LL Cool J once rhymed about only needing an hour, a pen and a pad to write a hit record. Cam'ron and the Diplomats say they need just a fraction of that time.
"It don't take nothing but 10 minutes," Cam said recently about penning tunes with Jimmy Jones and Juelz Santana. "We rap. If we hear a beat that's hot, we could do it. Sometimes I'll be like, 'Let's write about this,' 'cause we have a bunch of concepts, but we're oppressed. We got 20 years of hard time to write about. It's nothing."
Cam and company have been holding true to a Tupac-like speed and frequency of making music. During the past year, they've released four Diplomats mixtapes for the streets and Cam's platinum solo album. The group's first official LP, Diplomatic Immunity, drops March 25.
"Our album is gonna be like a mixtape," Cam said. "It's a double CD. We do every mixtape and put like 20 songs on them, so there's like 80 songs [on the street.] We don't want people to be like, 'What happened to this song?' or 'What happened to that song?' All the best songs from volume one through [four], we put them on one CD, and the other CD will be all new music."
The group is gearing up to shoot the album's first video, "Gangsta Music," this weekend in New York. On the song, the Diplomats give props to the Geto Boys, reciting lyrics from Scarface on the hook: "I sit alone in my four-corner room staring at candles."
"We was in Chicago [last year, and] they had me writing out there," Santana remembered. "[Cam] gave me that beat, I wrote two verses and said, 'You gotta get on this one too.' "
While in the Windy City, the Dips also bumped heads with DMX and politicked two collaborations. Cam recorded a song for X's upcoming It's Not a Game, and the favor was returned with the Yonkers rapper barking on the chorus of the Diplomats' "What's Really Good" (see "DMX Gon' Give It To Ya On Soundtrack, Fifth Solo Album").
Elsewhere on their album, the Diplomats show that their musical tastes go far beyond rap. Their "Built This City" samples — you guessed it — Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City."
"For a couple of years I was trying to get somebody to do that beat," Jones recalled. "It was more or less the hook [that I liked]."
The rock feel carries over to "Ground Zero," which has ominous guitar licks carpeting pulsating drums. "I speak pain, spit power/ Talk courage, breathe flowers/ Follow me through the debris of these towers," Juelz says on the song.
" 'Ground Zero' symbolizes the whole tower incident," Jones said. "We was picking up the whole revival of New York and our revival too, because Diplomats is a whole new [musical movement]."
Moving from the present and the future to the past, "Who Am I" finds Juelz rhyming about shedding tears as he looks back at his life's harder times.
"That was a song I did three different verses [for], breaking down three different parts of my life," Juelz said. "One verse was talking about my mother, one verse talking about how I came into the game. ... It's a real deep thought song. It's music — if you're doing it from the heart, you gotta let out your feelings. If you're not, you're not making real music, you're making B.S."
Santana said he hopes to get Lauryn Hill back in the habit of making music, at least for the probable first single from his May 13 solo album, From Me to You.
"I got a song called 'All I Need Is You.' If I get Lauryn Hill on it, it will probably be my first single," the 18-year-old said. "I look up to Lauryn Hill; I always wanted to do a song with Lauryn. I'm feeling her music, her soulfulness. I felt like it would be a good time to bring her back into the public eye."
After Santana's debut drops, Cam plans to release his next disc, Purple Haze, on August 5, and a Diplomat DVD called "Come Home With Me" is supposed to come out before the year is over.
"It's a 2003 'Streets Is Watching,' " Cam said of the project. "Eleven videos mixed with dialog and acting scenes in between. It shows what we went through to get to the point we're at now. It's a couple videos off of Diplomatic Immunity, couple off of Juelz's album, couple off my album. It's different videos, different songs and it'll all make sense. It will all coincide."
For a full-length feature on mixtape culture and the role of mixtapes in making a rapper's career, check out "Mixtapes: The Other Music Industry."
For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.