“Diamonds from Sierra Leone” by Kanye West

There is a bit of confusion concerning the meaning of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” since the original version was a hit, and the remix, which deals largely with a completely-different topic, also proved quite popular. In hindsight we know that the title actually alludes to, somewhat literally, blood diamonds, i.e. diamonds which are mined in turbulent parts of Sierra Leone, much to the chagrin of many of those involved. But apparently at the time Kanye chose the name of the track, he wasn’t fully aware of that reality

So basically he took a very-serious sounding title and applied it to a relatively-frivolous subject, which is his come-up. And that brings us to the symbolic meaning of the track, as the ‘diamond’ is meant to point to Roc-A-Fella hand sign. And the said hand sign is sort of a diamond-shaped polygon, if one chooses to perceive it as such. So when Kanye talks of “throw(ing) your diamonds in the sky”, he is doing just one thing. And that is giving a shoutout to the Roc La Familia and its members’ (i.e. Jay-Z’s) tendency to throw up what is popularly referred to as the Roc sign. But the said ‘diamond’ can also be read as a double entendre. And that is because, as hinted earlier, Yeezy also uses the original version of this track as a means to brag about his wealth and success.

Second Meaning of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”

Then there is the remix of this classic, which features Yeezy’s label boss Jay-Z. On that particular outing, Jigga sticks to the original concept of the tune. And as such, he bigs up the Roc-A-Fella Records’ crew, many of whom he calls out by name. But Kanye, now completely privy to what the titular phrase entails, rather uses the opportunity to address the injustice behind the acquisition of the diamonds that rich folk like himself fancy. And this is a concept which is generally touched upon in the music video – how the wealth that some people enjoy, in the First World for instance, comes via the suffering of those from much-poorer, destitute settings.

On what album does “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” appear?

This is the lead single from Kanye’s second standard album, which is entitled “Late Registration”. The song officially came out three months prior to the rest of the project on 31 May 2005. And the labels that put it out are Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Records.

Samples

During his musical heyday (i.e. around the time this track was released), Kanye was a master at taking samples from old songs and making them into new hits. In this case it is a track entitled “Diamonds Are Forever” by Shirley Bassey, whose vocals can be heard on the intro and hook. And that particular track, which came out in 1971, was the theme song to a James Bond film (starring the late Sean Connery) of the same name.

Success of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”

This ranks amongst Kanye’s early hits, having charted in 15 nations, including peaking at number 8 in Britain and being certified platinum in the United States. Moreover it earned Kanye a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Rap Song

Furthermore the track’s official music video, which employed the talents of legendary hip-hop director Hype Williams, was nominated for the following awards:

  • a 2005 NAACP Image Award
  • a 2006 MTV VMA Japan 

And it was actually shot in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, due to Yeezy’s affinity for the architecture of the city. However, the images of rich Europeans which were captured there were, in the video, spliced with those of poor African children working in mines.

Did Kanye write and produce “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”?

Kanye produced this song alongside Jon Brion and Devo Springsteen (aka DeVon Harris, who claims to be Yeezy’s cousin). West and Harris also wrote the track. And they are credited alongside John Barry and Don Black. Both Black and Barry are the writers of “Diamonds Are Forever”.

As noted earlier, Kanye didn’t know about blood diamonds when he first recorded this song. And he credits another rapper, Q-Tip, as the one who enlightened him as to what was actually going down in places like Sierra Leone.

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