Seven years. That is how long fans of hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples waited and wondered if the group would ever release a new album or if the group—DJ Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa—had called it a career after the release of its 2006 album 20/20. Now after that long wait, Dilated Peoples has triumphantly returned with a record that is a viable candidate to be one of the top new rap and hip-hop albums of 2014 in Directors of Photography. The album is aptly titled, especially considering the fact that this record is the first for the group with new label Rhymesayers Entertainment. Before signing with Rhymesayers, Dilated Peoples’ had released its previous four albums through Capitol Records going all the way back to its major label debut the Platform (2000). The significance of the album’s title is linked to the possibility that while signed with Capitol, Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa likely didn’t have the control that they would have liked over the sound and feel of their work. So much like the Director of Photography has the final say in the look and feel of a movie, TV show or advertisement, so did the group have that same kind of control upon signing with the indie label Rhymesayers. The end result is an album that was well worth the wait for any long-time Dilated Peoples fan and just as welcome a first listen for those that might be new to the L.A.-based trio’s music.
Director of Photography’s lead single ‘Good as Gone’ is a fitting opener, especially considering that fans waited for this album for seven years. The song comes across as a defiant, self-assured piece that lets the critics know that the group is back just as strong as ever. That argument can be made by looking at the song’s first verse in which Rakaa raps, “I was getting buried alive/Heard the dirt hit the coffin top/I barely survived/But I broke through my grave/Ripped the pine box seal apart/Head first yelling, “maggot brain,funkadelic art/Fear is a dark side/Fair-weather friends flock/Hitchcock/sam birds scatter when the end stop.” He goes on to make note through so much negativity, he didn’t let those fake friends and other naysayers get him down. As he notes, “took heavy fire/Survived the crash landing/Smiled to walk away from the wreckage/The last man standing.” Evidence seems to echo that sentiment as he raps in the song’s second verse, “Devise a plan and I execute it/Till I’m undisputed/If the record never stated/I’ve been showing most improvement/At a time when my peers declined/I used it as a booster/Used the dedication as a plus/I ain’t used to losers.” It comes across in the grand scheme of things as a defiant statement that shows that Dilated Peoples is anything but Good as Gone. If anything, this first impression from the veteran hip-hop trio gives fans hope that the group’s fifth full length album won’t be its last.
Babu, Rakaa, and Evidence followed up the success of ‘Good as Gone’ just recently with the release of the second single from Directors of Photography, ‘Show Me The Way (ft. Aloe Blacc).’ This seemingly introspective song presents yet another positive message to listeners as Evidence and Rakaa go back and forth in a sort of call and response late in the song. Evidence starts the cycle, rapping, “It’s routine/By the beach I rise/First up/I hit the 8$&%/Then I bleach my eyes/then it’s to the drum machine to speak my mind/Tracks like fitted hats/pick a beat m y size.’ Rakaa responds “Energized/On the darkest streets I shine/Saw the light up on the mountain/To the peak I climb/Breathtaking new perspectives on the life I grind/First tear of joy fell/Looking like I’m crying/For just a moment.” Evidence’s response to Rakaa’s line, “The feeling of being content/Not needing a dollar or a cent/Smile for my mama/Cause she proud/The studio/My headphones loud.” Rakaa finishes the cycle, rapping, “Bridge builders will connect these crowds/Dedicated on my honor/You can check these vows/That’s purpose/Power to make the powerful nervous/Hard work ain’t easy/But usually ain’t worth it.” Evidence and Rakaa work together here to make a song that is a very lyrically uplifting piece, and a piece that illustrates even more what makes Directors of Photography well worth the listen.
Directors of Photography serve is a record that any hip-hop and rap fan should hear. The two singles that the album has spawned so far solidly back up that argument. If only one more song could be chosen as an example of what makes this album the worthwhile listen that it is, it would have to be the album’s second track ‘Cut My Teeth.’ This song comes across as a no nonsense piece that pays homage to the days before Dilated Peoples broke through and became a household name. The song’s very first verse makes that clear, as Evidence raps, “I remember how it all began/I used to switch graffiti tips on cans with both hands/No chance/I knew they couldn’t stop this rush/Our bus bench was a stop/And they ain’t stopping the bus.” He goes on to rap about when he really got into rap and where it would eventually lead to today. Rakaa follows suit noting the difficulties that he faced growing up and how he overcame them. He writes in the verse’s closing lines, “Standing at the crossroads/I saw a different world was mine/It was with me all the time/Appreciative, never satisfied/Inspired to climb/Eyes wide/Mid city lit that fire inside.” While the stories crafted by Evidence and Rakaa are obviously quite personal, it could be argued that the positive ending to each story could serve as inspiration to so many audiences; inspiration not necessarily that everyone will get into the rap game. Rather, inspiration to overcome any of life’s difficult situations. Their stories remind listeners that as difficult as things might be at any time in life, it is always possible to make life better. Just keep that positive drive. It is that message of inspiration that makes ‘Cut My Teeth’ one more solid example of what makes Directors of Photography well worth the listen and potentially one of the best new rap and hip-hop albums of the year.
Directors of Photography is available now in stores and online. It can be downloaded direct from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/directors-of-photography/id888406737. Audiences can hear these songs and plenty more from the group live as it tours in support of its new album. Dilated Peoples is scheduled to perform live this Saturday, September 13th at Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union on the campus of San Diego State University. It will follow up that performance with another live show next Saturday, September 20th at Cervantes’ and The Other Side in Denver, Colorado. Audiences can check out Dilated Peoples’ current tour schedule online now at http://rhymesayers.com/dilatedpeoples and http://www.facebook.com/dilatedpeoples. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.