Dilated Peoples, ‘Directors of Photography’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
As purveyors of the “underground rap” scene, Dilated Peoples like their beats stark and their rhymes old-school but raw no matter what the topic is. The group showcases this on their new album, ‘Directors of Photography.’
The veteran indie rap veterans have been together recording music independently since the late ’90s. In 2000, the trio was signed to Capitol Records and released four albums with the label.
Dilated garnered minor success in 2004, with their third album, ‘Neighborhood Watch,’ which featured the single ‘This Way,’ produced by Kanye West before he reached ‘Yeezus’ status. After their 2006 release ’20/20,’ Dilated Peoples stepped back from the rap game.
Eight years later, they return with their fifth studio effort, ‘Directors of Photography,’ released on the venerable Minneapolis-based label Rhymesayers. This is a good home for Dilated since both entities have always put emphasis on staying true to hip-hop culture.
The boom-bap beats are plentiful on the new collection with a production line-up featuring top-notch producers like DJ Premier, the Alchemist, Jake One, 9th Wonder and Oh No.
The LP title may throw listeners off a bit, but it represents Dilated giving fans snapshots of their daily lives in and out of the rap game.
A perfect example of this is on ‘Cut My Teeth,’ in which Evidence and Rakaa detail their first introduction into hip-hop via the streets of Venice Beach, Calif. For Ev, it was through graffiti writing and tagging with his friends. For Rakaa, it was the death of his homie, who got caught up in gang life, which inspired him to pick up a pen and rhyme.
“I took it as a sign / Standing at the crossroads / Saw a different world was mine it was with me all the time / Appreciative, never satisfied, inspired to climb / Eyes wide, Mid-City [L.A.] lit that fire inside,” he raps.
On the DJ Premier-produced ‘Good as Gone,’ both Ev and Rakaa explain their eight-year absence and overcoming the not-so easy tug-of-war between mainstream appeal and thriving in the underground scene.
“Salute to new voices, flexing power and advancing / The balance of modern branding versus classic sound clashing / Took heavy fire, survive the crash landing / Smile, and walked away from the wreckage, the last standing,” spits Rakaa.
Elsewhere, the Diamond D-blessed ‘Let Your Thoughts Fly Away’ lets Evidence and Rakaa exercise their intricate rhyme schemes to detail using the mind to get off the block and pursue a dream. “Free your mind and explore the masterpiece that’s outside of the frame line,” urges Rakaa.
While Evidence and Rakaa rap together on several songs, they also shine even brighter separately on solo tracks.
Rakaa gets to express his socio-political views on the thought-provoking ‘Century of the Self’ and Evidence extends his patented monotone rhyme flow on the head-nodding ‘The Reversal.’
Over spacey production, Ev raps, “I never told my mom I would make it big / I just said you would be proud of your kid / F— the world is what my statement is / I state my name and I state my biz and it’s on.”
Not to leave him out of the equation, DJ Babu gets to flex his impressive turntable skills on a number of tunes including his very own set piece, ‘Figure It Out (Melvin’s Theme).’
Dilated Peoples bookend the album with three standout tracks: ‘Trouble,’ ‘L.A. River Drive’ and ‘The Bigger Picture.’
‘L.A. River Drive’ sounds like a throwback Dipset track with its soul-sampled production as Evidence and Rakaa spit bars of humility about their long journey in the rap industry. Extra props go to Sick Jacken (of Psycho Realm fame) who guest features on the track and outshines everyone with his introspective verse.
Finally, ‘The Bigger Picture’ features Evidence and Rakaa reflecting on their come-up and vowing to stay independent and true to hip-hop culture.
“I learn one way and front the opposite / I do go against the grain / I do take bigger pictures that don’t fit in the frame,” raps Ev, while Rakaa spits, “Faithfully, I’ve seen all, alive and I’m grateful / With Curtis Mayfield singing, just be thankful.”
In an industry that’s quick to discard veteran rappers, ‘Directors of Photography’ is a triumphant rap album for Dilated Peoples. The seasoned trio shows that they can stand the test of time and put out a competent rap album better than their younger counterparts.
For those complaining that there’s no “real hip-hop” aesthetic in the marketplace today, this LP is for you. While ‘Directors of Photography’ is a solid LP, it will be interesting to see if it reaches the radar of the mainstream consciousness. The world would be a better place for it if it did.