Set Life, LLC / EMPIRE
Set Life, LLC / EMPIRE

Come for the controversial Kanye shots. Stay for the grimy beats and beautifully belligerent New York raps.

It only took countless solo projects of varying quality, a fraying and mending of creative differences, waiting out an incarceration or two, some much-celebrated reunion shows and more than a few false-start studio sessions, but after 14 years, The Diplomats have finally released an official album. Happy Thanksgiving… unless you’re a certain super-producer with a penchant for MAGA caps.

Cam’ron, the Dipset co-chair, wastes no time cutting to the heart of the matter and setting blogs ablaze with his first verse on Diplomatic Ties, calling out former frequent collaborator Kanye West by name before questioning the man’s heart, loyalty and honesty. “He told me he was bipolar/I looked and said, ‘Bipolar?'” Cam’ron spits. “Don’t be ridiculous, he wasn’t in the mix with us/Bricks from Hamilton Terrace/He didn’t take the risk with us.”

And then the kill shot: “The ones in the Taurus, nigga/He a tourist/Uncle Tom nigga know nothin’ about this chorus.” Yikes.

It’s one thing to grab our attention, but it’s another to keep it. The Harlem Voltron of Cam, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey do that by ushering back their classic soul-steeped Heatmakerz sound, mixing it with gleefully ignorant punch lines and spicing it with just a dash of 2018 to make their return sound updated, but not painfully so.

Drake’s shoutout on the intro, Belly’s Auto-Tuned hook through “On God” and Tory Lanez’s whiny croon lapping the raunchy sex marathon “No Sleep” all contextualize the rowdy, flashy Dipset movement that reigned in the early 2000s for a fresh generation of fans. But when the Uptown rappers dig into platters of sped-up soul, Godzilla drums and anthemic vibes, older heads will catch Diplomatic Immunity flashbacks in the best way possible.

“Dipset Forever” is a triumphant proclamation of loyalty and reconciliation that bleeds into “On God,” which takes the group’s bond and dips it in blood. The haunting promise that “I would die for anybody in the squad” carries weight because of the crew’s brushes with violence IRL.

Musically and aesthetically, however, “Sauce Boyz,” “Uptown” and the unimaginatively titled NYC Super Friends collabo “Dipset / Lox” (featuring, yes, The Lox) represent a climax in terms of groove and free-flow spitting that captures the aggressively juvenile wordplay that made us fall in love with their attitude in the first place.

“Y’all just dip salsa/Where the tacos at?” Cam’ron rhymes.

And Juelz: “Your girl put my dick in the mouth and did the beatbox.”

The nod-worthy “Uptown” apes the same funky Jack Bruce horn sample Smif-N-Wessun looped up for 1995's “Bucktown”; it's an excellent addition. But if there is a criticism to be made about the project, it’s that 14 years is a long time to hold one’s breath for a nine-track, 34-minute LP. True, short-but-sweet albums are the flavor of the day (thanks, in part, to the aforementioned Mr. West), and The Dips’ 2003 gold debut was an unwieldy beast at 27 tracks spread over two compact discs. While you can’t complain about getting raps lean and mean, Diplomatic Ties does feel like a bit of a tease.

Don’t take another 14 years off, guys. —Luke Fox

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