Dilated Peoples is slated to release its upcoming album, Directors of Photography, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. The trio, which consists of DJ Babu, Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience, is finalizing the collection, slated to be the group’s fifth album and its first since 2006’s 20/20. Dilated Peoples spoke with HipHopDX about their upcoming project and its development. They also addressed how their new work is different, while still remaining true to the group’s roots. 

“In this process, not that much has changed,” DJ Babu says, speaking exclusively to HipHopDX. “You’d be surprised how easily you fall back into your roles and understand where you fit in with each other. Being in the studio is definitely something that we love and something that we would probably do whether we had a Dilated album to work on or not. We’re like studio rats. Ev was definitely producing the shit out of this record. All of us, but Ev was really striving for a sound. We still are striving for a particular cohesive sound that we’re trying to get. Things have changed since we’ve been around, but we’re trying to walk a fine line between keeping it classic and pushing it forward…We’ve spent a lot of time sharpening our swords and I feel like Ev’s been leading us in that direction, to really try new things while still being us.”

Although Dilated Peoples has not released a new album in eight years, its group members have not stopped collaborating with one another.

“We’ve never stopped working together,” Rakaa Iriscience says. “We worked on each other’s projects. We still tour around the world year-round, doing festivals and mini-tours all year. Even though we don’t do a lot of stuff out here in the States and there hasn’t been an album campaign, we still tour. So, the live chemistry and the working chemistry is there. But as far as the creative direction of what we’re trying to say and how we’re trying to say it, it’s been many years of working on solo projects, so like anything else, you kind of have to figure out where the lines are and maintain your inspiration through the that. That’s been a balancing act in itself, but I think some really dope material has come out of our ability to do that.”

“I think a lot of it is also, regardless of how we get along or deal with each other socially, we’ve worked with each other,” Rakaa continues. “It’s basically like we’ve gone to war together. So, we have a lot of respect and appreciation for each other. We always had different friends. We always had different social circles that we ran in, even though a lot of times they linked and overlapped. We hung out just by virtue of that, but we’re artists. We got together like this was an art crew. Out of that, we support each other, protect each other and respect each other’s privacy and private lives as well…I think that’s also the strength, the fact that if Ev is working on a solo project, I’m worried about how to help him promote that. I’m not worried about where’s mine, and vice versa.” 

Dilated Peoples Discuss Chemistry, Say They’re A Family   

Dilated Peoples has been able to maintain the chemistry that Rakaa describes due to their rich bond, says Evidence. 

“I don’t think it’s friendship,” Evidence says. “I think it’s family at this point. Friends do friend shit, but we do more family shit. So, it’s like, so many years and so much history, it’s basically like part of your DNA. It’s a code that becomes written into you. What we do on stage as the three of us, or what we do in the studio, it’s been a longtime coming. So, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of things that didn’t happen overnight that jelled over time, but there was also a lot of youth in our beginning shit. So, a lot of the mistakes were great because of innocence that was behind it. There’s a difference between being young and inexperienced and being skilled and wise. We’re trying to take those energies and put it in the middle.

Rakaa and DJ Babu echo those sentiments. 

“Wanting to see each other succeed and wanting the best for each other, like Ev said, it really comes down to a family bond more than we’re homies and we hang out and do pull-ups on the corner together drinking 40s,” Rakaa says. 

“Ev, Rakaa and I are brothers at this point,” Babu adds. “We’ve seen alot of groups come and go for a long time. We’ve managed to stay here doing what we do and we’re still in the middle of this experience of doing this new record. But it’s been an incredible learning experience and an appreciation for the wars and battles we’ve endured.”

They continue to face any challenges as a family, creating an album in a self-sufficient manner, they say, with Evidence and DJ Babu handling a bulk of the production on Directors of Photography.

Dilated Peoples Discuss Directors Of Photography’s Development

“Babu and I are doing the majority of the production, which is very different from when we were just excited to have two or three tracks on an album before,” Evidence says. “I think we still are excited just to have two or three [songs on the album], but it’s working out that we’re getting more. It changes everything when you are really self-making an album and not hiring people. It’s really different. Not to mention, we’re making music in our studio with different mixing techniques. We’re from an analog era, so we’re doing things differently right now.” 

Rakaa says the production from Evidence and Babu is set to help this album’s progress. 

“Before we even started the record, they kind of took on the responsibility of being the main producers for the album,” Rakaa says of Evidence and Babu. “That means figuring out what’s gonna happen to the beats, but that also means making the songs the best they can be, even if they didn’t make the beat. It is a very personal thing, but to see how much both of them have internalized it emotionally, the passion is very much there. It’s kind of a two-edged sword, really, but ultimately, Dilated Peoples has made our best work when there’s some kind of friction that leads to some kind of heed, when everyone sees something out of the potential and we’re all just figuring out how to stress the same thing. On this record, there’s been a lot of that magic. I think a lot of that has come out of Ev and Babs being very personal…In this group, I think Ev and Babs have really brought direction to the table.” 

Rakaa has been open to the direction, according to his groupmates.

“Rakaa, on this project, has just been open and willing to try and do anything, being like water to adapt to new things,” Babu says. 

“There’s a lot of openness from [Rakaa],” Evidence adds. “He’s willing to be produced, which is exciting when an artist is willing to be produced. That can also lead to instances where it’s tense…because I want you to do it like this and you want to do it like that, but I’m the producer of the song, so are you gonna listen to me or not? Now, I’m willing to take the same direction when I get in the booth.

“Every producer needs to be produced, by the way,” Evidence continues. “When you get in there, the role reverses. I guarantee you. I guarantee it. I haven’t been there, but if my heart was to say it, I guarantee you Dr. Dre would take direction from the person he was listening to when he was recording his vocals, even though he knows how to tell the person better than anyone in the world how to kick it, he would probably get in the booth and say, ‘Yo, how did that sound?’ This is my theory, but I would imagine [that]. So, I try to do what I imagine he’d do. [So I ask], ‘Was that line good? Am I killin’ it? Am I not? Did I do well? Did I not do well?’ I think we’re being a lot more honest with each other on this album about how we feel about each other’s work. There’s been times where Rakaa went in the booth before and walked out. ‘That’s it. I’m done.’ And that went on the record. This time, it’s like, ‘Yo, why don’t you change line 16?’ I think brutal honesty is in effect, a little bit.” 

Rakaa says he’s open to this because he understands the direction he gets is constructive. 

“You also have to trust the person that you’re talking to and know that they know how to get the best out of you and that they know what they’re talking about and that they really have a vision for this,” Rakaa says. “They’re not trying to exercise or stroke their own ego. They’re really trying to achieve something greater. So, when you’re an artist and you have conflicting opinions, there’s always going to be tension. If you care enough to be honest, you’re not going to always agree. We care enough to be honest so we’re definitely not gonna always agree, but we make great music.” 

“He knows,” Evidence adds. “My motive for [Rakaa] is to be the best. I want to be scared of him. I want to feel like I got taken out. That’s my goal. So, why are you gonna not trust that? I want you to kill shit. That’s my goal. That’s it. There’s nothing ulterior about it.”

Babu says any conflict or tension that may arise stems from the group’s desire to excel.

“I think it’s a product of our passion,” Babu says. “Dilated means so much to the three of us. We just want the best for this record and the best for each other. It ain’t easy. We’re in there pushing trying to get the best from each other. We’re a group, but we’re a self-produced group.”

Dilated Peoples On Directors Of Photography’s Significance 

Since the self-produced group’s 2006 release, 20/20, each of Dilated’s members has worked on solo efforts. Evidence released 2007’s The Weatherman via ABB Records and 2011’s Cats & Dogs via Rhymesayers Entertainment. Rakaa dropped Crown of Thorns in 2010 via Decon. Babu has been producing his The Beat Tape series and his Duck Season series via Nature Sounds, among other projects. Growth in these individual efforts has allowed the crew to pull from various resources to make Directors of Photography more complete, they say.

“We came together as solo [artists],” Rakaa says. “We respect each other as solo artists and have a lot of respect for each other’s solo process. We definitely pull from solo experiences. We learn a lot as solo artists. So we’re open to that. But just because something worked for you as a solo artist or me as a solo artist, it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing for Dilated. We also keep that in mind as well. So we let everything exist and be what it’s gonna be, but us as solo artists and everything that we bring to the table as solo artists is what makes Dilated Peoples.” 

Evidence says his solo development has allowed him to bring more personal depth to Dilated’s work.

“I always said that Directors of Photography would be a dope title so I could tie some personal stuff that I wanted to with my mom’s situation or photography or whatever,” Evidence says. “I think that’s the dynamic of this album, learning from our personal experiences and bringing it to Dilated. We used to rap about rapping. We would rap about how we were tight, or we would have an anthem, or we’d make a concept and rap around the concept, but this time, I think, we’re letting who we are show a little bit. We’ve done so much growth as solo artists. To not bring it up at all here and pretend we haven’t had this off time or we haven’t had this growth period, it would be a disservice.”

However that doesn’t mean that Dilated is changing completely, Evidence says. They understand what their fans continue to appreciate about them.

“We represent something to people, like Gang Starr represents something,” Evidence says. “I say that with being a fan of Gang Starr, believe me. We represent something to somebody. Just to up and change that just because times have changed over the last few years we haven’t been making music would really suck. So, how do you go back to the place where you left off but still keep an updated formula? It’s a trick. It’s really not easy. This is where a lot of groups go wrong. I’m just gonna make sure we do the right thing here.” 

Dilated Peoples Describe Rhymesayers’ Importance 

For this next phase, Dilated Peoples decided to join Rhymesayers Entertainment, an imprint that has released several projects since the 1990s by various acts including Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Eyedea & Abilities. The imprint also released Evidence’s 2011 solo collection Cats & Dogs, making it a familiar home for the Dilated family. 

“It’s a strong independent and creative organization,” Rakaa says of Rhymesayers. “Really good people are running it. Hard working people are running it. All things considered, they’re relatively self sufficient. They know us. They respect what we do. We’ve been talking. Even before Ev did his solo deal, that was always something that was a possibility. So, Ev doing a solo deal and it being successful definitely gave us the confidence and level of comfort to really take the opportunity seriously.” 

“They are killing the independent game,” Evidence adds. “If we’re not going to be on a major label, this is where we should be…We’ve been on a major label for four albums. We’ve done the radio game. We’ve done the video game. We’ve lived a bunch of lives. I wouldn’t discourage anybody from doing that. I’d recommend it. But being that I’ve done it, it’s not something I’d want to go back to at this point.”

The group decided to join Rhymesayers because they knew the label respected artistic individuality, Rakaa says, citing “the diversity of the roster and the support for the diversity of the roster.”

“They allow people to be themselves and they support the movement for people,” Rakaa says. “I think that Rhymesayers, so far, from what I can tell, seems to be that type of organization. They want people to be who they are. They’re not just saying, ‘Come here and be this because our researchers and our A&R department and others think it’d be better if you memorize dance routines or whatever.’ We just do what we do and they appreciate that. They also have a strong independent work ethic and they appreciate that we have a strong independent work ethic. We’ve made their job relatively easy for them. They don’t have to rescue us or resuscitate us. They just have to change the logo out on the artwork and keep it moving.” 

The group is going to keep working, finalizing their next release, while continuing to grow as a collaborative unit.  

“We’re in the closing stretch of it and we’re trying to finish strong,” Babu says. “Right now, the magnifying glass is on. We’re being really tough on ourselves about the next few ones. We’re trying to push ourselves. We’re molding out some very important pieces to the record right now, but we’ve got a really solid base of material that I can’t wait for people to hear.” 

Photography By: Andres Tardio

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