for two of the most compelling rappers to come out of the city this decade.
The crew obviously starts with Mr. Giles himself, Killa Cam, a man whose joyous disregard for the conventional helped him become not only an enthralling lyricist (“Let‘s get lost in Camby/I got lobster in Boston, Austin/Floss in, of course, Miami“), but a trendsetter (let’s face it, nearly every black dude you know had at least one pair of Air Force 1’s with the pink swoosh). Coming off the heels of the platinum-selling Come Home with Me, for Cam’ron, Diplomatic Immunity was triumphant and celebratory. It was the sound of him sticking his tongue out at the wreckage of the Twin Towers and taking the elevator to the top of the Eifel. “You’ll get side-swiped, look at my life/First movie ever, murked out Mekhi Phife.“ Behind a cocky smirk and under an Osh-Kosh B’Gosh bucket hat(!), you can smell the champagne from the locker room celebration on his breath in almost every verse; two arms up, touchdown.
For Juelz Santana, Dipset’s next-in-line, Diplomatic Immunity was the vehicle in which he, a habitual truant with perfect attendance in chemistry class, displayed an introspectiveness well beyond his then-19 years, while admitting that he “does talk about some bullshit, too.” Santana’s verses are inhabited by teachers who told him he wouldn’t amount to anything, the elder statesmen in his crew who he looks up to with an almost blind devotion, his own underlings whom he offers advice (“Clockwise, counter-clockwise/It’s all in the wrist, shorty.”), and dead bodies. Lots of them. Only the vast majority of the bodies aren’t from his own hand; Santana’s eyes are transfixed on the wreckage of Ground Zero, debris and human bodies scattered everywhere, with the latter losing color to horrifying decay. There is a slight obsession with 9/11 in Juelz’s verses, with multiple allusions to the Taliban, the tragedy’s effect on the crack trade, and a short prayer for the victims. The Heatmakerz-helmed, chipmunk-soul-tinged beats are tailor-made for Santana, who uses their dramatics to wring every drop of emotion out of his voice, which Dipset capo Jim Jones tries to a degree, but is not nearly as successful.
An underlying theme in Diplomatic Immunity is betrayal, with Cam providing multiple allusions to the feeling of getting his back turned on him. This provides a weirdly clairvoyant context to the album, given the messy divorce of Dipset over the past couple of years. Cam called it himself in “Purple Haze”: “If you don’t crush your own weed up, and put it in the blunt yourself, your own brother will hand you some dust.” But Diplomatic Immunity is a snapshot of a time where this crew of charismatic anti-heroes were on top of the Big Apple, and serves the time before the syrup allegations and the suggestion of a fake beef that caused the riff between its two principles. And now, all we have are the songs and the promise of their near-takeover. Burn the town down one more time. What the hell, scrap?—Douglas Martin