The reign of the The Diplomats—Jim Jones, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Freekey Zekey—is now the subject of rap folklore. Pink furs and American flag bandanas, sped-up soul samples and cocky rhymes made the New York crew stand out from the rest of the game. Ten years ago today, though, marked one the group’s highest profile moments: the release Jim Jones’ 2006 hit “We Fly High (Ballin’),” the lead single from the rapper’s second solo album, Hustler’s P.O.M.E. The anthem soared to the top of the rap charts and to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, filled up clubs, and even inspired the New York Giants to use its signature jump shot dance to celebrate on the field. Not mention that even now, a full decade on, it's impossible to hear the word "ballin'" and not want to say it Jones' signature elongated drawl. To celebrate the song’s 10-year anniversary, Complex spoke with Capo about its unexpected origins as a snap music collaboration, how he slyly used a Jay Z diss to his advantage, and as always, the future of Dipset.
When you recorded “We Fly High,” how much of Hustler’s P.O.M.E. was done at the time, and where was Dipset as a crew?
That record was made in Miami and New York, in both places. I actually did the beginning of “Ballin” down in Miami, and I came to New York and finished it. I recorded my whole first album myself in Miami, I set up the Mbox and the mic and all that by the pool. On My Way To Church was recorded by myself, and Cam, Juelz and everybody would visit the house in Miami and come lay their verses down. It was kind of a tradition I kept for when it came to recording my album, as far as catching different vibes. L.A. is another place where I always visit when I start recording albums, just to catch that whole vibe. LA it was a little hectic out there; Suge was still running things.
Did you start writing it before you heard the beat, or did you hear the beat first?
When I did “Ballin’” I had a deadline to make. Koch was on my neck, I remember like yesterday. I had did a record with Dem Franchize Boyz with the finger snap music [that] was popping real big. I did a record with them, it was actually to the “Ballin’” beat. It was a good beat, a beat I could probably get into the clubs with. I told them bring that record back up, with the deadline being on my ass. I took Dem Franchize Boyz off and I played the hook out. I remember when Nelly and Diddy had a song, they was going back and forth with the girls. I was like, “I want to get the girls and the guys involved.” I started fucking with the hook. I came back to New York and called my lil man, and he sent his baby moms down to sing the girl part of the hook. It started sounding good from there. I put it out, and Flex led the torch on that, he brought that record to life.
How did you know the beat would be productive for you? Did it stand out, or was it just another beat that you liked?
It wasn’t necessarily a beat that I liked, but it was a beat that served a purpose. I did the beat with Dem Franchize Boyz,
The white people wanted to know what Strahan was doing with that jump shot.
and at the moment everyone was into finger snap music and kids were dancing to the music. So it had a really dope tempo. At that point, to get a single out and a record that could go into the clubs, that was the beat that stood out to me the most that I could probably use and get my way into the clubs with.
Got it. Now Max B co-wrote the song with you, right?
Never. Why would you even ask me that? Max B never wrote one ounce of my music, nor has Stack Bundles, nor has Cam, nor has anybody in my whole life. You can’t allude to what you hear out there if you don’t know it for sure. Nobody writes my music at all. If you really want to know, I have ghostwritten a lot of music for a lot of other people. [Chuckles]. Including the name you just said. If you really want to get technical. But that’s neither here nor there.
When you finished it, how big did you think it would get?
It got way bigger than I ever thought it would be. It was just me trying to fulfill my quota and hand my album in on time so I could get the million dollar check that I was owed. I was worried about the million more than I was worried about what the record was going to do. It was just another record. If it hit, it hit. If it didn’t, it didn’t. I had more records to choose from on the album, so I was more concerned about turning it in than premeditating a record about “Ballin’.” I don’t think you can do that that easy.
But there were a lot of moving parts. It wasn’t just the record that moved me. When the Giants won the Super Bowl, and Strahan started sacking players that whole season and getting up and doing the “Ballin’” jump shot (dance), they kind of took that shit into overdrive. So the shit the Giants did that year complemented the record and took it to a whole ‘nother stratosphere. The white people wanted to know what Strahan was doing with that jump shot. It was a real organic record, there’s no way you could premeditate or plan that out.
What was that like to make that song and then see it get to the level where the Giants are doing this dance on the field?
That was awesome to me. Somebody called me and told me, “You know Strahan does the jump shot every time he sacks somebody?” I was like nah. They were like, “Now all the Giants are doing it.” I’m like wow, then I actually got to see it. It was like a breath of fresh air. I remember that the record was touching different people in different genres and shit like that.
Let’s talk about the video, because the video was also pretty iconic.
I direct all my videos, and some of the videos I get a dope director and have him direct side by side with me. Shouts to my dude Rage (Dale Resteghini), he put this video together and it was really dope. I had an opportunity to deal with a good budget video. We took it to L.A., went in the hills, got some Lambos and helicopters, pretty women.
It was a fun event to be on the West Coast and have everybody there and showing niggas what life is about, as far as Stacks and Max. They didn’t get a chance to get out of the hood as much, and explore into the music game. To know I’m starting to make a success of my own career, taking it another level, was a great feeling. The idea of being felt by the masses and by the colleagues was a great feeling. It felt like Jim Jones was coming to life. It was dope.
When you hear that song now, what do you think of?
I actually hate the song. The record makes me cringe. But it’s actually a love hate relationship I have with it. I know that record has set me apart from where I was when it came to me being in this game and me being on a different level of success, and putting me in a different room with people to do business with. But on the flip side, 10 years later, that song has burned a hole in my brain that’s so disgusting it makes me cringe every time I hear it. When I walk in the club, the DJ is definitely going to hit the record. A lot of the time when I go in the club I don’t even let niggas know I’m in the club, I be low in the corner, just for that.
But it’s a blessing man, a gift and a curse. When the song comes on and you see all the people citing the lyrics and doing the jump shot, it puts a smile on my face at the same time. I work hard. I’ve been in this game since 1997. I’m going on 20 years in this bitch, a real 20. For you to have milestones in this game like that is what we work for. I can also put my family in different positions where they don’t have to work for nothing, I’m able to support my whole family, put my son through the best of schooling. It’s a great feeling. That’s what we got in the game for.
So do you dislike it because it’s so different from your own songs, or just because you’ve heard it so much?
I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve heard it so much. Maybe because I haven’t been putting music out in the past few years like I was supposed to. So you know, that song kind of stands out with the other music I’ve done. I have some a few other hits: “Pop Champagne,” “Certified Gangstas.” We can go down the line, but that one seems to stand out the most. It’s always a great feeling when you have relevant music out, when you walk out in the club and things like that. It makes you feel good. It’s not always hearing the classics, but it’s a business and you always want to keep up with the business.
I’m a hustler, so I make money in a lot of other places. Music has not been the most important thing to me in the past few years because I was fueled by making money and feeding my family, maintaining a lifestyle that I loved to live. Sometimes, music is a tricky thing. It’s a mindfuck. If you ain’t hittin’, you ain’t gonna get any shows or nothing like that. So you have to be smarter than just music. You need to have other incomes, other hustles, and other career choices that you can follow to make money and continue what you started in music, if you understand me.
that song has burned a hole in my brain that’s so disgusting it makes me cringe every time I hear it.
You also had the beef with Jay Z around that time. He made his own version of the song called “Brooklyn” dissing you.
Instead of me just getting fired up and going crazy, it goes to show you that when you start to make money and you’re in a successful position, and life feels good, you think better. Your strategies are way better. So instead of me doing the normal Jim Jones rant and going crazy, thinking somebody was trying to play me, I actually used his verse on the remix of the record, and remixed his remix and used it as my Jay Z remix. Now I got a record with Hov on it. It was something that went so well, I felt good about it. That definitely was a chess move. That move right there propelled the video to number one.
I remember when we were doing the remix video in Atlanta during the BET Awards. Marlini came in, who was my label rep at the time. She came in and said, “your video just turned number one on 106 and Park.” If you remember, at that time, if you were number one on 106 and Park, you were absolutely the man in the industry at the moment in time. That’s how big 106 and Park was. I kept climbing that ladder, and being on that high was a great feeling. Nothing like success in the game. All success comes with excess, and that’s what I want everybody to know. Don’t abuse your power while you got it, and make sure you make other people powerful. Everybody comes down off their high horse, only a few get to stay up there. So you want to secure yourself so when you’re coming down, you put so many people in power that you’ll never touch the ground.
Yeah, I remember when Jay’s remix came out how you were saying that it just added to the BDS spins because they process them as the same record.
When Jay dropped that, you didn’t panic at all? Most would at least be on edge, if not in all-out battle mode.
You gotta remember that Jay Z’s a smart person. He’s at the top of the food chain. He’s never going to diss anybody that’s not worth it. That’s like him paying attention to a broke person. So if a person like that chooses to mention your name, or to diss you in a record in some form, it’s like a term of endearment in some type of way. Nigga, I feel your energy because you can look in the history of Jay Z talking about people: there have not been many, and there’s been Jim Jones way more than one time that he’s mentioned my name. You gotta take it where you’re being recognized by the best in the game. Nigga, what does that sound like? Sounds like a blessing to me, know what I mean?
I’m coming back for it. I’m really, really about to get in the studio for these next three months and make a conscious effort on doing the best album I can, which is called Ghost of Rich Porter: The Album. I’m going to do it like the most successful albums I’ve had.
So what’s the current state of Dipset? Of you and Max B, and of the rest of the crew?
There is no state between me and Max B. As far as Dipset is concerned, it’s a historical thing, it’s a mark in history that we made. I feel like everybody else feel: I would love to get another Diplomat album, a real Diplomat album, a creative album that comes from the heart and not from the financial aspect. It would be dope music, I would love to see that happen. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Shouts to all my Dipset brothers: Zeke, Juelz and Cam, and everyone who played a part in this movement that made us all live life a little bit different. We put our own style to this game, and people loved us for it. I’m just happy to be a part of that.
[Diplomatic Immunity] took us around the world. We got to see a lot. We were very young, with a lot of power. Our opinions mattered. We definitely forced our opinions and our ideals on everybody, and they loved it. There’s no better feeling than that. None whatsoever. I can say we’ll go down with some of the greats in this hip-hop genre from a Diplomat aspect.