“The Release Party is 10 years in the making. Follow Evidence, Rakaa (Iriscience) and DJ Babu as captured by long time friend and collaborator Jason Goldwatch. Witness first-hand the ups and downs of the music industry through the eyes of a band.” All of this sounds exactly like what you would want to see from a Dilated Peoples DVD, but if you check the video section of your favorite record store “The Release Party” may be nowhere to be found. Try this instead – head over to the rap section and look under “D” – that’s D for Decon Media, D for Dilated Peoples, and D for a DVD in a CD case. You may initially feel the D of disappointment at realizing this is not a full-length brand new Dilated Peoples CD, one which somehow escaped all internet buzz and underground DJ scrutiny. Regardless of where the charts are ranking them new DP albums go #1 with a bullet among hardcore hip-hop fans as another three D’s manifest themselves – dynamic flows and diverse sound with a dope turntablist in the mix. So get over those initial feelings of despair and… OH WAIT THERE’S A BONUS ALBUM TOO. What we have here with “The Release Party” is a CD case, that’s actually a DVD, that in fact turns out to have a CD after all. The CD is only seven tracks and most of them are remixes but we’ll get to that in a minute. First up to bat is “The Release Party” feature film.
After getting through the usual unskippable copyright warning bullshit, the main menu pops up with a bank vault that looks like the Dilated Peoples logo – or is that the other way around? While I’m listening to the bangin’ background music and pondering which to write the DVD flashes without warning to a commercial. It’s structured to look like one of those HP spots where artists and musicians pull notes and pictures out of the air, just to show how they use their PC, but actually it’s a parody starring DJ Babu that’s fairly funny if you’ve seen the original versions ending with “My passport says Chris, but you may know me by a different name.” It jumps back from here to the main menu with five choices, the obvious one of the bunch being “play movie.” What follows next is approximately 90 minutes long. If you look to the liner notes or the back cover for a chapter list you’re SOL. The disc’s title menu does have a “chapter” option, but the chapters aren’t named – each selection is made with a screen capture from that segment. You might as well play through the whole thing start to finish because unless you did watch it all you’d have no idea what you were skipping to – unless you read a review like this first.
The opening section is DJ Babu talking about how he wanted to be a DJ from as young as he can remember, and how he had to get a job to pay for his own turntables, then as he got older and older it culminated in him being able to play house parties and participate in DJ battles. Babu recalls that his first MAJOR battle was at the University of Santa Barbara, organized by a bunch of the campus frats and sororities, and the Beat Junkies were doing the judging. The finals ended up being him versus DJ Rhettmatic and in his own words “that’s like the funniest thing now that I think about it.” From there it was on to being in the crew, touring the world and winning battles all while supporting himself working at Fat Beats. He describes Ev and Rak’ as coming up in the L.A. scene around the same time, dropping twelve inches on ABB he was playing in his mixes, and how eventually they just crossed paths and started working together.
Next up is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. I’ve always known Dilated Peoples were MMA fans by their lyrical references to the sport, but Rakaa makes his introduction in the movie AT the Gracie Academy, wearing both a t-shirt with their logo and a pair of the white trunks you’d see Royce Gracie come to the ring in. Clips of Gracie Jujitsu training are narrated by Rak’ as he explains that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is great because with enough practice anyone of any size can defeat a larger and stronger opponent. This is old news to anybody who has been following UFC or the legendary Gracie family, but for those exposed for the first time to MMA it’s beautiful to hear Rakaa describe BJJ as fluid, graceful, and not unlike a human chess match. It’s not just a throwaway line in a rhyme – this is clearly something Rak’ is as passionate about as his rhyme writing and lyrical flow. Rener Gracie says Rak may look like a nice guy but “on the ground there’s no one more deadly.” What I wouldn’t give to see Rakka rock a gi and come out for just one bout in any organization. IFL, Bodog Fight, Strikeforce, WHATEVER. Win or lose I’d love to see him hit the mat, pull guard, and go for an armbar or a choke. If Houston Alexander can go from being a DJ in Omaha to a UFC sensation, Rakaa Iriscience can make the jump too.
Moving to Evidence’s introduction it’s quickly obvious the two things he is passionate about – BEATS and WEED. He proudly shows big sticky buds to the camera in between shots of digging in the crates and mixing sounds in his own studio. The main focus is Ev building the “Kindness for Weakness” beat from the ground up, showing how he created each individual layer of the song, then stacked them up one on top of the other to create a musical masterpiece. He describes how his ultimate goal was to create a sound that epitomized the feeling they all had in the song of how Dilated Peoples is taken advantage of by others and all the layers combined together create the perfect statement. “I’m not claiming to be the best musician, I’m not claiming any of that, but I’m a manipulator of that creation and making it something palatable for us to get busy over.” Listening to Rakaa spit to the track live in the performance that immediately follows it’s hard to disagree.
Afterwards Evidence and Rakaa reminsce on growing up as part of a hip-hop culture, 1580 KDAY, how they met and why they ended up working together. Rakaa talks about going from the West coast chapter of the Rocksteady Crew to being a part of the Almighty Universal Zulu Nation, and how that was like “learning hip-hop from the architects.” Evidence says Rakaa is like his big brother, being five years older than him and being an older brother to two brothers of his own, and how like true siblings they love and hate each other, agree and disagree, but roll like a family. Rakaa: “I will fight anybody in the streets for him. He knows that.” Evidence: “Babu was between us in ages, so he really helped balance out the dynamic.” Ev credits Alchemist with giving the group their name, based off a production company Rak’ had called “Expanding Pupils,” which Al said was too deep whereas ‘Dilated Peoples’ would “sound like an army or some shit.” You could call it a happy accident or destiny fulfilled but either way the name fit like a glove. Al himself gives all the credit to Dilated, saying anything he produced for them could say “produced by Dilated” because it’s such a joint effort when they all work together.
This review could roll on with every little detail of the movie itself, but let’s flip things to the technical standpoint. First of all the footage in this film is all as crisp and clean as you could possibly want. Picture a PBS station of VH-1 doing a “Behind the Scenes” on Dilated Peoples and you’d get the idea. They did not skimp on cameras or video equipment – this is true documentary quality. Secondly the editing is not in any way amateur. The job Jason Goldwatch did editing and directing, using both footage he shot and that contributed by others, is just as finely crafted as an Evidence beat. Goldwatch knows the right times to make transitions such as when to have audio narrating footage, and when to switch back to the narrator himself for the dramatic punch. When Rakaa talks about being signed to a shady record deal and the camera takes you to an L.A. public library, it all comes together beautifully. Long ago it was argued that certain hip-hop artists create cinematic landscapes through their words, making you visualize the world they see through song. This is the same process in reverse – through the world the director is visualizing we see the reality of Dilated Peoples lyrics, how their environment and experiences (particularly with Industry Rule #4,080) made them who they are.
To summarize the rest of this DVD in a nutshell, so many hip-hop DVD’s only scratch the surface of the hip-hop experience. They may have a few music videos, or the rapper rolling from one show to the next with his posse, or the X amount of hoes that will flash their tits in the club or when they roll by in a shiny new car. “The Release Party” shows that for Dilated Peoples it’s not just an experience to be had or a means to make money – hip-hop is an all-consuming way of life that goes beyond video vixens and collecting cash. The goal at the end of the day is to do art AND get paid, but Dilated seem committed (almost to an unreasonable extreme) to making art first and money second. That passion may be the root of their frustration with the industry, but ironically that frustration is the fuel that makes their creative fires burn brighter. What’s ill about “The Release Party” is that this film really could stand alone on its own merits but the other included features truly ARE worthwhile. The “music videos” section is HEAVYWEIGHT, including everything from “Work the Angles” to “Back Again,” covering the span of their entire career. If you wait long enough on the first or second page of the video menu a bonus video eventually pops up for the song “Mr. Slow Flow” that’s as good as any of the rest. There’s more bonus footage and even a 14 minute section of them jamming live in concert. All of this put together makes “The Release Party” DVD suitable not just for Dilated Peoples fans but for any hip-hop head anywhere in any part of the world.
That brings us to the musical portion of this release. The front cover and the disc itself are aptly described as a “bonus CD.” Adding anything onto the DVD at this point would almost be overkill, so it’s only right to consider this an extra as opposed to a standalone product. That being said if “The Release Party” had been built the other way around, as a CD with a bonus DVD, one would undoubtedly find themselves disappointed and confused. There are only two completely new songs on the disc, the title track and “Spit it Clearly” with Alchemist. The first is average, the second is slightly above, and neither holds up to the standards set by “20/20” or “The Weatherman.” Even an average Dilated Peoples song is vastly superior to more than half of what gets made today but no purchaser would pay $14.99 for two almost mediocre tracks paired with five remixes. In fact it’s the remixes that are the hot shit – particularly PMD guest starring on a revised “Mr. Slow Flow” and Casual busting raps on the “Hot and Cold” remix. This disc would make a good $4.99 value-priced EP, or better yet, a free MySpace or [adult swim] download. If that’s not a bold enough statement here’s one that will really vex some Dilated peoples – if you bought this DVD just to get the CD YOU FUCKED UP. Now fortunately this all works out just fine because even though it’s packaged in a CD case “The Release Party” is first and foremost a Dilated Peoples movie/documentary and goes out of its way to say so on the packaging, and since it’s such a high quality film in concept and execution there’s no way toNOT get your money’s worth. The bottom line is this DVD is a must-have, and throwing in a bonus CD that wouldn’t stand alone on its own doesn’t detract from the quality of this product as a whole. It may be October but go ahead and put this one on your Christmas wishlist now.