As one of the few groups that made their mark during the independent surge in the late 90’s and went to sign with a major without compromise, I just love to see Dilated getting their due. After 2001’s “Expansion Team,” or more specifically the single “Worst Comes to Worst,” Dilated seemed to be ready to make that jump to a gold record and shed the backpacker stigma. Certainly, it has not hurt having hip-hop’s current golden child blessing their lead single “This Way” (not to mention the tour with him).

For those who watched them work the angles on the underground platform, not a whole lot has changed for the Los Angeles trio. They’ve updated the formula, but much like Gang Starr they have stuck with the sound that has brought them this far. Unfortunately, “Neighborhood Watch” takes some time to get rolling. Where “Expansion Team” flew out of the gate and trailed off towards the end, this album is the exact opposite. Both “Marathon” and “Caffeine” are b-material and “Tryin’ To Breathe” is some good laid-back shit, but horribly misplaced as the third track. Alchemist’s sparse piano stabs and hand claps get things going with “Poisonous” as Evidence, Iriscience and Devin The Dude warn you of trifling females. Tell me again how people are still sleeping on Devin The Dude? “Reach Us” is even better as it is reminiscent of their classic “Years In The Making.” Rakaa gets his first of two solo cuts with “Big Business”; a politically charged rhyme that is one of the finest of his career. His other solo cut is a ridiculous Alchemist banger “World on Wheels.” Bring the amps out for that one kiddies.

“Love and War” is another of the album’s gems, capped by Babu’s turntable wizardry. Speaking of which, his tribute to Primo on “Babu In Deep Concentration” is just so dope. Closing out the album is the very disappointing posse cut “Closed Session” with Defari, Phil Da Ag, and Planet Asia. Maybe the rhymes weren’t too inspired because the beat is so boring. The feel-good jam of the year (so far anyway) more than makes up for it though. I am referring of course to the aforementioned Kanye West assisted “This Way.” All in all, “Neighborhood Watch” is a good album, but some uneven spots really keep it from being as satisfying as their previous work. Yet considering they are getting spins alongside the likes of Chingy, this album should the MTV crowd a much needed dose of the true school. Expand and dilate.