Despite being severely underexposed, the Los Angeles underground hip-hop scene has been the site for some of hip-hop's most cutting-edge work. At the heart of the movement has been Dilated Peoples, whose special brand of hip-hop has raised the creative stakes for the genre's avant-garde. From their early independent releases to their more recent major label projects, Dilated Peoples has worked to stretch the bounds of hip-hop music into previously uncharted territory. The group's name reflects the its artistic vision, as Rakaa explained to the Michigan Citizen: "To dilate is to grow. We are people expanding. It's really simple. It's also a play on words. Dilated is when your eyes are opening. Really be wide awake."
Dilated Peoples was formed in 1992 in Los Angeles's Hip-Hop Shop studio as a result of freestyle sessions between Rakaa (a.k.a. Iriscience) and Evidence. Prior to joining forces, the two were both aspiring rappers and graffiti artists. Rakaa had been affiliated with the legendary Zulu Nation and the West Coast Rocksteady Crew, and Evidence had done production work for several underground artists. The two quickly realized that they would be most effective as a group. "[Rakaa] and I use to go back and forth rhyming, so it was an 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' type of thing," Evidence told Billboard magazine. In 1997 the duo was joined by DJ Babu of the Beat Junkies and the group became complete. Likening themselves to the legendary rap groups EPMD and Run DMC, both of which consisted of two rappers and a DJ, the group committed itself to honoring hip-hop's rich history while pushing the genre to new artistic levels.
Soon after Babu's arrival, Dilated Peoples began to release singles and EPs on the independent label ABB, including "Third Degree" and the underground hit "Work the Angles." The group had a rapidly growing fan base—20,000 copies of "Work the Angles" were sold on the streets in one month—and major labels began pursuing them for a record deal. In May of 2000 the group released its first big label LP, The Platform, which was well received by fans and critics alike. The Platform's potent mix of battle rhymes and political commentary provided a welcomed diversion from the growing materialism and gratuitous violence within mainstream hip-hop. The album, which also included several previously released underground singles, featured underground mainstays like Tha Alkaholiks and Defari. "We didn't have a lot of money at the time we were doing this record, so we knew these were people who would come down and represent in the name of hip-hop," recalled Evidence in Billboard. "Some of them are four-times platinum, so it shows me where their heads are at. They're still into hip-hop, and that's something I respect."
Following up on the success of The Platform, Dilated Peoples quickly released their second major label LP, Expansion Team, in October of 2001. Unlike the first album, their sophomore release was an all-star production, including Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, JuJu, Da Beatminerz, DJ Premier, and Alchemist. Determined to escape the labels of "conscious" or "underground," the group opened up its sound and lyrics to a wider range of issues in order to attract new fans and acknowledge its legitimate connection to the street. The album's first single, "Worst Comes To Worst," was produced by Alchemist and was expressly designed to bridge underground and mainstream sounds. Other songs such as "Proper Propaganda" allowed the group to address critical political issues while maintaining a light party vibe musically. The group drastically improved on their album sales, as Expansion Team sold 39,000 copies in its first week, but the strategy changes made by the group alienated many of its loyal underground fans.
In April of 2004 Dilated Peoples released its third album, Neighborhood Watch. Following the formula of their second album, the group enlisted the production services of Joey Chavez, Rob Tewlow, and Kanye West. Regarding their third release, Evidence said in an interview with Ife Oshun, "It's a continuation of the Dilated Peoples sound…. but at the same time, I feel that it's a better record than the last two. I think it shows the power and timelessness of our music." The group's first single, the Kanye West-produced "This Way," brought them their most substantial commercial success to date. No longer an underground group, Dilated Peoples has followed former underground peers Black Eyed Peas into Top 40 popular music.
Unfortunately the group's most recent success has come at the expense of critical approval. The British Broadcast Corporation (BBC)'s Adam Webb's critique adequately represents the critical consensus about their third project and general artistic direction "Head honchos Evidence and Iriscience operate in that noman's land between conscious issue-based hip-hop and the outlaw unconsciousness of straight up braggadocio. As they proclaim on the title tract, they're sort of in-betweeners—against the criminals and the cops. Unfortunately, their microphone skills have neither the intricate dexterity of Q-Tip nor the juvenile thuggery of 50 Cent." Despite the growing number of critiques of their attempt to simultaneously function in underground and commercial spaces, Dilated Peoples decided to go on tour with commercial sensation Kanye West and the Young Gunz. The group hoped the 22-city tour would carry them to another level of success within mainstream hip-hop.
Babu told the SOHH.com website, "It's us, the Young Gunz, and Kanye. We've been exposed to a lot of new fans that've never heard of us past the new single. One thing I always said about our group is 'give us 15 minutes and we'll win some fans.'"
For the Record …
Members include Babu , DJ; Evidence , rapper; Rakaa , rapper, producer.
Group formed in Los Angeles, California, 1992; Babu joined group, 1997; signed with ABB in 1997; signed with Capitol Records in 2000; released Platform, 2000; released Expansion Team, 2001; released Neighborhood Watch, 2004; toured with Kanye West, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Capitol Records, 150 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011, phone: (212) 253-3000, website: http://www.hollywoodandvine.com. Website—Dilated Peoples Official Website: http://www.dilatedpeoples.com.
The Platform, Capitol, 2000.
Expansion Team, Capitol, 2001.
Neighborhood Watch, Sony, 2004.
America's Entertainment Wire, April 15, 2004.
Billboard, April 29, 2000, p. 49.
Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 2004.
Michigan Citizen, May 27, 2000, p. B1, B2.
"Daily Hip-Hop News," SOHH.com, http://www.sohh.com/thewire/read.php?contentID=5743 (July 4, 2004).
Dilated Peoples Official Website, http://www.dilatedpeoples.com (July 5, 2004).
"Neighborhood Watch," BBC.com, http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/music/2004/04/dilated_peoples.shtml (July 14, 2004).
—Marc L. Hill
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