As a general rule, reality TV is where showbiz careers go to die. Only a rare few recording artists break out after a stint on television. Once a part of the long-running series Run’s House, which portrayed the family life of Reverend Run, Daniel “Diggy” Simmons III grew up right before our very eyes. We followed his aspirations as an MC and a trendsetter who steadily established his rap cred over time. Diggy used the show’s spotlight to catapult himself to hip-hop stardom—first with his siblings and later with a crew of underground acts. (See: All-City Chess Club)
He’s 16 now and part of hip-hop’s next generation of MCs who grind just as hard as the veterans in the game. Since his 2009 mixtape First Sight and churning out scorching freestyles over tracks like “Made You Look,” the hip-hop world has been all over his expletive-free raps. After years of build-up that landed a deal with Atlantic, Diggy has a lot to live up to. His fans, or “Jet Setters,” have eagerly awaited his major label debut Unexpected Arrival.
Before the record’s official release, Diggy headlined Highline Ballroom on Monday (March 19) with no opening act. The solo billing left the entire 40-minute set for Diggy to showcase why those A-list co-signs—from Lupe Fiasco and Talib Kweli to Common and Kanye West—weren’t just because his dad was in Run-DMC. Boy, he can rap. And he can sure get the girls to scream at Chris Brown–like levels.
“This isn’t a big night for me, it’s a big night for me and my Jet Setters!” he shouted upon arrival. Then he launched into his performance—and what a performance it was. Fittingly, Diggy brought his audience back to the song that got New York’s streets talking. Track number three (“Made You Look”) from Nas’ God’s Son was Diggy at his toughest. “Flow Stoopid” had everyone—including some parents—rapping along to his rapid-fire rhymes. His youthful exuberance really shined, commanding the audience by waving his arms and working the entire stage. It became teenage pandemonium during “Copy, Paste,” his single about swagger-jacking. “I’m on and I be in my zone,” he rapped with attitude to spare. “When they be trying to copy and paste me, I’m gone.”
Then he vanished backstage. Overheard in the crowd: “He’s probably doing a wardrobe change.” As if his leopard-printed leather jacket and dark shades weren’t fresh enough, the fashion-driven MC’s sudden departure left infinite possibilities to the imagination. Was he about to step up his ensemble? And if so, with what? When Diggy returned to the stage wearing the same outfit, the question became, why the brief intermission? Apparently, the second part of the show was meant to focus on his newer material.
Diggy served up a polished set of inspirational songs, love ballads and hip-hop bangers. He looked to be having a lot of fun, clearly enjoying his newfound success as a performer. During “Two Up,” he asked the crowd to put two fingers up, and then explained its significance. “That song was about how happy I was for making my first debut album for all my wonderful supporters.”
Those supporters kept their excitement level high all night long. Later Diggy switched the laid-back flow of “Two Up” with “Special Occasion,” a woozy R&B dedication to his love interest. When he performed “Do It Like You,” the Highline nearly exploded as Jeremih surprised the crowd by walking on to sing its chorus. Diggy spit suave compliments to the lady Jet Setters, leaving them all ecstatic. He followed with the soothing pop-rap track “4-Letter Word.” In teenage lover-boy mode, Diggy passed out long-stem red roses to some lucky girls at the front of the stage.
When confetti dropped during the boom-bap throwback “88,” you couldn’t help but think that Diggy was ready to hold down his pop’s legacy. The kid is a showstopper, a crowd-pleaser and a young artist with bars who’s already making a statement. Looks like talent really does run in the family.