Diamond District, the three-member D.C. group, has had a quietly sensational 2011. Uptown XO continued to forge his identity and improve his lyrical prowess on his “Monumental 2” mix tape, Oddisee established himself as one of the genre’s sharpest producers with the much-lauded “Rock Creek Park,” and yU ends the year on a high note with a fleshed-out concept album, “The Earn.”
The title is an indicator of the story line that runs through the album. This is a working-class collection of songs, not the “luxury rap” that’s been prominent this year. Staying true to yourself and working your way up are themes that crop up throughout, and yU mostly succeeds in staying positive without sounding preachy. On “First” he raps about his inspiration and ambition (“Some get into this just to make the loot / But first you gotta pay your dues”), while “Write On” is an ode to sustained creativity with a simple, soulful beat and a flute sample that would make J Dilla or Madlib proud.
The production duties are also kept local, with SlimKat78, Kev Brown and Kokayi providing many of the unobtrusive beats. There’s a harmony between yU’s determined-yet-laid-back style and the tracks that accompany him. Occasionally it’s a little too easy to get lost in the casual pace of the album when some go-for-broke madness would be welcome. “Bonafide” is hardly out of control, but the Kokayi-produced track has a creeping guitar line that punctuates the hard beat and features the catchiest chorus on the album. It’s also the album’s best song, and you know that yU will be putting in time to make sure he tops it soon.
“Bonafide,” “Blind,” “First”