RapReviews Artist of the Decade Series - Dilated Peoples
Realizing the decade is nearly up, Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania decided to start a series of special features. The aim is simple: to find out precisely who the "RapReviews.com Artist of the Decade" is - and reward them of course. RR writer Matt Jost has picked up the mantle laid down by Jay Soul and is taking his turn to take a look at Dilated Peoples.
While there were plenty of them in what is often referred to as the Golden Age, post-1994 rap groups have had a hard time establishing themselves as major players in rap music. OutKast, MOP, UGK, Three 6 Mafia, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and The Roots are undisputed, but several who were off to a promising start for whatever reason never quite got to hip-hop legend status - as a group, that is (Tha Dogg Pound, The LOX, Goodie Mob, Capone-N-Noreaga, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Nappy Roots, Non Phixion, Company Flow, Slum Village). Some remain contenders (Jedi Mind Tricks, Atmosphere, Clipse, Little Brother), some remain under the radar (CunninLynguists, People Under The Stairs), but there is one group that has struck a particularly effective balance between underground fame and broader recognition - Dilated Peoples.
The LA trio of DJ Babu, Rakaa Iriscience and Evidence has been present for the greater part of the decade, in 2007 however celebrating their new-found freedom from major label patronizing with a release whose visual aspects weighed decidedly heavier than the music, that's why "The Release Party" is not included in this consideration.
"The Platform" (2000)
Since a Dilated album had been "Years in the Making," their official debut presented a crew that was well prepared with "a full spectrum of flavors that's robust." After a rather backpackerish beginning in the form of the title track, "The Platform" soon rises to the Y2K challenge. Featuring highly promising Evidence production as well as notable contributions from Kutmasta Kurt ("Work the Angles"), T-Ray ("No Retreat") and of course longtime affiliate and its main beat supplier The Alchemist, the album aims to create an LA sound that doesn't adhere to the '90s templates of gangsta funk and art-house hip-hop. But moreso than the beats it is Iriscience and Evidence who turn this into a highly serious affair. It's almost a little bit intimidating to hear Ev declare, "I go to any extreme for you to hear it." In the long run, the overriding sentiment of earnesty, the strong desire to be taken seriously, had the potential to turn into an Achilles' heel for the group, but for the time being it didn't stifle the creativity of the wordplay-inclined duo. True to its title, "The Platform" offers just that to Ev and Rak (regrettably to a lesser degree to Babu), who saw themselves as "the derivative of what the late '80s and early '90s had to give." One album does not make a Golden Age, but just like this Platform was, as they put it, "built on strong foundation," it would in turn constitute a sound footing for an extended career. (7.5/10)
Cool Songs: No Retreat, Service, Ear Drums Pop, The Last Line of Defense, Work the Angles
"Expansion Team" (2001)
Dilated announced their return with the widely noticed single "Worst Comes to Worst," to this day a trademark song of the group and just maybe even an underground rap classic. The "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" sample had been used before, but The Alchemist and DP created the perfect setting for the emotive loop, the song's theme best summed up by the Havoc quote-turned-hook, "When worst comes to worst, my peoples come first." The album that followed, ambitiously titled "Expansion Team," while indeed extending the crew's reach, has to be considered a sophomore slump from an artistic standpoint. You feel the rappers' desire to be more specific and relevant, but they are unable to breathe life into their topics on songs such as "Self Defense," "Proper Propaganda" and "Panic." "We got tension and suspense, theme and variation," Ev boasted on the DJ Premier-produced "Clockwork," but safe for "Trade Money," replete with mature musings on the almighty dollar, and "Live on Stage," their key statement about bringing it to the people, they remain vague and unfocused. And even as Rakaa emerges as the lyrical backbone, for some reason he doesn't find enough time to shine, the thought-provoking "War" limited to a short one-verse track. Compared to the debut, the determination didn't ring as loudly and the music had fewer highlights. Ev also had the following bit of braggadocio to offer: "Only time we been wrong is when we thought we were wrong." They weren't wrong with "Expansion Team," it just wasn't the necessary step to the next level. (6.5/10)
Cool Songs: Live on Stage, Worst Comes to Worst, Trade Money, Heavy Rotation, War
"Neighborhood Watch" (2004)
He wasn't yet the fame monster he is today, but when Kanye West produced and rapped on the single "This Way," plus brought a John Legend-led choir along at a time when "Jesus Walks" still echoed on the airwaves, it was clear that the crew, the label, or both, were ready to rid Dilated Peoples of a potentially hindering underground aroma. First single and album opener "Marathon" suggested they were in it for the long run that "separates the weak and strong one." The better grip on song writing was immediately apparent, particularly on the title track, which featured quite a different bird's-eye view on the oft-cited streets than the vulture's point of view of your common hustler. "Neighborhood Watch" is not only the album that introduced funk to the DP universe, it also saw Rakaa and Evidence finally allow their personal life into their lyrics, even though they kept their typical cool: "Born in LA it's hard to get star-struck / Born in LA, so I always keep my guard up" (Evidence). Rakaa imagines himself as a "rap Michael Moore" on "Big Business," where he once again rallies against war, memorably opening with, "I pledge resistance to the grass that hides the snakes of America..." They don't exactly pour their souls out, but "Tryin' to Breathe," "Reach Us" and "This Way" bring them closer to the listener, even as the latter together with the throwback club track "Who's Who" and the Devin the Dude-starring femme fatale tale "Poisonous" might have alienated some hardcore followers. Meanwhile Babu as usual spoke with his hands, closing the album with the Premier tribute "DJ Babu in Deep Concentration." In term of completeness, "Neighborhood Watch" takes a much needed clue from classic LA albums by Ice Cube and Ice-T. (8/10)
Cool Songs: Marathon, Neighborhood Watch, Reach Us, This Way, DJ Babu in Deep Concentration
For album number four Dilated Peoples stuck to their guns, whether it came to the producers (Ev, ALC, Babu, Joey Chavez), the DJ spot ("The One and Only"), or their predilection for part abstract/part actual imagery (optics and weather being their favorite frames of reference). Lyrically, Evidence insisted on their impending success, while Rakaa solidified his status as one of LA's most talented wordsmiths. Ev relied on witty one-liners, most memorably "Don't worry if I write checks, I write rhymes" and "I master rap music every day like Tom Coyne." (Let's also hear it for "When you rhyme all you do is add rock to the block / when I rhyme I shine like Adrock when it (Mmmmhhh... Drrrooppp!)") Iriscience meanwhile shone on the Capleton-assisted "Firepower" and "The Eyes Have It" with veracious, focused lyricism:
"I been a security guard at Guitar Center
a food service worker and a telemarketer
Dreamin' 'bout goin' to Otis-Parsons or
maybe CalArts or even the Arts Center
But music was my passion, part of my callin' to
hustle year 'round, spring, summer, fall, winter
Will stop for nothin', you shouldn't start with us
For the people, by the Dilated Peoples, hard hitters"
As their career progressed, one of the most astounding facts about the duo of Rak and Ev was how similar they managed to sound. This streamlining may have come at the expense of developing stronger individual characteristics, at the same time it put them both on the same page, similar to the classic rap duos of old. "20/20" upheld that status to the point where it became routine. Neither did the beats mark any significant departure from their tried-and-true formula, but musically they tightened things further up, preparing themselves for the years to come. (7.5/10)
Cool Songs: Back Again, Olde English, Kindness for Weakness, Firepower (The Tables Have to Turn), 20/20
Two thirds of Dilated found the time to pursue their solo interests extensively in the '00s. Beat Junkies member DJ Babu put together three volumes of his acclaimed "Duck Season" series, chilled out with Defari as The Likwit Junkies, plus began a production showcase with "The Beat Tape Vol. 1." His partner Evidence has been able to continuously raise his profile as a producer since the late '90s, working with almost everybody in Left Coast hip-hop and contributing substantially to albums by Planet Asia, Defari, Aceyalone and Swollen Members, exposing his naked beats on the "Yellow Tape," "Red Tape," and "Purple Tape Instrumentals." He has also established himself as a solo rapper, which seems wrong mainly because Rakaa failed to do the same, but Ev by himself also lacks that delicate Dilated balance. His solo rap releases "The Weatherman" and "The Layover EP" made the man behind the music emerge, whereas Ev the MC made little progress, unable to escape the label of a rapper who has to try too hard to make an impression. Nonetheless, collectively DP have earned the consideration as Artist of the Decade with plenty of quality contributions to 2K hip-hop. (7/10)
OVERALL ALBUM AVERAGE: 7.3/10
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