Cam’ron demands homage to be paid to the Diplomats in Diplomatic Ties, the Harlem rap group’s first full-length since 2004’s Diplomatic Immunity 2. His boast on “Dipset Forever” is par for the course of a reunion album by a cult group, and the crew’s de facto leader actually lists notable Dipset associates to back up his case, shouting out the trusted sidekick Juelz Santana and the influential and currently incarcerated wavy rapper Max B. But that’s as much as he has to offer as proof of the group’s relevance, and the nine-track album does little to reveal anything more about Diplomats’ legacy to rap.

The intro to Diplomatic Ties suggests that the sound of the Diplomats is another iconic hip-hop touchstone. Production duo the Heatmakerz has been an inseparable name to the crew’s music since the first Diplomatic Immunity, providing beats defined by chopped and sped-up soul samples in a similar vein as one-time Dipset conspirator Just Blaze. The producers’ dutiful contributions in “Dipset Forever” and “Sauce Boyz” are aged versions of the old formula. The samples sound worn, its energy looser than the marching-band drum rolls beating in the first Diplomatic Immunity, yet it still manages to set the rappers in their comfort zone.

Attempts to step out of that comfort zone don’t yield much success. The group explores a lane of gritty street noir that tries to place the album closer to current sounds, whether it’d be the bass-heavy trap of “On God” or the high-pitched croak of Tory Lanez in “No Sleep.” The commercial ambitions of those two tracks are obvious, though there’s not much effort from the rappers to work beyond what’s given. Historically, the Diplomats haven’t been strictly tied to the Heatmakerz sound: “Crunk Muzik” off of Diplomatic Immunity 2 managed to spin a copy of Memphis fight music for its own Harlem-made image. Yet it doesn’t make for exciting pop when the group follows squarely to what’s popular, especially when it works with rather dull templates.

Diplomatic Ties fares best when the rappers stick to what they know, which doesn’t make for the prettiest art. Juelz Santana doesn’t hold back from outlining his sexual ventures into one crass retelling. The punchlines, too, are tasteless, delivered in modes reserved for an older generation of rap. His verse for the joint track with the L.O.X., “Dipset/L.O.X.,” previews his sense of humor with him not only referring to a blowjob as beatboxing but also investing the next bar to actually make the music with his mouth. He’s only delivering what to expect from a Diplomats record: you just let Cam’ron and Juelz get stupidly graphic as they explain their conquest of sex or pure murder, and they throw the most bizarre similes and loony wordplay in the process.

These qualities don’t shine as strong as they used to, however. Cam’ron and Juelz Santana give exactly what’s expected of them, but their performance sticks to the script faithfully to a fault. Creative as Juelz might try to be, he can only talk about the same thing for so long. They also both seem slightly beat next to the gruff yet limber voice of Jim Jones. He raps with a more matter-of-fact delivery, making his punchlines appear less of a highlight than the other members, though his energized voice pumps some livelihood into the project. His ad libs are often more memorable than the jokes from the other two or at least they make him seem a lot more awake.

While one can try to pull the most out-there quotes put on record by the group as some sort of reward to gain from the album, it’s a disappointing conclusion to reach that what the Diplomats can show as proof of its relevance are uniquely worded punchlines. During its height in the 2000s, the Dipset brought an outlandishly dangerous snapshot of New York that moved in its own maniacal yet edgy rhythm. That wildness has cooled down significantly, and the once-fresh hallmarks of the group’s music have become paint-by-numbers. Juelz mentions the Dipset as “the boys everybody want to be” in “Uptown.” That was once true, no doubt, though Diplomatic Ties doesn’t give much for others to understand why.

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