Beat Construction: DJ Diamond Kuts

After placing her second beat ever with Nicki Minaj, a young club queen is reimagining the airwaves.

May 27, 2015

The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. Today, Philadelphia mix show host DJ Diamond Kuts discusses the new era of radio, flexing technique as a female, and the white-knuckle club sound that's pulsing out of cities like her own.

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How did you first end up on air? The way I was introduced to radio was a guy by the name of Brock. He's in Philadelphia. And DJ Cosmic Kev. They kind of brought me into the whole radio thing. At that time, radio was never something that I wanted to do. Cause I always said I don't wanna be in the same place every single day, I wanna go out and tour. But I gave it a shot. Cosmic Kev actually grew up with my mother and my father, so he took me under his wing. Thea Mitchem heard me, and she was like "I'm gonna give this girl a shot." And I've been doing radio ever since. It was one of those things where, you know, somebody just looked out for me.

You talk about PDs, programming directors, the people who pick who we hear on air. To somebody who doesn't know, what's the process like for when the DJ gets on air? You gotta have some sort of presence in the streets. I definitely did. I had a presence. I was doing DVDs, I was doing mixtapes, I was doing pretty much everything. And when you're a young DJ and you wanna come up and you wanna do radio, you definitely gotta have a little bit of your market locked down. It's all about who you know. One of the biggest jobs a radio personality has is to know what's going on in the streets. Cause if you really making noise in the streets, they'll hear you. That's exactly what happened.

“Philly, we come in hard. We’re gonna give you a hard club feel. You’re gonna feel that pain, you’re gonna feel the energy.” -DJ Diamond Kuts

Everyone has an iPhone, everyone has Spotify, everyone has all these different sources of music. What does radio have to do to connect to young listeners again? It's all about the DJ. What people that listen to me notice is I'll play something that you're not gonna hear on Spotify. Pandora doesn't have what I'm about to play! I'm on a hip-hop/R&B radio station but I don't play just hip-hop and R&B. You listen to me, you're gonna hear club music, you might hear a new artist that's bubbling and nobody's ever heard of before, that doesn't even know how to get their song on iTunes or Spotify. So you always gotta play what people know, and mix it up with what people may have never heard of before.

For example, there's an artist in Philly named Lee Mazin. When I heard of her, nobody really heard of her yet. So, alright, I'm gonna be the first person to pop her off on radio. And then another artist Lil Uzi Vert, I'm the first person to play Uzi on radio. Ever. Because nobody ever heard of this guy before. And I'm gonna bring him to you. I'm gonna show y'all who he is. That's why people should wanna listen to different mix shows. In my case, I think that's why people come to me.

You specialize in Philly club music. It's so fast, so energetic, so engaged. How'd that style develop, and what drew you to it specifically? When I started DJ'ing, I didn't get it. I didn't get that style, I was just like "You know, I'm gonna play hip-hop. I'm gonna play these mixtape-type songs." And then when you really sit and you listen to it, especially now, these are young talented producers/DJs in the city that aren't getting into any trouble. They're sitting at home, in their room, and they're making tracks. The process of it and the story that goes behind a lot of these records makes you want to support it. This is a young guy, young female, from the city—Philly, Baltimore, wherever, Jersey—and they're just sitting in the house making music, and it sounds good and it feels good, so why wouldn't I support and play that? Some people from Philly don't understand that. They'll say, "Diamond, why do you always play party music?"—We call it party music. And it's like, why not? I love it, I love the feel. When you listen to it, it gives you a vibe that you can't just sit down and chill to. You're gonna turn up when you hear it. Or you're gonna move. One part of your body is gonna move when you hear this party track. I'm glad I was able to keep that going.

On one side, you have this beautiful music and culture coming out of cities like Baltimore, and just on the very other side, the cities are torn apart. There's so much tension in these communities that you can almost hear it. It's turn up music but it's almost anxious, it's on edge. Baltimore club, party music, and Jersey music is like, three different type sounds. You get this Philly party music, you're gonna aggressiveness in those tracks. BUST. MY. GUN. B-B-BUST. MY. GUN. You're just like, "Oh shit, I'm turning up!" This song is so crazy, and it's so hard. The drums are crazy and different. You hear Philly party music, they're gonna talk about busting some guts, bending it over, you're gonna get that type of feel. Because the city put that energy into these producers that make tracks like that. You listen to Jersey style club music, you're gonna get more of a party feel. They do a lot of song remixes and things like that. But Philly, we come in hard. We're gonna give you a hard club feel. You're gonna feel that pain, you're gonna feel the energy.

How did you first start DJing? Growing up, I played different instruments: the flute, the drums. My dad was an emcee in Philly—he knows all the block parties and things like that. Growing up I always heard in my household about Cosmic Kev and Jazzy Jeff. I told him, "Dad, I think I wanna DJ." I've never seen him buy something so fast! When I said I wanted to play the flute, it was a long conversation, him and my mother being like, "Should we buy her a flute? Is this a phase?" I said I want to DJ—it was no conversation, it was like, "Cool." He got me a little starting kit for technique. I came in probably a little bit before Serato came about, so I was on the grassroots of the whole DJing thing. I had these little belt-drive turntables, they was wobbly, but this is what my dad gave me. I bought one of every record. My dad was like, "How you doin?" And I was like, "I'm blendin! But I can't figure out how somebody can play an instrumental of one song and blend it to the actual record." He was like, "You gotta have two copies!"

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Then you started producing as well. Yeah, of course. One of the first records that I produced was "Stupid Hoe." Actually, that was the second record I ever produced. The first record I ever produced was a record I had with Travis Porter called "Freak." We were in rehearsal one day when I was touring with Nicki, and I played her a record. All of the dancers and Nicki were like, "Oh this shit is hot Diamond, why didn't you tell me you made beats?" I was like, "I kinda don't"—that was something I tried, and I was okay at it. She was like, "Make me some records." So I made her some records, and she liked "Stupid Hoe." She called me like, at 3 o'clock in the morning, excited about that new record. I heard that record when the whole world heard that record, I heard it when it came out.

We did a story on the lack of female producers in music. But I would say it's changing a bit now with DJs—maybe not for the right reasons, but it's similar. Why don't we see more female DJs and producers behind the scenes? Right now, because DJing is so hot, a lot of girls want that instant fame. A lot of the time with girls, and I'll always say this and stand by this forever, we get caught up in so much other nonsense with guys, a lot of cattiness. There's only a few girls that will really sit and learn the craft, and learn how to DJ and produce. They just wanna say they DJ. That's cool, that's their business. If it works then more power to them. But it's very rare you'll find somebody that's dedicated enough to spend endless nights and days and hours trying to really learn how to actually mix. Especially when I came in. I know about carrying crates, about cutting my fingers when I'm digging through crates, thing that a lot of girls, at that time, would not go through. They're not cutting their fingers and DJing.

Some girls wanna be hung up under their boyfriends all day, worrying about what their boyfriends are doing. Some girls get pregnant early. And a lot of guys take advantage of girls too. You can't ignore that. I'm so happy that when I came on, people took me in, like, "That's my little sis." They really wanted to teach me, so I was also blessed with that.

I thought it was so cool to see you do a guest set for Angie Martinez here in New York. Even if she's not a DJ per say, she's always been one of those female voices in the space. You know that she knows her shit. That's why I was so happy to work with her. I grew up looking up to Angie Martinez, Cocoa Chanelle, Beverly Bond, Jazzy Joyce. You talk about Cocoa Chanelle, Jazzy Joyce, they really know how to mix. I didn't come in an era where it was like, play and pause, where you could just drop records in and everybody would go crazy. I came up where you really had to know your shit.

I wanna stand with the guys, I'm riding with a whole bunch of guys. I can cut too. You wanna transform? I can transform. You wanna crab? I can crab. I can do all of that. I don't wanna be a good female DJ—I wanna be a good DJ. So when the guys are huddling around turntables, and they're cutting, I'm like, "Yo, let me get my turn." It's dope, and that's what excited me. I was always career driven. And when I want something, I have tunnel vision. When I started, I had this guy I was dealing with, he was like "Every time I come to your house you're always making mixtapes," or "you're always listening to music." This is what I wanna do. I'm gonna focus and do this. And that's what I did.

From The Collection:

Beat Construction
Beat Construction: DJ Diamond Kuts