Dilated Peoples are somewhat of an enigma. Despite being signed to a major label since 2000, the L.A.-based trio of Rakaa, Evidence and DJ Babu are still considered underground by most accounts. Even the Kanye West–featured single “This Way” off their 2004 LP Neighborhood Watch couldn’t break the crew out of their subterranean constraints. Unfortunately, Dilated’s fourth disc, 20/20, does little to help mainstream audiences see their vision any clearer.
For the most part, Dilated stick to the boom-bap essentials that earned them props in the mid-’90s. The approach works on tracks like the organ-laced “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run” and the Talib Kweli–assisted “Kindness for Weakness,” where MCs Rakaa and Evidence drop dense lyrical bombs while resident turntablist Babu delivers the skillful cuts and scratches. Another notable record is the Alchemist-produced “Back Again.” Supported by a grooving bass line and crashing cymbals, Evidence bites Diddy and spits, “Back again for the very fourth time/Don’t worry if I write checks, I write rhymes.”
In other instances, Dilated’s basic formula fails. Take the Capleton-featured “Firepower (The Tables Have to Turn),” where Rakaa’s politically charged lyrics get bogged down by Evidence’s cheesy video game–sounding beat. Other snooze-inducing material includes “Another Sound Mission” and “Olde English,” both of which suffer from lethargic flows. But the biggest dud comes courtesy of “Rapid Transit,” where Evidence delivers questionable bars like, “Cats got weak shit, come at me with a better line/I don’t respect rappers, I respect Kevin Federline.”
While more listenable cuts like “The Eyes Have It” and “Alarm Clock Music” make up for the previous lyrical faux pas, they come too late to salvage this monotonous project. With no clear-cut radio-friendly joints and limited subject matter, it will be difficult for Dilated Peoples to open many new eyes with 20/20. —PATRICK MCCOURTY