By : Alula Hussen
10 min read
Four weeks ago, I stumbled across an open invitation on then-nascent Threads, from: an artist and addressed to: journalists and curators, offering an early listen to a new single of theirs scheduled to release on August 16th; I scrambled to reply in earnest excitement. Wanton careerism aside, I’m also a big fan of the solicitor; Diz, the rising rapper/pummeling producer/engaging engineer/fit flosser/pre-eminent planker, makes the exact kind of boom-bap-colored, indie-inflected, sample-chopping extravagance that punches me in the chest every time I cut it on. I stuck my hand up and was rewarded for my grubby efforts with a new track via SoundCloud link.
‘Cuwhenicu’, his latest single, opens with rain sounds and low, capacious, tinny, rattling percussion; if you’d told me pre-listen that this was an Anita Baker record, for the first 10 seconds I’d have believed you. The drums pick up, and Diz’s comforting scats and hums reminded me that I should probably be taking notes on the lyrics, or something. The clarity of his vocals in the foreground, contrasting the booming and almost muffled ad-lib track that echoes his thoughts on the chorus, cuts through the easygoing instrumental; the production is breezily dense but never busy, with cymbals, kicks, snares, and a shaker (sampled or otherwise) doing most of the rhythm work and a guitar (or synth?) melody floating the emotional weight. The content of the track concerns itself with the proto-typical artists’ ascent; a familiar refrain about chasing cash over celebrity greets us near the top of the record, but the hook serves us a meditation on people’s presence in your life, and if they’ll be there for you while you aren’t yet fully realized or actualized: “My nigga, are you there for the way up? If not, I’ma see you later” implies a certain peace-making with the idea of loss, and of folks not waiting for you. This hook brings us to the end; a sample bidding said folks ado (“Don’t talk to me, don’t call me; just fuck out my face… just, just fuck out my face nigga. Peace”) closes the track; easily mistakable for frustration of the aspirant, the mood here genuinely feels like an embrace of solitude, and of the hero’s journey. Watching him perform the record live confirmed my presumption; Diz’s tone rang triumphant as he bopped, swayed, and two-stepped through the track.
After a brief DM conversation where I profusely expressed my gratitude, we agreed to speak over video-call. I caught up with him while on his way home (via blue-bike and bipedal motion); we spent a bit of time on the record, but mostly meandered into process, patience, and purpose. Diz was more than patient with me, and running into him since our digital meet has been serendipitous on each occasion. Our edited chat follows below:
Alula: I just saw the post that you'll be at the Exit Galleries showcase this weekend (Saturday, July 29th).
AH: How'd that come together?
D:I've been cool with Sam (owner and operator of Exit Galleries) for a little while now. I did my album release party at Exit for The Way Forward there. I love Exit, bro. It's such a cool venue.
AH: Word. I'm just getting hip to Exit. I was skating by a couple weeks ago and I saw Premo Dee out there; he was telling me about the space.
D:Yeah, Premo's a good guy. I f*ck with him.
AH: Hell yeah. I guess that segues into my first real question. How connected do you feel to Greater Boston’s music scene? And that could be inside of Berklee or outside of Berklee.
D:I feel more connected with the scene now that I'm in school and I'm going out more. I've never really been super tapped in with the Boston scene, and I still feel like, oh, excuse me, bro. Damn, these n*ggas just fucking lefttheir suitcases in the middle of the bike lane.
AH: Inconsiderate as hell!
D:For real. But yeah, I haven't always felt super connected. I'm starting to understand it and appreciate Boston’s music community because on the outside it can seem like there's not a lot going on, but it’s a pretty underappreciated place for music.
AH:Do you feel like you'll stay here for a while? Do you feel like your career can grow here?
D:I feel like my career could grow here. But I don't know; I've been here for my whole life, so I want to go meet new people and do new things and find new places, just do some exploring, but I don't know. I'll be here for school, so it's at least like another two years, you know?
AH:Is school at Berklee a means to an end?
D:I'm really just trying to learn. I'm not really a big networker. I'm really bad at it. I pretty much just make all my music by myself. I don't have a lot of need for collaboration. I'm looking to be friends with people and then, if it comes to it, we make music, you know? Music is more fun when you're doing it with people that you have a real connection with.
AH: Did you produce and mix ‘Cuwhenicu’ yourself?
D: Yeah, I did the production and engineering.
AH: How'd you learn how to engineer?
D:When you produce, you need to learn at least a little engineering just to make things sound good. Also, I got a job at the Brookline Teen Center in the recording studio to be an intern. And then eventually I became one of the engineers there, and this guy that was the head of the music department taught me some fundamentals. His name was Wes—
D:Yeah! Wes, Kaplan.
AH: Word; his name came up in another story I did this summer, on Heartbreak Records.
Diz: Yeah, Wes is everywhere. I learned some stuff from him, and you pick up different techniques over time. So it’s been a long time just experimenting and figuring out what works for me and what doesn't.
AH:Speaking of what does and doesn't work for you: what does your creative process look like when you're making a song?
D:My process is very slow. It takes me a really longtime to finish writing things, it’s actually happening to me right now. It's very frustrating. But typically, I'll work on a beat and then the production tells me where to go with it from there, and I’ll try to write. Sometimes, it's trial and error. I know some people will make like a few songs a day and I'll probably have like half a song every few weeks.
AH:It sounds like the lyrics often follow what the production is saying to you, or what the instrumental is asking for. Would you mind talking about that a little bit more?
D:Sure. I'll be listening to the beat and I'll start thinking about melodies and rhythms. I think about what I'm going to say, but it's not super intentional. it's more of a stream of conscious thing.
AH: It is interesting to hear how that stream comes together, though. How much does spontaneity matter to you in your work?
D:It matters a lot. The best things I make, it's not when I'm like, ‘okay, I'm gonna sit down for a few hours and make music’. I do value trying to make something every day, just for the practice. But it never feels as good as when I’m genuinely inspired.
AH: Do you consider your audience when making music?
D: Yeah. I definitely do. I try not to, but it's hard, right? Because I want to do this as a living. I want to be a musician. I can't do that with no audience and I can't do that without making my audience happy. But I also can't do that if I’m just looking to make my audience happy and I’m not really making what I want to make. That's something that I've been struggling with. I try to work around it.
AH: Are your listeners or your co-creators, your collaborators, a form of community?
D:For sure. The people that I make music with and the people that’ve been coming to my shows for a while, definitely. Especially the people that I make music with because those are my good friends. That's my family. The people that have supported my music for a while, I’m just so appreciative for, and it's really cool to see them at shows. It makes me happy and I like talking to them.
AH:What can this community expect from you next?
D:I'm trying to lay low for a little while.
D:I'm gonna drop this single; I was considering not dropping the single and saving it for an album. But I want to drop the single, maybe a couple more singles here and there. Then I want to really sit down and put something together that I have a good amount of time to get into; I can build on the production, work on the mix, the themes, all that good stuff. And just make something that, front to back, is great. The last few years has been me putting out two projects a year. I've been putting out a lot of music and I feel like I haven't had the time to get it exactly where I want it to be. So that’s the plan.
AH: Amazing. That was my last question. We also have less than a minute on this free zoom Meeting.
D: Oh, sh*t. <laugh>. Yeah. So perfect timing.
AH: Exactly. Before we get cut off, it was a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time. And see you this weekend at Exit!
I D:Hell yeah. I'll see you on Saturday, bro.
For previous coverage of Diz, check out Michael Mambrino’s review of Diz’s second-to-last album (Ultra.Violet) in issue #151!
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #160 August 2023
Check out all the art and columns of August's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass