Rocky Diamonds may be young, but he’s been around long enough that some of his early career wins might seem like distant memories.
The 24-year-old-old Minneapolis native played Soundset all the way back in 2011. Later that year, he was featured in XXL’s buzz-generating “The Break” series, to name just two moments that put him on the radar of underground fans.
Over the past five years, Rocky has released a handful of full-length mixtapes and EPs, including five installments in his series, The Diamond Life. He’s also one of the most prolific collaborators to come out of Minnesota, having worked with the likes of Philly legend Freeway, Toronto’s ascendant, Interscope-signed Tory Lanez, and New Orleans R&B singer August Alsina. A collaboration with Rick Ross is apparently in the works, too.
Rocky’s new Anywhere But Here EP, which he dropped earlier this month, arrived as arguably his most anticipated release yet. The six-song project includes production by Rocky himself, and it’s his most polished work to date. At the same time, he’s stayed true to his roots, with plenty of street-oriented subject matter and a distinct Lil Wayne influence in his flows and adlibs. (Rocky recently tweeted that Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” is “the reason I ever wrote a rap.”)
City Pages recently spoke to Rocky about Anywhere But Here, his status in Minnesota, his rolodex of collaborators, and more.
City Pages: A lot of the street rappers emerging out of Minneapolis and St. Paul seem to look at you as a leader. How do you feel about that?
Rocky Diamonds: I feel like when you say that word, “leader,” people will take it into the wrong context. What I would say is that I have been motivation to a lot of the young artists. I guess that’s a leader, but when I do this shit, I do it to show people that it’s possible.
“The leader” -- that’s not me. I don’t care to be the center of attention or, “I started this.” I want kids that when they see me, they see where I came from, which is the same place they came from, just to see that it’s possible to do damn near whatever you wanna do. That’s what I try to show.
CP: Do you feel like you’re respected enough in the Cities?
RD: At first, I felt like I didn’t get the credit I deserved, but I traveled the world and kids have came up to me crying. Whether that’s Minneapolis, or Beijing, or whatever, that’s what matters to me. I’ve never been a type to beg anybody to do anything. I’ve done everything on my own. I don’t look for help. The people who do listen to my music, they love it. The people who don’t, then they don’t.
As far as the respect thing goes, I feel like it’s not just me. I feel like it’s not enough respect for the music [in Minnesota], period. I’m not the type of person to say, “Oh, I’m the best one in Minnesota. I should be on the radio.” No. When I hear the radio, I wanna hear Minnesota music, regardless of whether it’s me rapping. I’m a small part. I play a role, but I’m a small part.
CP: You have a lot of songs with nationally known artists and producers. How do those usually come together?
RD: It’s crazy because a lot of those situations, they come organically. I’ve never tried to offer anybody some crazy bread to work with me. Anybody that worked with me, it was all love. That’s another thing that showed me that Minnesota has what it takes.
CP: Do you feel like your success would’ve come regardless of whether those kinds of collaborations came to be?
RD: Yeah, I feel like that. Regardless of who I’m working with, it’s my talent. Features and all that, it’s organic shit: “I like him.” If it’s anything more than that, it’s not real, it’s fake.
CP: You lived in Atlanta for four years. What’s your following like down there?
RD: People know me. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a big following down there, but there’s people that know me, walk up to me and recognize me. I know a lot of musicians and producers from studio-hopping.
CP: Atlanta is where you signed to Polow Da Don and Zone 4, too.
RD: It’s crazy because I never really said this shit before, but everybody thought I signed a record deal to Epic Records. I signed a record deal with a group, MDMA. I was signed in a group to Polow Da Don, like that. As far as my solo career, I never was signed.
CP: Now you’re part of One Umbrella with Tory Lanez. How would you describe your relationship with Tory?
RD: My relationship with Tory is organic as hell. I met him probably four or five years ago, and we basically made a promise to each other: “Whoever gets on first, man, I got you.” He’s like my brother. 90 percent of our conversations aren’t about music. It’s a real relationship. I got real love for him.
CP: The Diamond Life series is over and you’re starting anew, in a sense. How are you feeling about Anywhere But Here?
RD: The last Diamond Life I released is The Diamond Life 5 -- that was it. I feel like it’s the best one, the most lyrical. But I can say that Anywhere But Here is my most sonically well put together project ever. This is me. This is what I’m going to play if somebody asks [to hear my music].