WHEN 20-year-old rapper Ben Diamond checked his phone and found a message from American hip-hop legend Jay-Z's music producer, he thought someone must be winding him up.
He said he'd heard my music on YouTube and wanted to fly me out to Los Angeles to record with him, said Ben, from Culverden Park, Tunbridge Wells. I was feeling shattered after a big music weekend and my phone had been flat. When I heard a voice claiming to be Nicholas Aqua McCarrell, a multi platinum award-winning producer who works with Jay-Z and Kanye West, I was pretty sceptical really.
But then I Googled his name, and found it was all true.
Two weeks later, still pinching himself, the former Bennett Memorial School pupil found himself standing on the balcony of Aqua's luxury mansion in Beverley Hills staring across a glittering swimming pool at the iconic Hollywood sign on the hill opposite.
It was hard to believe I was really there, admitted Ben, whose soulful take on UK hip-hop first started making waves when he added it to social media sites like Facebook and Bandcamp.
He recalled: It was picked up by one of my favourite British rappers, Dirty Dike - I used to listen to his music walking to school every day - and we ended up making a four-track EP together. That created a buzz, because he has thousands of followers, and that's how Aqua came across it.
After his initial brief visit, Ben returned to LA this spring to cut his first album, The Diamond LP, which has been released online.
He said: Of course it's a city where people go with dreams of making it, but I saw how differently things can turn out. There's the fame and the money but, crossing the city to Beverley Hills each day, I saw the other side too, the drugs and the homelessness.
Working with a music industry Alister - Aqua also composes music for films and TV - meant the new venture was soon picked up by the media, all rather a shock for a newcomer.
Mingled The New York Post passed on a rumour that he was working with me, which was bizarre, especially as it was followed by a story about Sting! said Ben, who also found himself mingling with guests at a private party hosted by superstar Mary J Blige after the Grammy music industry awards.
I wasn't too keen on the way I was styled - I ended up looking like Justin Bieber! - but I know that's how it works, said Ben, who also appeared in a video promoting the album.
Back home, where he supports himself by working shifts at Asda in Tunbridge Wells, he has vowed to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
I've had this amazing, inspiring experience and I'm hoping plans for a US tour in the summer will come off. But I've got gigs lined up here and I'm doing something I love, so life's pretty good.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.
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