When Los Angeles-based group Dilated Peoples released 20 er The Platform in 2000, it was a breath of fresh air for those looking for something a little different from a West Coast group on a major label. Sure, the album was a little rough around the edges, relying on more catch phrases than Mike Jones does, but it didn’t sound passé. Babu’s scratches were still unheard by the masses, and the triple optics that Evidence and Rakaa rhymed about had a mystical intrigue to them.
Three albums later, everything has changed – and eerily stayed the same. The members of Dilated polished their production, headlined their own tours, and have received a bit of attention from the music-television networks. But they’re still dropping the same sound effects all over the album, still including the same guests, still using the same catch phrases that still don’t really make any sense. Trying to explain to someone why they’re rapping about triple optics and the weather is like trying to explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity to a third-grader. Even Babu’s scratches (which have always set the group’s albums apart) have started to become predictable. What was refreshing in 2000 has worn thin.
With their fourth proper release, The Plat er 20/20, the members of Dilated Peoples have attempted to return to their roots, and as a result they end up delivering more of the same. The first two songs (and singles), “Back Again” and “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run,” would have us believe that Dilated is ready to deliver an album superior to 2001’s Expansion Team, the group’s best effort to date. They have that head-nodding knock to them and solid flows. But the rest of 20/20 doesn’t build on this foundation.
“The Eyes Have It” and “Alarm Clock Music” are derivative and boring and suggest that Evidence is starting to plateau as a producer. The guest shot from Talib Kweli on “Kindness for Weakness” is solid but nothing special. Most disappointing is awful “Olde English,” featuring Defari. Not only has Defari been suffering from an identity crisis for quite some time, but he manages to get worse each year, and this song is proof. For one of the brightest and most astute emcees in the business, his decline is sad to see. How many emcees, let alone people, can say they have degrees from Berkeley and Columbia?
This album needed more moments like Rakaa’s collaboration with reggae artist Capleton on “Firepower,” which took Dilated in a direction it had yet to travel. Rakaa comes with some insightful, uncontrived political rhymes, and Capleton’s raspy vocals bring it all together over a chopped-up reggae sample. Dilated has been missing that originality on its last few albums.
Had this been Dilated’s second album, I probably would have found it a lot more entertaining. But it’s not, and the moments of originality were few. I hold Dilated Peoples to a higher standard because (a) the members have more talent than most groups and (b) they take their music and its subject matter seriously. Which is fine, but they need to back it up with a release that warrants more than a casual listen from fans.