This was inevitable. Faster than you can say “Freekey!” 2000s nostalgia is here. Dov Charney might’ve only recently been defrocked, but it’s only a matter of months before blog-house revival, Ed Hardy redux, and the OC reunion — in which the last few seasons of the show are revealed to be a dream, Marissa Cooper remains alive and snorting, and The Bravery rock the Bait Shop one last time.
Dipset nostalgia is a different beast, but no less mutant. In the aftermath of their dissolution, their impact during their initial run has been amplified and idolized. They could be the rap game Pixies (rumored to be Cam’s original name for them until he discovered “Where is My Mind”). They massively influenced a generation, but during their creative peak, they remained mostly an Internet phenomenon outside of the East Coast. Sure, “Oh Boy” and “Hey Ma” were ubiquitous during their moment, but by the middle of the decade, neither Diplomatic Immunity nor Purple Haze yielded any West Coast airplay.
But their impact was undeniable. You only need to hear Wayne’s “Dipset” to remember how much they meant to his stylistic evolution. The stacked rhymes, absurdist Travel Channel boasts, and ad-libs of your favorite modern rapper can usually be traced back to The Diplomats. What’s French Montana if nothing but a spin off of a spin off? The Kourtney and Khloe take Miami to Dipset’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians (JR Writer as Rob Kardashian — the rest of the analogies follow as suss).
While 50 Cent and G-Unit made melodic singles for radio and clubs whose velvet rope doubled as a chalk outline, Dipset wrote bombastic anthems that could conquer the block or computer speakers. They didn’t write “hits,” they wrote hoaxes. Swaggering and taunting the competition. Cam might’ve been the only one to get the best of a feud with 50 (The Pear Bawse won by playing possum). “Curtis” isn’t a Dipset song per se, but it has all the hallmarks of their most memorable cuts. It’s rap as rope-a-dope, letting the competition exhaust themselves from uppercuts, until you’re smirking at their corpse on the canvas.
Dipset’s non-sequiturs and absurdist humor wouldn’t have felt that out of place on Adult Swim. The first choice of message board fanboys might’ve been DangerDoom or Andre 3000, but can you even imagine a Dipset cartoon? Of course, you can. It would’ve been perfect. If G-Unit perfected the old model of stunting, Cam and company liberated braggadocio, letting their exaggerations wander into the realm of the surreal.
If their chief rivals were the villains you loved to hate, the Diplomats were anti-heroes, beloved but sinister, too weird for center stage, but with far too much personality to be dismissed. And every now and then, they’d drop a bizarrely personal track to keep things honest. The Rap City freestyle distills it into it five flamboyant minutes. Everyone else bragged about how money they had. Cam counted it in a durag and bucket hat, like some rapacious oil tycoon crossed with Mitch Hedberg in Harlem.
It’s not unthinkable to consider Dipset one of the final NYC regional phenomenons. Artists will always inherently have more fans in their hometown, but we’ll probably never see such a movement crop up so large and simultaneously insular. It’s slightly difficult to objectively look back to a time before Cam had been fully memefied and used to sell Ebola masks. But back then, he was less aware of how his persona was processed, but equally sly about his self-mythologizing. After all, he was the only man to get shot and drive to the hospital in his own Camborghini.
Things haven’t been the same since the group splintered in the late 2000s. Jim Jones Temecula’d himself by appearing on Love & Hip Hop. Juelz was last seen on 145th St. asking women to get into the car. The car was a Corolla. Cam could’ve caked off of a 10-Year Anniversary Tour of Purple Haze. $50 a ticket. VIP costs $250 and you get a free Sake and a discount on your next Suzuki purchase. But he passed it all up. This attempt at a Dipset reunion isn’t their first. I caught them at Rock the Bells, 2012, and it was an epic disaster. Even by their normal standards of disdain, they all seemed to loathe each other. The sound was bad. There was zero charisma. The moment had passed. The only way it could’ve been worse is if Josh Smith joined them on-stage.
Maybe that’s why “Have My Money” is a pleasant surprise. It’s aspirations are minimal: they’re a bunch of assholes talking shit about how you better have their money. It holds up the estimable reputation of AMG, finds Cam talking about selling coke and fucking with Mariah. Tommy Mottola and Nick Cannon references. A Dipset ad-lib. The beat sounds like it could’ve come from 2005 or 1995. Jones sounds comfortable again as the Capo, second-in-command, wandering around Harlem in his flip flops. Juelz never became more than a top prospect turned bust, but he’s forever competent in role player mode. Diplomats are working on the same principle that D’Angelo understood. When you’re coming off a long hiatus, just do what you do best. No need to update the formula. You’ve been gone long enough to be missed.