The only thing better than getting a new Dipset album this week would have to be riding on a double-decker bus with all The Diplomats as your tour guide — Juelz, Jim, Freekey Zekey and even Killa Cam himself taking you stop-by-stop to their old haunts in Harlem. Thankfully, that’s exactly what went down last night for one extremely unique listening experience for the legendary rap collective’s upcoming LP, Diplomatic Ties.
Starting out in Time Square, the epicenter of all tour bus rides in New York City, the wheels for the night scooped up a group of media outlets and tastemakers to get a preview of the new project for a completely reworked version of your general album release party. The Source got a chance to take a seat at the top of the bus — thankfully the wind wasn’t violating too hard! — sitting right where all the action was happening. Of course, the action was none other than Freekey Zekey, who was right on cue to provide his signature jovial energy when we finally met up with 3/4 of the group on a special block in Harlem.
When we arrived at Harlem Taste, the iconic Uptown deli spot also known as “Hajji’s” that the crew bought chopped cheese sandwiches from for the whole bus, Juelz Santana gave us a rundown of how influential the 110th St and 1st Avenue area meant to the crew. Adorning the side wall was a mural of Bloodshed, one of the OG members of Dipset and unsung rap group Children of the Corn that died due to a car accident on March 2, 1997. It was a heartfelt moment, and put a perspective of just how long these guys have been out here.
Once we hopped back on the bus, the album listening commenced. From the intro track, which uses a sample of Drake bigging up The Heatmakerz and their classic Dipset production, to the first few songs, the sound this time around is very much in line with what you’ve heard before. However, the sycophantic nature of their flows from track to track brings the best of the ‘Set to a new Hip-Hop audience without losing an ounce of respect from rap loyalists.
“We grew up out here — we went to school with a lot of these people’s parents, grandparents and teachers. They all know us.”
— Freekey Zekey
The ride took us through so many different areas of Harlem — the hospital on Lenox Ave, the Taft Projects on Madison Ave, and one unforgettable ride down 125th Street where we passed Apollo Theater, the famous music venue where the guys will be performing this Friday after their album drops on Thanksgiving. While the ride was a bit shaky, both literally and due to the many occasions where we almost had to duck to avoid crashing into traffic lights and tree branches, it was extremely insightful to be side-by-side with the guys as they cruised through the neighborhood. When we asked Zeekey why they felt so comfortable (i.e. safe) riding through these infamously rugged blocks, he simply stated that each member grew up in the area long enough to know them all. “We grew up out here,” he said, following up confidently by stating, “We went to school with a lot of these people’s parents, grandparents and teachers. They all know us.”
The final stop was where we picked up Cam’ron, who made us get off the bus to meet him in the parking lot of his old building off the 125th Street & Broadway 1 train stop. With headphones still intact, all four guys finally linked up for an official set of group shots, and the moment felt super commemorative. Overall, both the after hours joyride, which concluded with a tour through Spanish Harlem and how much gentrification has changed the area since it was Dipset’s stomping grounds in the late ’90s/early ’00s, and the impressive quality of the album itself proved that The Diplomats have aged gracefully into their legacy and we have a long way until they hang things up for good. We’re here for the ride though!
Diplomatic Ties, the first album in 14 years by The Diplomats as a collective, drops this Thanksgiving (November 22), with a special live show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem to commemorate the release on Black Friday (November 23). Purchase your tickets now by clicking here.
Images: Daniel Vasquez