Although the Broadway production “Hamilton” made a superstar out of Lin-Manuel Miranda and brought attention to actors like Jonathan Groff — who starred in Netflix’s show “Mindhunter” — the name you need to know and never forget is Daveed Diggs. You might be asking yourself, who is Diggs? Well, if you didn’t know already, you’re about to find out.
With regard to “Hamilton,” Diggs was specifically sought out for his roles in the mega-hit musical and joined the cast of the production when it was still being workshopped; he played both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and spent half of his time rapping in a French accent.
His performance earned a Tony Award and a Grammy for his recording on the cast album, and his acting and rapping ability is especially highlighted by his verses as Lafayette. When his character is introduced in “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Diggs is over-enunciating his words, but by the middle of the play, specifically in the song “Guns and Ships,” his character begins to rap incredibly fast, which displays the character’s development of the English language while simultaneously flaunting Diggs’ ability on the mic.
Predating his time on Broadway, Diggs’ career remained primarily confined to the music industry. His rap career began in the late 2000s with “The BAY BOY Mixtape,” an album created in tandem with one of Diggs’ frequent collaborators, Rafael Casal; notably, Diggs’ additional creative partners also include “Hamilton” alumni Leslie Odom Jr. and fellow Southern California native Watsky.
Oftentimes, Diggs’ rap style varies from song to song, but his trademark flow showcases his ability to spit dense verses fast at a rapid-fire pace that somehow manages to draw out a simple hook, which the musician encapsulates in a catchy sing-song voice.
To date, Diggs’ rap career has been highlighted by his work with the experimental hip-hop trio Clipping. The group, which consists of Diggs (vocalist), alongside William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes (producers), is noted for their idiosyncratic style.
On the production side, Hutson and Snipes craft brutal, industrial-tinged soundscapes — the sonic palate of their tracks possesses more in common with white noise and alarm clocks than traditional hip-hop beats — for Diggs to spit poetic, hard-hitting rhymes that revolve around urban violence, racial strife in the U.S. and prototypical rap braggadocio.
The group’s debut album, appropriately titled “Clipping,” was released in 2014. The project is filled with mini narratives that easily slip into the gangsta rap genre, but the beats are unforgettably diverse. It was not until 2016 that the group really found its sound and subsequently released two projects.
The first was “Wriggle,” an EP filled with danceable, power electronics-influenced hip-hop that proved to be a bit more accessible than the group’s debut, but did not forsake experimentation for total accessibility.
As a concept album that follows the plight of a survivor trapped on a spaceship in the aftermath of an interstellar slave revolt, “Splendor & Misery” marked the second project released by Clipping in 2016. Due to its unorthodox storytelling and thought provoking narrative, the album was nominated for a Hugo Award, an esteemed prize in the science fiction community. Remarkably, “Splendor & Misery” is only the second album to be nominated for the award.
The group kept in step with pushing boundaries in 2019 by releasing “The Deep,” a three-song EP that tells the story of a race of mermaids descended from African women thrown off ships during passage in the transatlantic slave trade. The title track, “The Deep,” was released two years ago and spawned a novel of the same name, which inspired Clipping to make two more songs.
But, Clipping still had more to offer in 2019 and unleashed “There Existed an Addiction to Blood” just in time for Halloween. The album is filled with disturbing imagery and enigmatic wordplay; interestingly, each song is a self-contained horror story, and the first single, “Nothing is Safe,” sounds like an atmospheric reject from an unreleased John Carpenter score.
In fact, the instrumental bears an uncanny resemblance to Carpenter’s theme for “Halloween,” and Diggs’ lyrics even describe a group of people being stalked by a creeping figure.
Apart from his successful music career, Diggs has also been making a name for himself in film. His most impressive on-screen performance so far is featured in the 2018 film “Blindspotting,” which follows Collin (played by Diggs) as he navigates life in Oakland, California after spending time in jail.
The movie also stars Diggs’ aforementioned collaborator Casal, who plays Collin’s unruly friend Miles. Due to the film not receiving a wide release, “Blindspotting” was overlooked by audiences upon its theatrical run. Nevertheless, the movie provides an incredible commentary on race, class and identity in the United States and deserves your time.
Furthermore, “Blindspotting” was written by Diggs and Casal, and both artists sometimes rap back-and-forth in character, which gives the movie an overall rhythmic feel. In addition to the music in the film, Diggs and Casal created two separate albums, titled “The Collin EP” and “The Miles EP” respectively; both releases provide insight into their character’s dynamic with the other and reveal their inner thoughts and motivations.
To be fair, Diggs has not totally avoided the public eye and has made several guest appearances on TV shows; the artist appeared in several episodes of the hit sitcom “Black-ish” and landed a supporting role in Amazon Prime’s animated series “Undone.” In 2020, Diggs will be included in the cast of the upcoming Pixar film “Soul” and is currently in talks to portray Sebastian in the upcoming adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.”
Coinciding with the facts listed above, Diggs has proven himself to be a wildly talented artist, but the icon has somehow not received the recognition he deserves. His rapping ability puts most competitors to shame, and considering that he has multiple mainstream films already lined up as well as a consistent track record of releasing groundbreaking music year after year, it is only a matter of time before the world rightfully recognizes Diggs as a matchless genius.