Dilated Peoples: Directors of Photography

After an eight-year gap, Dilated Peoples are back and picking up right where they left off.

Dilated Peoples

Directors of Photography

Label: Rhymesayers
US Release Date: 2014-08-12
UK Release Date: 2014-08-11

In the eight years between this and Dilated Peoples' last proper full length, the hip-hop landscape has shifted. To illustrate just how far the scales have tilted in favor of disposable pop rap with or without an associated dance move, one only needs to look towards Nas and Nick Cannon's subtle-as-a-hammer-to-the-knee screed against corporate rap, "Eat dat watermelon". Directors of Photography helps to tilt the balance back towards thoughtful, well-crafted hip-hop, and while it doesn't quite scale the heights of Dilated Peoples' early 2000s heyday, it proves a welcome return for the group.

Dilated Peoples' catalog as a whole features albums that are often peppered with tracks that have impressive rhyming which is unfortunately paired with not-quite-there beats. Often times it isn't a case of a bad beat, more a beat that isn't quite right for the lyrics. The group seem well aware of this as the opening cut "Directors" rides a sparse, rattling march beat laced with an equally spartan piano loop -- not too busy, not too barren, but hitting that just right sweet spot to let the words flow. Rakaa and Evidence have a bit of tunnel vision regarding their subject matter, but they have made a career on knowing how to spit multiple variations on the same theme. Really, if it isn't broke, why fix it? Having said that, it's refreshing to hear them step out of their comfort zone on this album far more than they have in the past.

"Let Your Thoughts Fly Away" is a moment of vulnerability that helps to give the album balance. The boasts and braggadocio are gone, and in place of the swagger that once was, exhaustion reigns. It comes across like the tale of tired mic warriors who just want to put it down and relax for a while, weary of life in general. Whatever you might call it, it's a welcome sign of growth and a more honest reflection of where the group is not only as musicians, but simply as people.

This reflection and evolution of thought rolls forward impressively with "Century of the Self". It can seem a bit paranoid, but it serves as a fitting snapshot of how clever they can be when they turn the speed up, matched with blistering social commentary. Nothing wrong with laid-back raps, for sure, but it's good enough to conjure a longing for more of the same. More of the same does follow later on with "Opinions May Vary" but once again the Achilles heel of Dilated Peoples rears its ugly head. The lyrics lose all impact as they sink into a far-too-busy beat, which employs a real head-scratcher of a background noise (emergency broadcast beep looped throughout, anyone?) On tracks like this, they try to throw in everything and the kitchen sink and it drowns the track. There's nothing wrong at all with using talent, and Dilated Peoples have talent to offer in spades. Trying to cram too much into one song to give an unnecessary reminder of that talent doesn't help.

Directors of Photography marks Dilated Peoples' first proper full length since returning to the independent scene, and that stamp is all over it. It harkens back to the clever minimalism of The Platform, while incorporating all they've learned since their early days as a group. And though it is an uneven affair, it's a welcome breath of fresh air in the hip-hop world of 2014.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.