Dilated Peoples is gearing up to release its Rhymesayers Entertainment debut album, Directors Of Photography, August 12. While this may be its RSE debut, the group's far from new. They are a seasoned trio, a team that consists of Evidence, DJ Babu and Rakaa Iriscience, and they've been putting in work for nearly two decades. Moreover, they've got critically acclaimed albums stacked in their discography.
Before Dilated Peoples unveiled its latest work, HipHopDX sat down with DJ Babu to get a rundown of the group's discography. In this piece, DJ Babu takes us through the group's journey, detailing the experiences behind every major official Dilated Peoples release leading up to the upcoming Directors Of Photography album.
Dilated Peoples' The Platform, According To DJ Babu
In 2000, Dilated Peoples released The Platform. Looking back on the release, Babu says one thing quickly comes to mind. "We were very ripe," Babu, who joined the group just before the release, says. Babs had been working at Fat Beats and spinning on 92.3 The Beat prior to this album and he was already a big fan of Ev and Rak, playing Dilated cuts every night on the radio. From there, Babu became a more integral part of the group.
The Platform generates many memories for Babs. "I’m reminded of that time because we were all just the new blood in the streets, doing it," he says. "We probably got most of it done before we even signed our deal at Capitol. It reminds me of that time we had this innocence and rawness that we will probably never have again. It reminds me of the early days. I think of shit like Soundbombing and Fat Beats, when I think about The Platform. Just being in L.A., it was so exciting at the time. You think Rawkus Records. You think of Jurassic 5. There was just a lot of the early days of all those movements happening at that time."
Dilated Peoples' Expansion Team, According To DJ Babu
For 2001's Expansion Team, DJ Babu had already left his job at Fat Beats. Around this time, Babu says he noticed a change in the industry as he he made a major shift in his life.
"I became a full-time Dilated, not wanting to hold down a steady job anymore," he says. "It was weird to see how the major labels attacked this independent movement. Jurassic 5 signed a big deal. Talib Kweli at that time, Mos Def, Rawkus, everyone was making major jumps, just moving up to playing on a different playing field."
DJ Babu says the album also represents a jump for Dilated Peoples. "I think Expansion Team, that’s arguably our best record," Babu says. "If you ask a Dilated fan, I would say maybe seven out of 10 people would say that out of our catalog, seven out of 10 Dilated fans say Expansion Team is the one."
Babu says this might be due to the group's heightened focus on this project.
"We realized that we were doing this for real," he says. "This is our job. This is our life. We got to tour the world once already and we loved it. We wanted to keep going. So it got more serious. I think maybe that’s the start of our innocence being stripped away. Being exposed to all the ups and downs, playing this game on a major label level. It was still growing. It was a weird time. It was before the Internet. Magazines still had weight. Getting a video on BET still meant a lot. We were all grounded in grinding it out and working it out. We were just tremendously on the road, seven to eight months a year. We were just out there touring. Those are the things I think about when I think about the second album."
Dilated Peoples' Neighborhood Watch, According To DJ Babu
Things continued to evolve for the group on 2004's Neighborhood Watch, though some of those changes weren't great ones for Babu.
"I remember it just being more difficult," he says, thinking about Neighborhood Watch. "I remember it being more things for the label. I remember wanting to have way more a say in what we do and how we wanted to be perceived. I don’t want to make it sound like it was all bad. It was still great because I love that record. We made incredible music with that record. I think within ourselves, we were fighting. You know, being an independent rap group signed to Capitol Records, it was tough. I think we had an inner conflict. We all wanted to do what we do and the sky’s the limit. We wanted to do it on our terms. We had to deal with sample clearances. We had to deal with competing with whoever is on the radio. We had to deal with whoever is calling the shots at Capitol. We had to deal with all of these kind of things, for us three Hip Hop kids out of L.A. who don’t know anything but raps, beats and cuts, I think that time, it was - as great as the music was that we made - it still was confusing. We were being exposed and being influenced by different things. I think at that time, 50 Cent was running everything. We even had a beat by Reef [Rob ‘Reef’ Tewlow], that’s our OG homie. He produced ‘What Up Gangsta’ for 50 Cent. I remember that being a big deal for us, ‘Reef’s the fucking man.' We got a joint from him. We wound up trying new things. We didn’t want to be locked in out box. We wanted to grow. I remember that record being a big growing pain. Neighborhood Watch was a big growth for us."
Another significant beat on this album came from Kanye West, who produced "This Way," a single off the album.
"That was a big change for us as well," Babu says. "We had a little success. We were on TV. You know? ‘This Way’ really knocked down doors that had been shut to us. All of a sudden, we are getting play on places that we never got play before. All of a sudden, my family…I’m talking relatives, like my mother and father, finally understanding what I do for a living. My mom would watch BET's countdown everyday knowing that we were in the Top 10 some days."
Not everyone was as supportive as the BET voters or Babs' mom.
"It was different," he says. "It was a big learning experience for us. I think we had a lot of backlash from our fans. If you listen, and you’re hardcore, that one song is different."
Despite this, Babs says, he doesn't regret making the West collab.
"I look back at it now and I have no regrets," he says. "I love ‘This Way.’ It was a great song. To this day, I get chills on my spine when we perform it, just the impact it has."
Dilated Peoples' 20/20, According To DJ Babu
With all of the Neighborhood Watch success, Dilated hit the studio again for 2006's 20/20, which would become the group's last album for years. At the time, Dilated was focused on a vision, he says.
"I think 20/20 was a lot of us trying to reaffirm who we were," Babu says. "I think we knew our relationship with Capitol was getting shittier. 'Let’s get this one off. Let’s work. I don’t know which side is going to initiate us getting out of here. Let’s do us to the fullest.' That’s what 20/20 was. I think we knew we would make an exit move from Capitol sooner or later. We were on some shit like, 'Hey, let’s do us.’ If we are going to go out, let’s go out like this.'"
While the group wanted to make a statement, they still wanted to have an album released.
"We weren’t gonna go to the point where they shelved our record," he says.
Still, this provided an added focus.
"I really felt as if we made it a point to come extra, more for our core. 20/20 was always for the people, from us."
Dilated Peoples' Directors Of Photography, According To DJ Babu
Even though the group didn't release an album between 2006 and 2014, that doesn't necessarily mean there was anything wrong with the trio as they took time away from Dilated to focus on other efforts.
"I think it was necessary," Babu says. "The place where a lot of guys break up, we decided to take a break. We’re brothers first and foremost. For us, we know when we need a break. We still did shows and supported each other’s solo records. If Ev’s out there, it’s not weird for me to be deejaying for him, or for Rak to pop up, or vice versa. We knew we needed a little room from each other. That’s one thing to say about being on a major label, the grind, to be on that level, it’s beyond 24/7. It’s going, going, going, you know. You can never turn down an opportunity. You could never have a bad day. You keep going. We needed that break. We needed to decompress. On many levels, creatively, personally. Obviously creatively, I went and did my thing. Ev went and did his thing. Rakaa did his thing. Rakaa did things like finish school and get his degree. You know, I’m over here, I’m raising two boys, on top of my deejay career, as well as being member of other groups and other bands. Like I have endeavors I want to chase down. For us, we needed that, nice, healthy break from Dilated."
Still, they all knew when it was time to craft the next Dilated album, Directors Of Photography.
"We all have this incredible love for Dilated and we wanted to keep nurturing it," he says. "We all know that it is bigger than the three of us. Dilated’s the shit for us. I don’t know if this is our last record or whatnot. How we felt was, 'This is key.' We promised ourselves. We promised that this was going to be something we were going to make happen. There were a few hiccups down the road, some personal shit that probably slowed us down getting to the record anytime sooner. I needed to take a year or two off, myself, from the music to take care of some family biz.
"When we finally got into it, that even took longer than expected because we had to get back into the groove with each other and sharpen our swords," he adds. "For us, we knew we owed it to the fans. I know that we didn’t think we were done. We still had something to say, something to give."
"We didn’t do this for money," Babu continues. "We didn’t do this for popularity. We really did this because we honestly still felt like we had something to give our fans and we had something for ourselves, for our legacy. If anything, we felt like this legacy needs this album. It deserves this album. I feel like this album brings us full circle. There’s a real peace to this record that, like I said, we’ll never have that rawness and innocence that we had on The Platform. We are pretty damn close on this one, in a different sense, that we were just very hard on each other and very real with each other. We pulled no punches with each other. If someone didn’t do their job that day, they heard it. If the song wasn’t cutting it, trash that shit, back to the drawing board. Just even the way we recorded, it was like back to being in Ev’s studio. The first record, we did a lot in his apartment. So many ways, it was back to square one with this record. The record really feels like a full circle for us, or almost full circle, because I don’t know what the future holds for us. Are we going to record another Dilated record? I don’t know. This one feels good. We are all really excited to be presenting it to everyone."