There was a time when artists like Jurassic 5, Black Eyed Peas, and Dilated Peoples were synonymous with Los Angeles underground hip-hop and the bands du jour to name-drop. In recent years, however, they seem to have lost some of that mystique fans gravitated to in the first place. Some have flourished in the mainstream all the while retaining their indie credibility; others have become sickening poster children for VH1 specials and car commercials. With their latest release, 20/20, Dilated Peoples manage to remain in the first camp.Two years have passed since the lukewarmly received Neighborhood Watch hit the streets and Dilated have quite a bit of ground to cover if they are to meet the same expectations set by the much-lauded The Platform and 2001’s Expansion Team. From the outset, Dilated hammers out knee-jerking anthems full of street-tough, playful, and at times provocative lyrics. Whether criticizing the current administration or commenting on more local ills (“We need black and brown unity / So we need to keep that jail shit outta the community”), Dilated will have you thinking.
The strength of 20/20, however, lies in the beats — Babu’s meticulous turntablism and sampling, and a dabble at experimentation. Seventies-tinged horns and generous scratching make for uncontrollable head-boppin’ on “Alarm Clock Music” while “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run” and “Kindness for Weakness” make brilliant use of impeccably placed soul-funk samples. “Rapid Transit” hypnotizes with its thumping group chant of “Everywhere we go now,” a la J5.
Though not entirely perfect, emcees Evidence, Rakaa, and superstar DJ Babu are back on track. 20/20 is the return of one of L.A.’s greatest hip-hop acts and a testament to the genre’s longevity.