Dipset redefines what it means to be gangsta with pink polos and purple mink coats, bubble-gum colored cars, lines about Dora the Explorer – and that’s just Killa Cam’s contributions.

In Dipset – aka The Harlem Diplomats – co-founder Cam’ron’s flamboyant style and artistic originality is paired with the lyrical innovation of JR Writer and the hyped-up bravado of Juelz Santana. Jim Jones, co-founder of the Diplomats, represents Dipset’s essential gangsta-ness, but since his lyrics aren’t compelling, he won’t receive attention here. Finally, the Heatmakers produce the beats, offering personalized instrumentals with over-emphasized bass lines, melodies and samples.

These elements combined make the Dips more than a typical rap group.

“We’re a movement,” JR said. “By the time we’re done, it’ll be like the Million Man March.”

Collectively, the Diplomats offer their own reinvention of the traditional gangsta framework, with distinctive beats, lyrics and style that work to reinterpret modern hip-hop.

Juelz Santana’s mix tapes, the “Back Like Cooked Crack” series, exemplify his persona. On most songs he proudly boasts of selling crack cocaine on the streets and it’s his unapologetic attitude that gives Santana such a strong and appealing personality. In typical Juelz fashion, he manages to say a lot while saying very little and seemingly convoluted lines like “Oops a daze, boo I’m crazed choo choo train, koo koo man, Zulu gang” conceal the subtle innovation behind his ostensibly childish words.

Nowhere is this tactic more evident than in his monosyllabic catchphrase, “A!” unabashedly embracing his role as a crack- dealing gangsta who perpetuates his own brand of lyricism, Juelz exudes a bold and infectious confidence that make his songs appropriately addicting.

JR Writer is perhaps the most lyrically advanced member of the Diplomats and presents a sharp contrast to Juelz’s gangsta-first, rapper-second attitude. The “Writer of Writers” also raps about crack, but with him it seems like he’s less interested in dealing crack than he is in writing rhymes about it. On “Best Out,” JR raps about his pre-Dip drug dealing days – “Before I met Killa Cam, I was dealin’ kilograms – so when I say uncut, I don’t mean behind the scenes.” Referring to uncut crack-cocaine, JR exhibits a punch-line style evident in all his songs.

Cam’s style is as abstract as it is lyrical, and the way he often repeats words within the same line is similar to Juelz’s style. On “Stop N’ Go,” Cam’ron raps, “Now it’s round one, done, ding ding ding Cash, ching ching ching, Call me the Bling Bling King.” Cam’s out-in-left-field style is part of what makes him so unique and vibrant as a writer, and his incredibly arrogant approach to lyricism – “I don’t even like to rhyme, love, but love this life of mine” – is what makes him the chief ambassador of the Harlem Diplomats.

While many find the Dips’ emphasis on drug-dealing and gangsta-ness clich, stereotypical and repulsive, there is no denying that they have created a new vision for rap. With their unique approach to instrumentals and their crack-centered lyrics, Dipset do hip-hop their own way.

Ultimately, they make the old seem new and in doing so create a truly successful experiment in hip-hop modernism.

Stark can be reached at


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