Our Rapping Intern Reviews Dilated Peoples’ ‘Directors of Photography’
You may remember that we have an Inturnt, Jonny Empire, and he knows a thing or two about rap. So we’ll occasionally reward him for spending hours opening ANTENNA mail by letting him write some #relevant hip-hop #content.
Over the years as a fan, writer, Inturnt of ANTENNA, and an MC, I've landed on a couple artists who serve as a benchmark for the quality of hip-hop I love. The first time I heard of Dilated Peoples, it was on their 2004 single "This Way," which featured Kanye West on the beat and dropping an incredible verse. One of the things I remember was how well the song was put together; I’d never heard anything like it before. After just that one song, I made it my mission to go back and check out Dilated Peoples' entire discography, and I now consider them to be one of the best hip-hop groups of all time.
Dating back to 1995, Dilated Peoples came on the scene and caught the eyes and ears of local legends such as Defari, Everlast, and Cypress Hill. In Evidence’s case, I’m sure being childhood friends with Alchemist didn’t hurt as well. So it was no surprise that in 2000, Evidence, Rakka, and DJ Babu took things to the next level and signed a four-album deal with Capitol Records. With four LPs and an abundance of solo material under their belts, what would the next step be for the veteran Los Angeles group? It took them nine years to figure that out, and now we have the answer with new album Directors of Photography (out August 12).
From recent interviews, Dilated mentioned that Directors of Photography is much more than a standard rap album. The plan was to create a body of work that entertains the ears and the mind. A common claim, to be sure. Opening up the album with cuts by the legendary DJ Babu, the tone was set very well. If you’re a fan of Dilated Peoples, you should already know the talent DJ Babu brings to the table. On the second track, "Directors," Evidence delivers these bars in his standard grimy/monotone style: “I got something to say, sometimes I’m colorful sometimes I’m grey. We get cancer 20 times a day, we’re just strong enough to brush it off and kneel when we pray.” Evidence paints organic pictures through his rhymes and metaphors, and it's only strengthened here with the track's dark production.
One of the many things I respect about Dilated Peoples is the fact that they never overdo it with features. Directors Of Photography fits that mold, employing some very key collaborations. Vince Staples, Krondon, Sick Jacken, Gangrene, Catero, and Defari are excellent additions to the album, but we can’t forget about the special bonus posse track featuring Rapsody, Fashawn, Action Bronson, Domo Genisis and Vinny Paz. Who would've ever expected that on this album?
But one track we should touch on is the second single, "Show Me the Way," featuring Aloe Blacc and production from Jake One, whose incredible buildup of instruments and hard-hitting drums make this a song to remember. This is a record that symbolizes the sound Dilated Peoples made famous over the years, and the amazing hook relates to the career of the tireless West Coast trio, with Blacc singing, "The harder the work, well the longer the day, easy may come but it sure don’t stay, trying to cope, boy, I hope and I pray, somebody show me the way."
Evolution is a beautiful thing, especially in music. Dilated continues to shine by touching on subjects fans have heard before (the passing of Evidence’s mother) or talking about recent emotions during their hiatus. With tracks like “Cut Your Teeth,” hip-hop is in full effect as they tell a story about their L.A. upbringing. But on tracks like “L.A. River Drive” and “Figure It Out (Melvin’s Theme),” an amazing sense of versatility is shown as the group takes on different challenges with sound and cadence. As a fan, I always love hearing them kick that L.A. street heat with some cuts by Babu, but as a fan of music I can’t explain how much I appreciate artists trying new sounds showing growth and maturity.
Overall, Dilated Peoples have been in this game for 20 years, kicking that realness with beats and rhymes that bring out the true essence of hip-hop. I look at Directors of Photography not just as a worthy end to the hiatus, but as an amazing stepping stone in their career. This being a totally independent release, and after they've gone through challenging periods in the industry, it’s only right for them to showcase the talents that got them internationally known. There aren’t too many groups bringing it back to the MC and DJ days, but Dilated takes the crown as one of the best groups to ever do it.
– Jonny Empire