It's interesting to see the nostalgia and acclaim the group receives in retrospect; at the time, they were controversial, immoral, and divisive. The group's music was mercilessly lowbrow, but absurdist, artful, and hilarious.
They were a true grassroots movement, perhaps the last New York has seen. The crew's success was built on a combination of mixtape grind, hit singles, street DVDs, and a unique aesthetic vision. Coming up at a time when Atlanta was ascendant, the crew managed to keep New York City a hub of street rap into the new decade.
Before the crew reunites tonight for their concert at B.B. Kings in NYC, here's a look at the 10 Ways Dipset Changed Hip-Hop.
They Pioneered the Artist-Driven Mixtapes of Today
G-Unit's mixtape hustle is rightfully given credit for turning 50 Cent and his proteges into hip-hop superstars, paving the way for the mixtape game as it's known today. But on the low, Dipset's The Diplomats, Vol. 1 was actually released at the beginning of 2002, prior to 50 Cent is the Future's June release.
Back when mixtapes were packed with different tracks from different artists, all given to one DJ, Dipset broke new ground and pushed their group on one release and sold it independently. It mixed industry freestyles with the group's original material, and successfully pushed their new singles to radio.
Among these singles was a song called "Oh Boy," which, of course, would go on to break Cam'ron as a national hip-hop star. Today, multiple artist-driven mixtapes drop per day; this was ground zero.
They Became Stars Through Street DVDs
Street DVDs pre-date Dipset—Master P was one of the early artists to work an underground trade in street cinema. But Dipset was the first to market itself so actively outside of music, to sell fans on the artists' real-life personalities the way a reality show would.
Whether traveling to London ("[Tim Westwood] is the only person I know in London with an American car—I would say the steering wheel is on the wrong side, but it's really on the right side which is the left side..."), showing off Cam's extravagant abode or proving their support of the neighborhood by buying a bunch of booze on New Year's Eve, the DVDs were a window into the singular personalities and eccentricities of Dipset.
They Changed the Face of Rap Fashion
Dipset was Harlem and Harlem has always been about fashion. So when Dipset hit the scene, it's no surprise that Harlem's fashionable flamboyance came with them. From Juelz Santana's American flag gear to the crew's bright, baggy coats, furs, and fitted caps, Dipset was a loud, extroverted, unapologetic presence.
The culmination of all of this, of course, was how Cam'ron brought the color pink to the forefront, from his footwear to his automobiles: "Bitches say I'm tacky, daddy/Range look like Laffy Taffy."
They Brought Hip-Hop into the E-Beef Era
Tru Life seemed to have it all; a Jay-Z endorsement, a reported six-figure deal with Rocafella, and growing buzz thanks, in part, to beef with Mobb Deep and Dipset. One such attack was the mixtape cover for Tru York, which featured Jim Jones in a Borat-style thong.
Dipset certainly broke important ground for hip-hop when they successfully hacked Tru Life's MySpace page (remember those?), replaced his photo with an image of Jim Jones, put Tru Life's face over Borat's body, and updated the cover with prominent placing for the name "Jim."
One hopes that it was Jim Jones himself PhotoShopping the Jim York logo just so.
They Introduced Important New Talent to the Game
The list of artists whose careers have benefitted from the Dipset movement is wide and varied. Of course, many were unable to emerge unscathed, but you'd be hard pressed to deny that Dipset had depth beyond the original Cam/Juelz/Jones/Zekey lineup.
They were responsible for the rise of producers like The Heatmakerz and Araabmuzik. The rappers that came up underneath them were a wide array of talents, from JR Writer to A-Mafia, Stack Bundles to Sen City to Vado. And of course—of particular note—Max B.
Although Max would fall out with the group in a dramatic fashion (and end up receiving a 75-year prison sentence), the rapper ended up becoming one of the most influential underground rappers of the late '00s.
They Embraced Artists Outside of NYC
Sure, Jay-Z recorded a "Ha" remix and reached out to Pimp and Bun for "Big Pimpin," but Dipset was a movement, and as such, were considerably more open to collaborations with rappers from across the country.
They got Master P to record a second sequel to "Bout It, Bout It" over the same beat, did songs with Paul Wall, The Game, Bun B and T.I., and the Heatmakerz ended up producing for both Lil Flip and Lil Wayne. At one point, the Dipset movement, ideology, and sound had spread nationwide, even without hits as big as those that kick-started Cam'ron as a star.
They Popularized "No Homo" and "Pause"
For better or, really, worse, Dipset popularized the world's most concise way to reassert your heterosexuality, after incidentally saying something that might be misinterpreted as having a homosexual subtext.
Despite a near-suffocating ubiquity last decade, these days, the terms are mostly seen as homophobic and juvenile. Things have changed, but it'd be inaccurate to overlook the widespread use of the vernacular, or that a large part of the influence to use it stemmed from Dipset.
They Changed the Face of Rap Fashion, Again
Not ones to get caught behind the times, as the Dipset umbrella grew to include groups like Byrd Gang and Skull Gang, the crew's style evolved. Out were the baggy, flashy Harlem fits of Cam'ron; in came the grungy rock star look of mid-decade Jim Jones.
Boot-cut True Religion jeans, designer scarves, Ed Hardy shirts and lots and lots of skulls took over. It was the "party like a rock star" era, and it was Jim Jones' peak of commercial relevance, so he became quite the influential force.
Don't just take our word for it. Let the man speak for himself: "Them dudes be talkin' about they swagger—nobody copies the Jay Z or T.I look but they damn sure copy me. Remember when bitches was asking they hairdressers for the Rachel cut? I'm in that Jennifer Aniston zone, them dudes is Lisa Kudrow!"
They Brought Humor Back to NYC Rap
Jadakiss had zingers and 50 seemed eternally bemused while eviscerating his enemies, but you can't say that anyone in New York was touching the Diplomats when it came to comedy. From the skits to the punchlines, Cam and crew brought back a sense of brutal irreverence at a time when the city was in great need of it.
There was "On Fire Tonight," about catching an STI (opening sketch: a woman clowns Freeky Zekey while he threatens to put her in "eight headlocks" for giving him the clap). The group understood the comedic power of cutting right to the uncomfortable bone, that being concise and unpretentious made them more effective.
The mix of brutality and absurdity, in particular, was Cam's specialty: "I get the boosters boosting, I get computers 'putin', y'all get shot at, call me, I do the shooting." His apex may have come just as Jay-Z was entering the self-mythologizing moment in his career; who better to deflate Jigga's burgeoning profile with polite society than Cam, who memorably inquired as to how the King of New York could rock chancleta sandals with jeans?
Not to mention the skit where one of Cam's girls thinks chickens go "quack."
They Popularized Independence for Major Label Refugees
Regional stars from E-40 to Too $hort had been making independent moves for years before Dipset got on. But in the wake of Napster and the collapose of major label funding for rap music in the mid-2000s, Dipset—and Jim Jones in particular—pioneered the independent hustle for rappers who could deal with their own marketing, and found major label support dwindling.
The biggest name at this time, of course, was Koch Records, who soon signed artists like Master P and Snoop Dogg to deals. Koch had become something of a punchline (Lil Flip famously sent shots at Slim Thug, saying "after your album flop, you gon' be on Koch"). But Jones managed to build a successful career on the label; each record he released sold more than the previous one in its opening week, culminating in 2006's Hustler's P.O.M.E., which did 106,000 out the gate.
The rapper ended up getting signed by Sony/Columbia for his next record, but returned to Koch (at this point, renamed E1) afterwards and was even granted an A&R gig for the label: "Jim Jones put Koch on the map," said E1 president Alan Grunblatt at the time.