Dilated Peoples has one of the strongest followings in underground rap, but it’s a little perplexing to define them as “underground” when all three previous albums from “The Platform” to “Expansion Team” were released on Capitol Records. Underground? Only if you can describe the Beastie Boys, Faith Evans, and Coldplay as underground. In fact with that kind of financial backing and marketing muscle you would expect Dilated Peoples to be a household name. The Los Angeles based trio of Evidenence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu have yet to experience that crossover success but don’t seem the least bit phased by it. Their latest project “20/20” suggests both figuratively and literally that they see their position clearly. Far from trying to tap into a pop audience, they’ve come harder than ever on the Alchemist-produced lead single “Back Again”:

Rakaa Iriscience: “”Back again,” the crew never left, but came back
(Amazing!) Like tomorrow on these yesterday cats
“In the house again,” learned to stay vested and strapped
Stay awake and out of the federal state traps
(Yo we back again!) Kinda like Bush and Blair
Some were scared, some would just wish they cared
(Uh-ohh!) “In the house again,” never too late to prepare
Cause many things you fear have been in place for years”

Evidence: “”Back again,” yeah they stuck cause shit’s different
And rain was on the way because the weatherman predict it
“In the house again,” I ain’t gettin wet
Kick a hole in the speaker pull the plug; still my People showin love
Think different, outside the box
Don’t want a lot of a little, we want a little of a lot
In this world, Evidence, all I got’s my word
Spin at thirty-three and a third, to make the DJ spin it”

This track is everything an underground rap head loves – a headnodding beat, plenty of clever DJ scratching, and lyrics that are as intensely uncompromising as the pounding bassline. The base of Dilated’s “underground” is not as cliche as one would think though. Their devoted following is equally split among backpackers, trendsetters, and thugs; a seemingly impossible feat made relatively easy by the fact Dilated come both rugged and intelligent. Take “Olde English” for example, a slow flowing track on which Evidence and guest Defari both sound a little bent. The lyrics are definitely not on some flowers and love happy peacenik tip. They’re spitting bars about fights and wars, mixed martial arts style:

Evidence: “I’m a L.A. brawler, Gracie Academy hallway loiterer
More shows get my pre-orders up
Six deep, packed in a Ford Explorer
I toured the whole world but never been to Florida
They holdin my shit, all winter
By the time the shit drop, I done already been there
The game’s fucked, a thousand soundalikes, it’s sad
Hard to tell the difference like they fake Louis bags”

Defari: “Still blastin away
Spit and put the cash away, passion to play
Mashin my way through this Babylon
Out the gate I get up, I’m the one to gamble on
Luxury lyrics I give free of charge
Yeah right – my daughters don’t starve
Holdin me down, pride and truth
The immaculate Dilated Peoples crew”

Not to be outdone, Rakaa Iriscience one-ups the ante on the pulsating “Kindness for Weakness” and sounds like he came straight out of a cage fight with Chuck Liddell or Matt Hughes:

“All’s fair in love and war, piece of cake
But beef is rare like a bloody piece of steak
“Don’t you take” your eyes off the quiet ones, the silent ones
With the assassin smile, the most violent
Train until their bleeding, crying, perspiring
And gun rings firing
“Don’t you take” the wrong side, that’s the wrong idea
Untangle it, we could get it on right here
Never back to broke, you get tapped or choked
I might smile, but I ain’t no joke”

If there’s one thing you can quickly clean from “20/20” it’s that Dilated Peoples are deadly serious about the art and craft of making hip-hop music. Evidence might be slightly overstating the matter though on “Another Sound Mission” when he says “you ain’t heard shit else this hot.” The field of underground artists with cult followings based on their musical excellence is a little more crowded than his words would lead you to believe. One can argue that Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, and Aceyalone have all done “shit this hot” and that’s just picking artists from their native West coast, California hip-hop scene. As such Dilated can’t skate along unscathed as though there aren’t other options. At times Evidence spits lyrics that are overly simplistic in their construction, which distracts one’s attention away from the otherwise dope beats on songs like “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run”:

“Yeah (“man listen”) I stay relevant
Only person I stand in the shadow of is Evidence
Last page, I left off a good look
This ain’t the next chapter, it’s a whole new book
About to steal the game, I’m a whole new crook
Bakin up that fire, I’m a whole new cook
Get your whole shit took, Cali’s back under the sun
So – you can’t hide, and you can’t run”

It’s harder to find flaws in the musical performance of “20/20,” but tracks like “The Eyes Have It” and “Firepower (The Tables Have to Turn)” stick out like sore thumbs as a result. The construction of the tracks is relatively sound, the production is crisp and clean, and yet neither one can hold a candle to the thumping and innovative “Rapid Transit” or the blood pressure raising pianoes and scratched Large Professor samples of “Satellite Radio.” To their credit Dilated Peoples keep the amount of guest appearances on “20/20” to a minimum, the biggest of which being Talib Kweli, and rightly keep that perfect vision focus on their own music. Perhaps the biggest distraction from the sonic dopeness they provide is their own series of skits about a new strain of “20/20” weed more potent than any variety currently known to man. Had these skits been listed as seperate tracks you could easily skip over this complaint would be non-existant, but unfortunately they’re tacked onto the ends of various songs seemingly at random. Otherwise it’s safe to say that with “20/20” they’ve created another album that will serve their core audience well. If Ev can step up his lyrical game a little to partner Rakaa’s level, while simultaneously keeping his dope self-produced beats in effect, they may eventually find the underground pushing them mainstream without having to give up their credibility. After four straight solid albums it’s only a matter of time.

Dilated Peoples :: 20/20
8Overall Score