Music

Dilated Peoples: 20/20

With 20/20, the team of DJ Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa the Iriscience, "back for the very fourth time", clearly intends to refocus and sharpen its vision for a return to past glory.


Dilated Peoples

20/20

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2006-02-21
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Dilated Peoples have always been about vision. Their near-classic debut album, 2000's The Platform, was literally that: a platform to greater success outside the Bay Area underground, and its 2001 follow-up, Expansion Team, saw the expansion and growth of their sound along with their profile. While the West Coast late 90s underground feel stayed consistent throughout, the beats-and-rhymes combination seemed more evolved with their sophomore release, and their prospects higher than ever before. They changed the focus of their vision with Neighborhood Watch, moving their sound in a new direction to mixed results and somewhat disappointing album sales, although the album spawned their biggest hit yet, the Kanye-West-produced breakout "This Way". With 20/20, the team of DJ Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa the Iriscience, "back for the very fourth time", clearly intends to refocus and sharpen its vision for a return to past glory.

And from the start, 20/20 is clearly strong. "Back Again" is the kind of hard-hitting Alchemist banger Dilated Peoples needed to silence the doubters, and it's the perfect encapsulation of the best aspects of their sound. MCs Evidence and Rakaa never rap at any speed above "slow, precise lope", but they're laid-back dope in their own unique way, emphasizing the casual punchlines and drilling every word into your brain. And the rhymes themselves are fairly strong -- the Diddy-referencing "Don't worry if I write checks, I write rhymes" has been getting quoted a lot, but "It's a new year, ok, I got shit to confess / Like I don't smoke any moreхbut I don't smoke any less" is an even better example, punctuated with mischievous laughter from Evidence. Its not technically impressive like a Kweli or a Busdriver track would be, but it's inexplicably, slow-motion tight.

They keep the quality going for a little bit, with "You Can't Hide, You Can't Run" matching a punchy beat from Evidence with Babu-scratched soul samples. This segues nicely into "Alarm Clock Music", a socially-conscious kick-in-the-ass of a strong beat that drives along insistently before cutting out at intervals to a wonderfully alarmist looping piano smash. Rakaa shows off his new political bent here ("Arabic name, not a nickname / That and the frame makes it hard to get planes"), but he never gets caught in the pitfall of self-congratulating preachiness, and it's actually one of the album's higher points.

This leads to the first major problem of the album: it's essentially front-loaded, packing its most powerful punch in the first few tracks and then simmering to a lower level of heat. "Olde English" is probably the low point of the album Җ an ugly, buzzy mess of a song and while the remaining tracks are better, they still never quite manage to regain their initial momentum. Talib Kweli shows up for "Kindness for Weakness"; "Rapid Transit" with Strong Arm Steady's Krondon is a bit too hooky to really work; the DJ Babu showcase "The One and Only" is a nice touch. Most later songs, like "The Eyes Have It" and title track "20/20", are solid listens (and a nice change from commercial gangsta-ism) but nothing spectacular.

The rappers themselves, Evidence and Rakaa, put in similarly solid-but-not-exceptional work here. Evidence shines more here than in the past, dropping essentially single-minded braggadocio raps laced with undeniably clever one-liners; Rakaa lays off the boasting and puts in fewer quotables, but his efforts at social commentary and consciousness are admirable and, what's more, genuinely likeable. While their calmly-paced verses can feel lazy in rare instances, when they're on point, they֒re inarguably appealing.

After three albums of beat/scratch-driven laid-back rap, the Dilated Peoples formula is starting to wear just the slightest bit thin, and it'll take more than this to get them back on track. Tracks like the reggae-flavored "Firepower" with Capleton show that taking their sound in new directions can work for them; it would be interesting to see them expand their vision more like this in future efforts. 20/20 is a strong, good album: it only lacks that singular feel, that urgent spark, that could push it on to greatness. And in the end, while it is a step up from Neighborhood Watch, it's still essentially single-driven, and it fails to reach the heights of that album's classic-vibe precursors.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image