HipHopDX continues our look back at Dilated Peoples’ The Platform by turning our attention to the group’s DJ. After speaking with Evidence about their album’s 20th anniversary, DX connected with DJ Babu to get his perspective on the trio’s debut LP.
In the second part of The Platform retrospective, Babu details how he ended up as a member of Dilated and remembers the independent success that attracted major labels. The veteran turntablist also reflects on The Platform’s spot in Hip Hop history and its role in showing a different side of Los Angeles rap.
How Babu Joined Dilated Peoples
Babu: I’d been making a lot of noise in the DJ battle circuit. Ev and Rakaa were looking for a DJ, literally. They knew a lot of DJs, but every show would be a different DJ. No one ever really worked out for whatever reason here and there, but they were always just swapping out DJs every time they had to do a performance. Rakaa and a mutual friend came all the way out to my hood to meet me and hung out. Me and Rakaa hit it off. Right away, he was telling me, “I’m in this group called Dilated Peoples. I have a partner named Evidence. We’re getting it going. We’re working on The Next Chapter compilation.”
I was definitely aware of it. If you go back, you’ll see that not only was Dilated Peoples on that compilation but so was Defari. It might have been the first time you heard of either of those groups. I heard this compilation and I was checking for them. I was really pumped. Rakaa threw the prospect out there, but he was like, “You’ve got to meet my partner, Evidence. We’ve been looking for a DJ.” A few months passed. We initially hit it off. We kept in touch.
Months later, I go to San Diego for this huge event B-Boy Summit. While I was down there, I happen to run into Rakaa’s partner, Evidence. He gives me the test pressing or promo record of this record he produced. He’s going on and on about it. “Yo, we have this label called ABB Records. I produced this first record with my man Defari on it. You’ve got to hear it.”
After I’d met Rakaa that initial time, I made the move to Los Angeles to manage Fat Beats LA. I was also spinning on the radio. I had a slot on Friday nights with Soul Assassins Radio on The Beat, a major radio station. I playing late on a Friday night, so I was able to play all kinds of underground stuff — all the stuff I was selling at Fat Beats. That was why Evidence was really hyped to give me the Defari record he just produced. Finally, I put the whole puzzle together on Dilated Peoples.
Ev and Rak, they were a group for many years before me. They used to go by a name they called Flatliners. They were going to be the first graffiti MCs. Then, not only did they have this whole bad deal with Sony [parent company of Epic Records], but this other group on the East Coast — Artifacts — also came out. They killed it. “Wrong Side Of The Tracks” came in. Their whole video was doing the graffiti element.
Those things factored into Evidence and Rakaa scrapping that whole Flatliners thing and going back independent. Rakaa being the multi-faceted genius he is, he literally went and found a loophole in their contract and got them out of that [Sony] deal, but they had to lose the music they recorded. They had to lose the whole album they recorded. They reemerged independently. That’s when I came into the picture. They had a lot of history before I came into the group. Maybe six, seven, eight years of them figuring it out before I came into the fold.
Attracting The Attention Of Major Labels
Babu: It was really based on vinyl records getting out to DJs. This was pre-internet too, or at least the very early days of the internet. It was still this point where college radio and underground radio and things like that still played a really big part if you were an underground artist.
We were part of this big wave. After putting out two or three 12-inches independently and continuing to do shows, this is when the excitement started from all the record labels. Ev and Rak were always one degree separated from a lot of heavy Hip Hop players here in Los Angeles. A lot of times people look at Dilated as if they were associated with Soul Assassins or associated with Likwit Crew. We’ve always been lucky enough to earn the respect of our peers in the city and get a lot of co-signs. I think Ev and Rak, coming from a record deal, they were still in that traditional style of getting a record deal. Even though we had started independently, we had this independent but major mentality.
We grew up watching groups like Cypress Hill and Tha Alkaholiks, seeing underground rap groups tour and friends would do it really big. This was a new spot, this independent thing. Even though we were having a lot of success selling 20,000-30,000 copies of the 12-inches, which is unheard of now. When the labels starting coming, it was really exciting. I had to be at Fat Beats and I remember times when Rick Rubin came into town. He was starting Def American. He was up in there buying up every single 12-inch record. I don’t even know if he even knew that I was part of Dilated Peoples. He was asking me about Dilated Peoples. That was such an exciting time. I think everybody but Def Jam came to the table and hit us up.
I remember back in the day there used to be all these labels throwing these showcases. “Come play at our label showcase. You can play in front of a bunch of A&Rs and you might get signed.” That used to be a big deal, especially when you’re coming up and trying to get a record deal. I remember us, with no ego, having some of the biggest labels come in and invite us to things like that. We would be totally humble like, “Sorry, is it Thursday night? We can’t make it, but if you’d like to come to the Roxy we might be able to put you on the guest list. We’re sold out. We’ve been sold out since the first day we put out tickets, but we might be able to put you on the guest list and you might be able to come check us out.” It was a unique situation because all these labels started courting us because of this independent run we made and what we established. We just had this bargaining chip.
Creative Freedom At Capitol Records
Babu: Ev and Rak were very smart. Both of them had been in the business since they were teenagers. They were savvier than your average rapper off the street. In fact, Ev and Rak really held out for the best possible deal. We finally found it with Capitol. For a lot of people, it probably didn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. There were still major labels putting out big rap records, so Capitol didn’t really make a lot of sense to people at the time. I mean, what did they have on there? Beastie Boys, but Beastie Boys had their own situation. Everything else on Capitol was Frank Sinatra, The Beatles. They had so much power there. You see that Capitol Records building, I mean, it’s not a joke — but it wasn’t rap world.
The genius of what we were able to do by going to Capitol is they gave us the most money and then on top of that, they gave us the most creative freedom. We were able to still distribute our records independently on vinyl and ABB Records. For the most part, obviously we had our ups and downs with that label, but initially we had full creative control to do and put out the music that we were recording. The Platform, by the time we signed a deal, it was already done. We might’ve recorded two or three more songs after we signed the deal, but a majority of that work was done independently.
That was coming out whether we signed an album deal or not. For me personally, a lot of the tunes, I came at a point where I was still getting to know my role in the group. I think I was lucky enough, I made a lot of contributions, but technically I might have only produced one song. It really was a time for me to find my groove and get to know Ev and Rakaa even better. By the time we did all that touring and recorded the first album, I don’t think we ever looked back. It’s always been an equal share between the three of us in terms of responsibility and contribution. It’s always been a blessed to be in a group with Ev and Rak. They always looked out for me like I was an equal third of the group from the very beginning.
How The Platform Changed Babu’s Life
Babu: I just remember it being a whirlwind even before the release, to be honest with you. That whole time I speak of the labels courting us and we’re putting out those independent records. You have to understand that must have been a year almost a year of us independently traveling the world and getting on radio shows that normally a label would need to get you on. Doing things like major label groups were doing, but we were doing it on an independent basis. That whole spell, I just remember it being so exciting. [Having] our videos coming out on MTV and BET and all this shit, seeing bus benches and billboards around LA, it was amazing.
It’s all a blur to me now. One thing I do remember was during that whole time I used to work at Fat Beats. At a certain point, it got so crazy, I had to stop working at Fat Beats. Finally, not because I wanted to, but just out of choice I was like, “Wow, I’m going to be gone for the next three months. I can’t even work at the store anymore because I’m such a distraction.” People were coming in just to take pictures with me.
The Legacy Of The Platform
Babu: The Platform really established us as one of those LA groups that … I don’t want to say we were different or against the grain, but we were from that lineage. We were next in line out of those great underground groups. Not to take anything away from people who get put in that category of what is West Coast Hip Hop. I hate categories and boxes because I love N.W.A. I love Snoop. I love all the classic West Coast shit. But a lot of times we had an issue with people not understanding that not everybody in LA or on the West Coast is throwing up gang signs and Crip walking. We were all influenced by that and we all want to do that, but there’s a bunch of us who do graffiti.
We come from skateboarding. We come from different backgrounds. I’m Filipino. Rak is mixed. Ev is nondescript Italian, Portuguese, Russian. But we all look like kids from LA. Look, the majority of the media, what they focus on is whatever was happening with G-Funk and gangsta stuff. I think The Platform established us as one of those other groups showing the diversity that’s been here in LA. That’s something I’m proud of. The album started to create the mystique of what Dilated Peoples is and how we’re proud to be from Los Angeles and from the West Coast.
I think something we established with The Platform is that you can make classic Hip Hop, and it doesn’t matter where you’re at geographically. It’s a mindstate. You can get love and co-signs from people from the other coast. To get props from Snoop and at the same time get props from DJ Premier, it’s like a dream. I still pinch myself sometimes that we were able to do this balancing act and co-exist here and listen to West Coast and still be rough LA, but at the same time to be able to go around the world. Our music broke down a lot of barriers. I think that’s maybe what I’m most proud of with what The Platform brought to the table.
Stream Dilated’s The Platform below and check out DX’s retrospective with Evidence here.