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Boiz to men: Diamond Boiz call up the past and look to the future

I remember staying up all night just hanging out with my friends, and randomly there would be gunshots and cop cars everywhere," recalls José Bonilla, aka Zé of Diamond Boiz. "That's just something we took for granted." Remarkably, the MC, who grew up in Denver's Westwood neighborhood, never got involved in gangs or drugs. "We knew what to stay away from."

Zé's the youngest of the Diamond Boiz by a couple months. His cohorts, brothers Justin and Joshua Romero (alias Dyalekt and Zome, respectively), spent their childhood near Dartmouth and Federal and were no strangers to gunfire themselves.

"I don't want to make it sound like every day we were shot at, but one time we were shot at, on our bikes," says Zome. "And I just remember I never even told my parents. I never told my mom."

That's understandable. Zome was in eighth grade when a student was stabbed at Lincoln High School, where he was supposed to start classes the following year. "My mom wasn't having that," he recalls. "She basically told my pops, 'We're selling the house. We're getting the fuck out of here.'"

And that's precisely what the Romero family did. They moved west, and Zome started at Alameda High School, where he lasted two years before getting kicked out — not for anything serious, he notes, just skipping school and hanging with the wrong crowd. He finished his studies through home schooling and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Zome was out of school and working in auto-body repairs by the time Dyalekt started at Alameda, where his experience wasn't any more favorable.

I've made songs about how much I hated high school," Dyalekt points out. "I was a small kid forever. I was picked on that whole time." One person who didn't pick on him was Zé, who had also moved west of town. He started hanging out with Dyalekt and Zome after school, and the three began exploring their shared interest in music, specifically hip-hop. Zome's first tape was Warren G's Regulate...G Funk Era.

My pops caught me listening to it and smashed it with a hammer," he recalls, recounting how he dug the ribbon out of the trash and re-threaded it into a different cartridge, only to be caught once again. The second time, Zome says, his dad made sure the tape was gone by burning it. The first album Zé owned, meanwhile, was Eminem's The Slim Shady LP.  His dad wasn't exactly happy about that, either.

Zé was interested in rapping from a young age. "I always messed around," he says. "I even remember I had a Radio Shack mike when I was little." Dyalekt likewise knew he wanted to make music when he was young, but his interests leaned more toward production. He got a set of turntables when he was thirteen. "It wasn't until I turned fourteen that I realized deejaying costs a lot of money," he reveals. "It's a lot of money to keep changing out needles and stuff. I was only fourteen; I didn't have the money to do all that." With that in mind, he started rapping at Zome's suggestion. "I really only rap because he made me," Dyalekt insists. "He told me I was good at it."

In 2005, when Dyalekt turned eighteen, he and Zome started the group that would become Diamond Boiz. Back then it was called Supreme Productions. They had a slow build. Zé joined in 2006, and the core has remained ever since. Diamond Boiz, however, was never meant to be interpreted as a single musical project. "It isn't necessarily a group," Zome explains, "but rather a group of individual artists."

That approach is reflected in their latest endeavor: three rappers, three weeks, three full-length releases. It's what the Boiz have been working toward for more than two years. While the group has had moderate success up to now, this is the month that will come to define them, and it is exactly what Diamond Boiz is about: three separate releases, one for each member of the group.

Zome's 2007 album, Heart of a Warrior, Mind of a Soldier, was the first and only release of Supreme Productions. Zome produced the entire thing and rapped on every song. He wanted to make sure his first album proved he could do it alone. Still, he did allow some room for collaboration: The album marks Zé's first verse committed to tape.

Supreme Productions didn't play its first major show until 2008. When the guys saw the name printed on a flier, they decided it wouldn't work and almost immediately switched to Diamond Boiz. In 2009 they recorded their first true collaboration, a song called "The Vista." The track was originally intended for a music video with director Eric Heights, but before anything was released, DJ Green Lantern came calling.

Green Lantern was the official DJ for Shady Records and, consequently, Eminem, from 2002 to 2005. Last year, he was putting together a mixtape and contacted Diamond Boiz through MySpace, asking if they had any finished songs. They submitted "The Vista," and Green Lantern put the song on his Takeover mixtape, which came out earlier this year.

The plan was always for the Boiz to release three separate full-lengths simultaneously. When they couldn't finish on schedule, they put out a joint mixtape, Calm Before the Storm, instead, in June 2009. Dyalekt released his first solo mixtape, Dreams Caffeine & Nicotine, this past May. All of that — Zome's first album, "The Vista," the joint mixtape and Dyalekt's solo — took Diamond Boiz five years to create. And now, in one month, they're doubling their total output.

Zome's Diamond in the Flesh was released in early November. These guys try to stay away from an organizational hierarchy, but inasmuch as there is one, Zome is on top of it. He's the oldest; he's the one who got both of the others into rapping. And his album is the most group-minded of the three new releases. There's a shout-out to Diamond Boiz on almost every track.

Zome's taste for old-school hip-hop comes through. He lands hard on downbeats and enunciates in staccato rhythms. He thinks the best track on the album is "Diamond in the Flesh." Other standouts are "Street Life" and "Pen & Pad." Diamond in the Flesh is not a mixtape — meaning that every production (mostly done by Dyalekt, old Diamond Boiz friend Tech Groove and Zome himself) has been cleared for commercial use expressly on this album.

The week after Diamond in the Flesh hit the Internet, Zé made his solo debut. Advanced Placement is a mixtape, but Zé is preparing a proper album for release sometime next year. The tape, with track titles like "Never Too Late" and "It Ain't Ova," is overwhelmingly about a crappy past and a better future. Zé sounds a bit like his idol, Eminem — in spirit, at least — though he's capable of moods other than paranoia. "Afterschool Medley," in particular, reveals a rapper with the potential to reach a very large audience.

The final release of the month is Dyalekt's November Hates Me. For someone who started out wanting nothing to do with rapping, Dyalekt is a ridiculously good rapper. Confident, more than capable of delivering a punchline and crafting a hook, he draws inspiration from a wide array of sources and cites My Chemical Romance as his favorite band. The album he listened to during the two weeks he spent recording November Hates Me? MCR's The Black Parade. This isn't emo rap at all, but you can tell it was created by a mind that was thinking about more than just hip-hop. "How You Like Me Now" features a guitar solo by Zac Lathrop of metal band Sins of Babylon.

Right now there are no definite plans for a Diamond Boiz collaborative album. There aren't many plans of any kind, actually. This month has been nearly six years in the making, and the priority right now is celebration.

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Kiernan Maletsky is a former Westword intern.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky