Despite hip-hop's widespread popularity, DJ culture, one of the foundations of the genre, continues to receive commercial short shrift. Although most fans dig it when turntablists spin on stage, only a relative few seek out the discs such jocks make on their own. And that's a drag, given that many of these platters actually advance the art form rather than simply provie a medium for dudes driven to boast about penis size and bitch-slapping.
The Platform, by Dilated Peoples, a longtime staple of the Los Angeles hip-hop scene, may not change that, but it's definitely among the most accessible DJ-driven opuses to be released by a major label. Unlike DJs Shadow and Spooky, whose finest work is often instrumental in nature, DJ Babu, who's also part of the Beat Junkies, seamlessly melds his artistry with the emceeing of two compatriots, Rakaa and Evidence. Lyrically, these microphone-handlers seldom plow new ground; the title track, for instance, is nothing more, and nothing less, than an old-school skills tribute. But their delivery is sturdy and smart, providing shape and structure around which Babu is able to work his wizardry. Samples and scratches swarm around the rappers like mad electrons, creating patterns that are at once dizzyingly complex and eminently logical. "No Retreat" is a mighty prime example: The track is ostensibly a showcase for guest B-Real, of Cypress Hill fame, yet its major elements -- a theatrical bass riff, a flurry of vocal snippets ("No surrender and no retreat!"), satisfying breakbeats and background tones that come and go like passing sirens -- make it considerably more memorable.
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Other acts making cameo appearances here include Tha Alkaholiks (they enliven the stoner-rap jam "Right On"), Defari, part of a celebrity support crew featured on the remix of "Ear Drums Pop," and Aceyalone, whose contributions to "The Shape of Things to Come" demonstrate once again why he deserves a lot better than the obscurity in which he's presently mired. But Babu's the star of the disc, thanks largely to a range broad enough to encompass both "The Main Event," which mixes faux flutes and brass snorts, and "Annihilation," an exercise in terminal funkiness. Lovers of hardcore probably won't be floored by the results, if only because there's precious little bloodshed here other than the metaphorical variety. But The Platform still gives the DJs of the world something solid to stand on.