By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Britt Chester
By Noah Hubbell
Dilated Peoples' DJ-centric sound -- with Babu cutting and scratching over recorded loops and Evidence and Iriscience darting in and out of the mix with battle rhymes and political flows -- has helped bring rap back to its essence. By working in a style that Babu calls "new-school traditionalist," the trio channels the spirit of late-'70s, New York hip-hop and mixes it with a Cali vibe, then uses technologies and topics to update the sound so that it's relevant to the times.
"Dilated is a traditional group: two MCs and a DJ," says Babu. "We put our personality and our own flavors, but we're definitely influenced by [older] groups. We're torch-bearers of a certain era in hip-hop. I wouldn't call us old-school, because we try to stay cutting-edge, but we do feel a certain responsibility of promoting the culture."
The group is currently enjoying the success of its latest joint, Expansion Team, which was released last October. The album's first single, "Worst Comes to Worst," has received major radio and video airplay. The disc features guest-producer appearances by Premier ("Clockwork"), Da Beatminerz ("Trade Money") and the Alchemist ("Worst Comes to Worst," which also includes a cameo by Guru). Despite all of the non-Dilated personnel, however, Expansion Team finds the trio settling more comfortably into a group mentality: The interaction between the members is more fluid and spontaneous, and the bandmembers feel rhythmically in tune with one another, like players in an accomplished jazz trio.
"From my point of view, Expansion Team was just more of an honest effort from all three of us," says Babu. "I came into the fold when the first album was being worked on; I was trying to find my groove with them. I don't think I found that groove until I was finished with The Platform. From the extensive touring we do and the number of hours that we had to log together as a group, our chemistry just grew. We just all better understand each others' roles -- like we know who should take the lead, or if someone should sit back and let someone else take the lead.
"It's an album we worked on from scratch, for about ten months straight," he adds. "It's more than just two rappers and a DJ. I consider us to be a band."
Babu became much more involved in the production aspect of things on Expansion, laying down five blazing tracks that are among the album's best; the politically potent "Proper Propaganda," "Hard Hitters" (which features a collabo with Black Thought of the Roots) and "Pay Attention" are particular standouts. His "Dilated Junkies" merges the Dilated Peoples and Beat Junkies crews to produce a classic scratch-DJ track.
"That song really defines for me where my career is," Babu says. "These are my two crews, so it really is a dream come true. We tried to do it in the fashion as an MC/posse cut, except we're DJs."
Babu sees parallels in his work as producer and DJ.
"My favorite rap producers were always DJs," he says. "A lot of the same aesthetics I use in deejaying, I apply to making beats and producing. I'm a very sample-heavy producer, so being a DJ and making beats from samples is pretty much synonymous. I'm constantly working on my record collection. I'm constantly working on my sound, trying to get it tight, and all of my DJ work has helped my timing. So has playing so much of other people's music. I can't even listen to a piece of music like another regular person anymore. A piece of music comes on, and I just analyze the fuck out of it."
Expansion Team marks the Peoples' second release for Capitol. And though the band's relationship with the label is comfortable, Babu admits it took some getting used to in the early days. "Capitol had a lot of learning about our ethic and our integrity on what we would say yes to," he says. But the label's leverage has helped the group get radio play and land appearances on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and Rap City, as well as on a European tour with Linkin Park. For Babu, the opportunity to reach more listeners trumps arguments that signing with a major signals a sellout.
"Before Expansion Team dropped, in interviews and with a lot of people we talked to, they were just cold, waiting for us to flip," he says. "I think they were waiting for us to have beats by the Neptunes and Dr. Dre. I feel good how we came back. I think we shut a lot of fools up."
One person the group initially did have a hard time silencing was Eminem. Prior to the record's release, the Peoples found themselves caught up in an escalating war of words between Slim Shady and Everlast. The feud apparently started when Everlast ripped into Eminem on the Dilated Peoples' remix of "Ear Drums Pop." Eminem replied with the song "Quitter," in which he dissed the group with the line "Dilated you violated/Now you're about to get annihilated." Evidence returned the favor with this jab on the Internet single "Searchin' 4 Bobby Fisher": "Lose the haircut/You're biting George Michael." Fortunately, the Dilated-Eminem conflict cooled down before it turned ugly.