“Come Home With Me”, the tour of the streets of Harlem
Diplomats / Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam, 2002
“Harlem’s new representatives”
Rappers from the island of Manhattan have never been abundant in the history of Hip Hop. As the financial center and wealthy borough of New York City, the hip hop scene never really developed. The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn were much more fertile boroughs for rap. Yet, a neighborhood in northern Manhattan with a large African-American population, on the southern border of the Bronx, Harlem has had a few rappers in its history, while always lagging behind its other three more precarious competitors.
Jazz Hip Hop group, The Last Poets, who were among the forerunners in building the beginning of Hip Hop’s foundation, hail from Harlem. Kurtis Blow, Spoonie G and the duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock are also exceptions in the 80s. The late legend, Big L, is another great exponent of the neighborhood, although he is a member of the Bronx-based collective, D.I.T.C.. With its founder Puff Daddy, Bad Boy Records was partially established in Harlem, yet with the exception of Mase, no member of the roster was truly from the neighborhood. Outside of these few exceptions, the Harlem Hip Hop scene is not the prolific and no truly identifiable collective stands out.
“Roc-A-Fella’s helping hand”
However, a new collective will appear in this neighborhood in the late 2000s. The young rapper Cam’Ron, accompanied by Jim Jones, founded the Diplomats collective, which was joined a little later by Juelz Santana and a few other rappers. Harlem can boast the birth of its first Hip Hop collective. Cam’ Ron is already noticed with his first achievements, Confessions Of Fire in 1998 and S.D.E. in 2000, which are rather qualitative and make honorable figures. However, it’s only when he got closer to Jay-Z in the early 2000s that the group really broke through on the Hip Hop scene thanks to his signature on Roc-A-Fella, which also allowed him to found Diplomats Records. Is Harlem only a subsidiary of its big sister Brooklyn? In any case, it is only after its connection with Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella that the group will really explode on the mainstream scene. Harlem cannot boast a real identity, although it has successful representatives and a place in the Hip Hop of the 2000s.
With the support of Def Jam, Cam’Ron’s third album will take a new direction. Cam’Ron’s touch is still there, he makes his original crew benefit with numerous participations on the album, including Jim Jones and Juelz Santana. But the artistic direction is ensured by his new bosses, Jay-Z and Damon Dash, the productions by his new roster, Just Blaze, Kanye West or Ty Fyffe, in addition to some participations of Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek on a track. If these are not the only factors of success of the album, it is a boost that cannot be denied.
“Cam’Ron erased among featurings and beats”
Cam’Ron is a good rapper, with a tone that tends towards bass and deep, and a rather slow flow. If he can show some charisma on the mic, his lyrics are pretty good without being the finest of the rap game. His lack of versatility approaches monotony, he is pleasant to listen to, we nod our heads, but we do not find surges that make you take off your chair. He is regularly outdone by the numerous guests of the album, notably Juelz Santana and Jim Jones who seem to be more charismatic. Jim Jones’ husky voice and Juelz Santana’s more versatile flow, which are omnipresent, provide some very welcome variations, not to mention the appearance of Jay-Z on the anthem Welcome To New York City. In reality, Cam’Ron only appears alone on two tracks, so one wonders if he would have fared as well without his bandmates, or even if this isn’t a first album in disguise for the Dipset/Diplomats.
The album’s production allows the Harlem rapper to get away with it, he just needs to calmly apply his flow to shine. He does very well, but the beats do some of the work for him. The producers make him street beats with a slow tempo overall, with an atmosphere that oscillates between softness, Oh Boy or Hey Ma, and hardness, Losing Weight Pt. 2 or Boy Boy. The tracks work well and the atmosphere causes a groove with a rather unique aesthetic, which blends very well with the flow of Cam’Ron, while being very accessible.
“The effectiveness of soul samples for street stories”
Killa Kam draws inspiration from several of his predecessors, starting with his cover of 2pac’s Ambitionz Az A Ridah alongside original beatmaker Daz Dillinger. If the track is correct, the cover is not very interesting. The sample of Ice by Ghostface Killah on the eponymous track is another example. The inspiration is natural, the goal is nevertheless to bring something to the initial track or at least to reappropriate it. The sample of Aretha Franklyn’s Day Dreaming, typical of Kanye’s Soul sampling at that time, is very successful with Cam’Ron’s deep voice that fits well in the soft rhythm of the Soul singer. Moreover, the tracks with Soul/Funk samples are the ones that stand out the best, like the two singles, Hey Ma which samples Easy from the Commodres or Oh Boy which covers I’m Gown Down from Rose Royce. The reworked sample of a few synthesizer notes from R&B group DeBarge’s Love Me in a Special Way on Tomorrow ends the album on a sweet note.
The themes on the album are not original, but as very recurring themes in rap music, it’s hard to blame him. The drug stories, so common in Harlem, the accounts of neighborhood clashes, or the stories about women are tinged with puns and a form of arrogance and irony. But Cam’Ron never goes too far, he stops at the boundaries of correctness to ensure a much needed commercial success. His calm flow lends itself to reflection but the stories lack fantasy and spice, and work well thanks to the soft soulful productions that accompany it.
After the relative success of his first two albums, Cam’Ron couldn’t fail again. He knew how to surround himself with a good team to shine and get the success he deserved, and without being perfect the result is up to expectations. If the commercial success allowed him to obtain the confidence of the actors of Hip Hop, he could then express himself more personally on the musical level, with the Diplomats on Diplomatic Immunity in 2003 or alone on Puprle Haze in 2004, without approaching the success of this opus.