Review Summary: Off the back of two near-classic albums, and a three year hiatus, Dilated returns with something new...and very different.
In the underground hip hop scene Dilated Peoples remains one of its biggest players. Not one to stay within the trappings of most commercial hip hop artists Dilated People employ a much more street conscious angle to their words and actions. Not content to rag on the usual topics, the boys seem much more at home speaking on such broad and varied topics as meditation, street community awareness and the government’s decision to go to war with their own people. Toiling away for numerous years the group caught a lucky break and were able to release their first record The Platform, to critical acclaim. Hot on the heels of that success they issued their 2nd L.P less than a year later. Expansion Team, while not changing anything to their winning formula, sought to throw a slightly more commercial element to their beats. The result of this accommodation in their music sought to push their video for the album’s only single, Worst Comes to Worst, into heavy rotation. Domination of the hip hop charts seemed easily within their reach and members Rakaa (Iriscience), Evidence (Ev, Mr. Slow Flow & The Weatherman) and DJ Babu were hailed as hero’s in their local scene. 3 years would pass before the group would re-emerge to make their claim for the top. Instead of that one extra step needed to take the hip hop world by storm the band opted instead for a country mile wide leap to the side, much to the chagrin of all who had patiently waited.
The album kicks off in a triumphant fashion with Marathon, with Ev and Rakaa spitting a decent flow over a typical laid back beat that’ll see you tapping your feet at the very least. While not being the most solid of efforts, for good or worse it sets up the album perfectly. Babu continues everything rolling into the next cut, the title track. Featuring an almost sleazy jazzy big beat-esque sound to it the two tell a commentary on the degradation and corruption in the neighborhoods of their youth, complete with a chorus warning to watch the cops just as much as the criminals. While Ev does nothing to lose the title of Slow Flow on this track he does drop some rather inspired lyrics, such as:
Protect your own, protect your home
Respect the hustle and set the tone
Entertain but drop gems mostly
Like, don’t covet your neighbor but watch him closely
Then, things go a bit pear shaped. Whether or not Kanye’s guest spot on this album (still to come) had any influence on the next track Tryin’ To Breathe is debatable, but whoever came up with the idea that DP should try and write a catchy r’n’b tune complete with pop sensibilities was sorely lacking in the imagination department. Featuring cringe inducing lyrics and an even more soul shivering chorus the song not only screams out “filler” but serves no other purpose than to wear out skip button. Sadly, we’re not done with this nonsense. The next few tracks reaffirm the undeniable fact that the group were trying too hard to get themselves air play, somewhat of a tragedy given the gems these boys can drop when their efforts remain focused on not attempting something as trivial as that, given their huge and loyal fan base.
Bouncing around to the 2nd half of the album, we’re treated to more of a solidified effort in the form of Big Business. Containing one of their most commercial beats yet (put to good use here however); Rakaa presents a furious assault on the government and the hypocrisy he sees in most of their actions.
I pledge resistance to the grass
That hides the snakes of America
So they watch it, now I walk with caution
More careful, put more thought to option
Is the opposite of progress congress?
From the school to the street we’re beyond stress
But I fight for peace, that’s what the problem is
War is big biz, just ask an economist
The next few tracks on the album seek to remain forgettable; including a skit that is no more wanted than it is needed. Then we hit the big surprise of the album, Kanye West and DP throwing it down together in a gospel tinged jam that leaves something to be desired for. It’s inspired to be sure, and to a degree it’s also somewhat fun, but it’s not Dilated Peoples. Kanye’s inclusion also raises a few questions. Was he trying to raise his street cred by kicking it with the underground champs, or were DP really that desperate to hit the mainstream route that they jumped on the coattails of the latest “big name”? The only real highlight of this jam is John Legend’s guest spot crooning running all over the background. Luckily the group, or should I Babu, redeem themselves on the final track, DJ Babu in Deep Concentration. An obvious nod to Gang Starr’s DJ Premier in Deep Concentration, the song is an explosive dj showcase and shows yet again why Babu is revered as one of the best in the business.
So coming off the back of two near-classic albums, and a three year hiatus, the group returned with something new… and very different. Despite the usual guest appearances both behind the board and in front of the mic – Alchemist, Planet Asia & Defari all return to the fold - Neighborhood Watch is by far the most commercially orientated release DP has put forth yet. While they would go on to redeem themselves somewhat with their next release – 2006’s 20/20 – this album served as a reminder to all that even the mighty can fall. The production here is way too crisp and polished, something that goes against the rough street dynamic the group held on their earlier releases. That, along with the addition of “club bangers” and the appearance of Kanye makes this album surprising, to say the least. It’s good, but it’s not “Dilated good”.