A Philly Diamond shines on.
Sporting a casual green hoodie, jeans, a pair of Adidas, a baby face and a smile as bright as the chunky pink G-shock watch around her wrist, DJ Diamond Kuts (aka Tina Dunham) is more laidback in person than she is on the radio.
It’s almost hard to believe, upon meeting her, that she’s the same girl who amps up Power 99 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on her weekly Saturday Night Live show. But if you’ve ever tuned in, you definitely know her name, as it’s echoed frequently and loudly—“ DJ Diamond Kuts, Diamond Kuts, Diamond Kuts ”—over each track that she spins and mixes with the ease of a veteran.
She landed the position four years ago, when—at the urging of her mentor DJ Cosmic Kev—she entered Power 99’s Mix Master Weekend 2005. That led to a position at the station and becoming the first female mixer in Philadelphia. Nowadays Diamond Kuts is not only shining behind the turntables and adding her name to the long list of legendary Philadelphia DJs, but the talented, young West Oak Lane native is quickly paving her own unique path.
It all started with a Christmas present. Her late father, legendary MC Grand Tone, purchased a starter kit complete with turntables and a mixer for a then 16-year-old Diamond, and she’s been cutting and live mixing ever since.
“I used to play the drums and the flute before I got started,” says Diamond. “When you’re young, you like to experiment with different things, and DJing was one of them—especially because my father worked a lot with local DJs like Cosmic Kev and Jazzy Jeff.”
Practicing every day in her basement, Diamond’s passion grew. She got a job one summer and saved up for a set of Technic 1200 turntables—standard DJing equipment—and continued to hone her skills.
In middle school and high school, Diamond would hang out downtown at Armand’s record store, where she learned even more from local DJs Fat Cat, Ambush and Obi One. By 18, she had the streets buzzing with numerous mixtapes, was spinning at local clubs and had a job DJing at Sneaker Villa.
But “DJing” is a bit misleading. Like “punk rock” the term has been so diluted, it’s all but meaningless. Diamond isn’t a DJ the way Wendy Williams is a DJ or the way the average novice who’s spinning at a bar is. She’s got more in common with producers like Diplo and Switch and DJs like A-Trak than the average DJ night sees a hack here or there rifling through their favorite tracks on iTunes.
“Putting ‘DJ’ in front of your name does not make you one,” she says matter-of-factly. “Today some people say they’re DJs and haven’t touched a turntable a day in their life—they just think it’s a way to become successful. You have to love the technique and the art of it, learn the history and always want to grow.”
Make no mistake, Diamond is a real DJ.
And it’s amazing to watch. In a nine-minute video of Diamond mixing live on-air for Power 99, she makes everything look effortless. She utilizes the computer program Serato, which allows her to spin mp3s on vinyl, and has her laptop hooked up to a set of Technic 1210 turntables and a Rane mixer.
She plays each song standing between the turntables, her laptop and the microphone—scratching, mixing and doing drops (pausing the music to talk to listeners). At one point she texts, and occasionally dances with a friend who pops in and out the studio during her set. In between all this, she drops her signature a few times. “ Diamond Kuts, Diamond Kuts ,” a sassy prerecorded female voice repeats, then fades out.
“C’mon, let’s go!” Diamond yells through the microphone to listeners as she continues to nod her head to the beat. She amps up everyone tuned in with the latest Baltimore House records and club favorites; her energy is perfect for the Saturday-night crowd, and in her words, she “gets it in.”
Aside from her Saturday Night Live show on Power 99, she also spins Fridays from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Both sets are among the top-rated urban radio programs in their time slots (with more than a million listeners tuning in each week). Diamond was recently added to the station’s morning show, Big Boy’s Neighborhood , as well.
“Cosmic tells me all the time, ‘Outside of being a female, you’re a good DJ,’” she says. “For a while a lot of people didn’t even know I was a girl because at the end of the day it’s about talent.”
Last summer, Diamond dropped “Salt, Pepper, Ketchup and Hot Sauce” and the four condiments were heard blasting at just about every tween to teenage party, dollar party, block party and club mix. The Baltimore House-inspired local hit, infused with corner-store lingo, became a mandatory soundtrack for D-Mac/Wu-tang dance battles. (The dances are local crazes identified by a series of high-energy, synchronized arm movements and comical poses that are typically done to Baltimore House and have become staples in the young party scene.) The song was an instant hit with teens, but it didn’t win everyone over.
PW's Music Issue 2014