Showbiz & AG.
The legacy of Diggin’ In the Crates is one of no frills, no bullshit Hip-Hop. It’s born in the love of music, cultivated through ambitious pursuit of Hip-Hop excellence, and solidified by a peerless body of work. This collective of rhymers and producers out of the Bronx helped define the sound of East Coast Hip-Hop in the 1990s, along the way cementing the legend of the crew as a whole while launching the career of one bonafide rap superstar and another legendary rap martyr.
"We walked to our own beat," says superproducer Buckwild. "Almost every record I did didn’t sound like what everybody was doing. Like a Premier record or a Pete Rock record or a Dr. Dre or a P. Diddy record or whatever."
Teamed with rapper Master Rob as the duo Ultimate Force, Diamond D signed with Strong City Records in 1989, and the pair only released one single ("I'm Not Playin'") while on the label. However, an unreleased Ultimate Force album would feature some of the earliest known recordings of fellow Bronx emcee Fat Joe.
Lord Finesse, along with DJ Mike Smooth, would sign with Wild Pitch Records in 1989, setting in motion D.I.T.C.'s formation. He would release his debut album, Funky Technician, a year later, with production from D.I.T.C. mainstays Showbiz and Diamond D. The name Diggin' In the Crates spoke to the crew's genesis as a congregation of musically explorative deejays.
“When you think about DITC, it started off [as] brothers for the love of music,” Finesse explains. “That’s where it started. It started with me watching Show and Diamond in the park deejaying. Diamond was unique because Diamond would come out to a jam and fuckin’ cut a Mickey Mouse record and make that shit sound dope. Show was acrobatic on the wheels; Show was a problem He wasn’t even ‘Show’ when I went to school with him and was around him. His name was ‘Scratchmaster Rakim.’”
“I used to cut classes and go to Diamond’s crib just to do tapes. I’d be on my way to school and Diamond would hit me from the window. “Pssst—yo, yo—you going to school today?” “Yeah, imma come up there after homeroom.”
“So it was a love of music that mad these dudes doing what they was doing. And I gravitated to that, I believed in what these dudes was doing. When I did get a deal with Mike Smooth, I was like ‘Yo, I gotta get something from Rakim. I gotta get something from Diamond.’”
Superproducer Buckwild has helmed classics for D.I.T.C. mainstays, including "On Stage" from Diamond D and Big L's "Put It On." For Buckwild, the clique's connection was forged in that passion for great music.
“Even the brotherhood, the tie that binds us has been record shopping and finding samples,” Buck shares. “I would get up in the morning and go into a convention or whatever and back when you used to be able to put the headphones over the telephone, me and Finesse would be playing samples for each other.
"I would speak to Showbiz and Show would put me up on things that were going on; like ‘Hey did you get the Tribe album? Tribe and Wu-Tang came out. If you ain’t get ‘em, you need to go get both of them, right now.’”
Lord Finesse came to meet the other half of Showbiz & A.G. when he was still a teen.
“I battled AG during my high school years," Finesse says. "But he wasn’t AG yet; he was known as ‘Infinite.’ But he was nice. So I ran back into him when I was doing the Funky Technician album. I asked him ‘Do you still spit? Let me hear something.’ He let me hear something and …he was] still tight. I was like ‘I’m working on this album, I want you to be on it with me.’ He was looking for a DJ, Show was looking for an artist, so that’s how you got ‘Showbiz and AG.’ During the making of Funky Technician, because they was both around me and they would come to the session. Show produced a joint called Back-To-Back rhyming on the first album. He got to hear AG and was like 'Yooooo!' AG was looking for a DJ; Show was looking for an artist. Bam—you get 'Showbiz and A.G.'"
An important development in Finesse's journey and the foundation of Diggin' In The Crates was the mentorship of DJ Premier. As Gang Starr rose to the fore of Hip-Hop, the legendary producer took Finesse under his wing.
"And you can also include DJ Premier as a member of D.I.T.C.," Finesse says reverentially. "Premier should've been an executive producer on Funky Technician. He came to damn-near every session and really made sure I was on-point with my vocals. HE took me in as a little brother and showed me a lot of things."
"On my journeys—I was doing mixtapes—I'm introduced to this brother by the name of Buckwild. And I used to do some of my mixtapes out of Buckwild's crib. So when Mike Smooth wasn't traveling with me, I would take Buckwild. We went on this Source Tour."
"The Source Tour was crazy," says Finesse. "it was me, it was Biz, it was Roxanne Shante, it was Almighty RSO, Coolie Live, Little Bastard—don't ask me who put the group's together on the tour. It was a weird mix. But it was fun. One of the groups was Organized Konfusion. Who was traveling with them? A young O.C."
"Show and A was a group, Finesse was solo and Diamond was solo," Buckwild explains. "[Diamond] first approached me about the remix to 'You Can’t Front.' He was like ‘Yo, play me some beats. I need a song.' [That] was my first record to come out. So, I always commend and salute him for taking a chance with me. And then on his second album, I did a song for him called ‘On Stage.’ I think Diamond recognized, 'If we pick beats from you, you’re able to shine and you’ll have own legacy.'"
Rapper Big L poses for photos at The Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1995. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Rapper Fat Joe (aka Joseph Antonio Cartagena ) appears in a photo with Rapper Nikki D (aka Nichelle Strong)taken on November 13, 1992, In New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives).
Two of D.I.T.C.'s most prominent members, Fat Joe and Big L would become icons in Hip-Hop for very different kinds of legacies.
Joe would eventually rise through rap's ranks to become one of the biggest stars in the industry; with a string of platinum-selling albums and inescapable radio hits throughout the 90s, 2000s and 2010s that made Joey Crack a household name. The Bronx legend would discover the late, great Big Pun, help launch the career of Remy Ma, and scored chart-toppers with everyone from Jennifer Lopez to LL COOL J to Ashanti.
Diamond D would produce early Fat Joe demos for DJ Red Alert, leading to Joe landing a deal with Relativity Records in 1993.
"Joe always wanted that limelight," Finesse explains. "I can always say Joe wanted to be a superstar. And that's why Joe is where he's at today is because his drive to be a superstar--out of the whole crew, him and Big L wanted to be superstars."
"We just wanted to be immortalized for our craft and what we brought to the game, lyrically and musically," he continues. "Joe wanted to be a star. He had the drive to be a star, I was just happy with being recognized as a producer, as an artist and as a DJ. But he wanted something different. I'm saying this because people really don't understand sometimes where it fits: 'Why is Joe here?' 'Why is he doing this?' It's certain things."
To some observers, Joe's successes may seem paradoxical to D.I.T.C.'s image and legacy. But according to Lord Finesse, it all speaks to the variety of the crew.
"Diggin' is a tight-knit unit that didn't believe in worrying about what everybody else was doing," says Finesse. "Or, for the most part, rubbing elbows with everybody trying to be accepted. We just wanted to do what we did. We had respect for other people; a Large Professor, a Brand Nubian—we loved the whole industry. We just weren't the type to really branch out."
"That could be a street thing, definitely. When you're from your neighborhood, it's a certain level of pride, a certain level of who you are—sticking to your team and not worrying about the rest of the industry. Joe was one of the first [who] really branched out. Like 'Yo I wanna do a record with this person, with that person.' And that's what got Joe to where he is. And L would've been the same way."
"[Fat Joe and Big L] wanted [to] dominate the world. Like 'Yo, I wanna be a household name.'"
Lord Finesse has always wanted a somewhat quieter success.
"I just think with Diggin,' a lot of us didn't really look that far. If our name and our work get us in there, then fine, but we wasn't doing the extra work to get to that thing, industry-wise. We stuck to self, we stuck to those that were close to us. To this day, I'm what you might call a social introvert! When I feel like I've gotta be in the industry, I've gotta deal with these different energies, these different personalities, these different things. And that can be draining. When you're going out there and meeting people and they have a certain vibe and you've gotta take a hundred pictures--you've gotta be ready for that."
Big L emerged out of Harlem and quickly began building an emceeing legend that would be tragically cut short by his 1999 murder. L would form Children Of The Corn with future stars Cam'ron and Ma$e in 1992, before meeting Finesse and signing with Columbia.
"The last person was Big L," Finesse recalls, before smirking to himself. "Who I met at an autograph signing." The confident young Harlem rhymer approached Finesse and refused to be brushed off.
"Dude was fearless, relentless. He was like 'Yo, imma rhyme for you.' I'm like 'rhyme for my manager, if he likes you, we'll take it from there.' He was like 'Fuck that. Imma rhyme for you and if you don't like me, I'm never gonna bother you again.'"
"When somebody is that adamant, you're looking for a reason not to like him. Who the fuck he think he is?' When he finished rhyming for me, I was asking for all his numbers. Not that he was a star, I just seen an energy in him that I didn't have at his age. I saw an upside in him that was like...if he's like this now, he's going to be dangerous later."
This corp of emcees and producers has delivered albums like Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop, Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous, Jealous Ones Envy and Word...Life; and the projects under the collective's actual name, like it's self-titled 2000 debut album, and 2001's D.I.T.C. Presents Wild Life Entertainment. And Fat Joe just participated in one of the more popular entries in the ongoing Verzuz series. The Diggin' In the Crates crew is forever.
"Diggin' In the Crates is like a backwards Wu-Tang," says Finesse.
"Everybody is the owner of their own restaurant. Everybody got classic albums. When you put it all together and you try to do something from that standpoint, it's a little bit complicated because everybody is used to doing things their own way. It's like having seven or eight chefs in the kitchen trying to make one meal."
“The brotherhood is what ties us together,” says Buckwild. “Ever since I met Finesse, Finesse has been like a brother to me. Show has been like a brother for Finesse, Show has been like brother for me. We met Big L, Finesse was like a Big brother for him. AG has always been like a brother, a relative, because he grew up down the block from me. And OC—I say OC is my brother. Since we met on the Source Tour, we’ve had that bond. I think we’re like a unique family, no matter what. Sometimes we’ll not speak but we’ll get together and it ls like there was no days in between that.”
The crew has endured the ever-divergent paths of it's acclaimed members; periods of inactivity and tragedy, from the death of Big L to the 2008 death of latter member Party Arty, who debuted through Showbiz & A.G., and Joe's protege-turned-superstar Big Pun. D.I.T.C. would release Sessions in 2016.
"Will there ever be a crew like Diggin' In The Crates? I doubt it. Ever." says Finesse. "I mean, maybe. But right now? To have four or five of the prolific producers: Show, Diamond, Buck, Me. Then you think from a rap standpoint: AG, OC, Fat Joe, me, Diamond. Unless you find another interchangeable group like that, there's not gonna be another Diggin.' I wasn't comfortable blowing my own horn. I let the fans do that. But I'm not comfortable having to explain to the world who I am."
"Don't try to whitewash us like we didn't do these incredible, great things. There's not a team like us. Period. I'll tell people in they face: you not fucking with us."