Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dilated Peoples - 20/20

Dilated Peoples' rise to recognition in hip hop mirrors that fellow hip hop outfit Slum Village: both established heavy followings in their hometowns (Slum Village in Detroit, Dilated in L.A.), used their local popularity to get signed to major record labels, worked with well-known rappers and producers, and remained relevant (at least when they had albums due out) despite never selling many records. Dilated's 2nd album, Expansion Team, went gold mainly based off of its $7.99 retail price -- shit, even I bought a copy. Both groups even had the assistance of a Kanye West beat AND verse on the 1st singles of their 3rd albums, and then neither ever got a 2nd single on radio. Nowadays, Slum Village is making music on their own independent label. Dilated, however, remains backed by Capitol Records (Slum Village's former label, oddly enough). But for how much longer? Not to predict negativity, but in a rap game dominated by the likes of Mike Jones and D4L, I'm curious as to where Dilated fits.

On 20/20, Dilated takes it back to their roots, with entirely in-camp production and few guest spots outside of the extended fam. In the process, though, it comes off as predictable -- no real surprises, just another Dilated record. It leaves them at an odd crossroads, as they're not trying to reach out to the masses and make club records, but rather trying to keep true to their core fanbase by sticking to a formula that is now 4 albums old.

Not that the formula doesn't work anymore, though. Evidence and Rakaa's MC skills are without question, and they shine on tracks like the single "Back Again", and two of their best tracks to date, "You Can't Hide, You Can't Run" and "Kindness For Weakness" f/ Talib Kweli, both of which work off of dope vocal samples. Their solo tracks, Ev's "Another Sound Mission" and Rakaa's politically-driven reggae-sounding "Firepower" f/ Capleton, also find both at the top of their game. But for an album that's 13 tracks long, just like Neighborhood Watch, it contains more filler than one would want. Songs like "Rapid Transit" and "Satellite Radio" suffer from dated production and weak hooks, and "The One & Only", the obligatory DJ Babu-scratch record, has little replay value and wastes a tight beat that could've gone to making an actual song. We all know by now that Babu is a skilled DJ -- dedicating 4 minutes of an album to that fact is no longer necessary, and I wouldn't be disappointed if Dilated's next album broke away from tradition and left one of these off.

While 20/20 is a step up from Neighborhood Watch and proves that Dilated can still make good hip hop, it also appears as if they're content with simply making good hip hop their standard. It won't get them much notoriety outside of L.A. (and parts of Europe, for that matter), but if they're content with that, then good for them -- in fact, it's kind of refreshing. I'll still support 'em and check for their live shows, but I'll be hopeful that the set lists contain more of their older material.