Harlem's native sons, the Diplomats—AKA Dipset, AKA Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Freekey Rekey, and Juelz Santana—performed before an enthusiastic, if relatively small, crowd of Pacific Northwest Diplomatic devotees on Sunday. Perhaps due to my advanced age and East Coast upbringing, I am continually surprised at how little draw many of my hiphop heroes have in Portland. Their collective Portland fanbase was unable to fill even the lower bowl of the Roseland, so the show was recast into the much more intimate, but sonically/visually limited Peter's Room on the ground floor.
A solid decade removed from their respective peaks in popularity, and with limited crossover to the mainstream beyond a few non-representative singles, the Diplomats are currently the embodiment of true hiphop troubadours—traveling city to city, grinding out their concert dollars via pockets of mid-era NY gangster-rap aficionados throughout the world. Their future commercial outlook could be ominous, however, based on the disparity in attendance between the all-ages and well-aged sections of the crowd that evening.
Skipping almost all of their recent solo mixtape work, Dipset kept the selection largely within their landmark Diplomatic Immunity albums, peppered with some solo hits of Cam'ron and Jim Jones. The two defacto leaders of the Diplomats, one a suave wordsmith, the other a likable wild card, did most of the heavy lifting over the live proceedings, exchanging bars and blunts on stage with professional ease, determined to put forth an engaging performance by playing off each other's distinct personalities. A promising-prospect-turned-lost-lieutenant, Juelz Santana appeared unengaged for most of the set, the once youthful vigor in his delivery numbed to a defiant petulance on this evening. The lesser-known Freekey Zeekey compensated for his relative anonymity with extra-animated gesticulations and stage movements.
Although there was certainly nothing at fault in their choice of attire for the show, it may have brightened the bare bones staging if they had dipped back slightly into their more flamboyant era of style, as there were no purple or pink furs to be seen, and only understated accessoriation of their outfits. But these are minor quibbles when given the opportunity to rap-along with a small group of fellow constituents to the Diplomats' deep collection of soulful yet punishing anthems.
- Minh Tran