Whether or not you like the terms, Dilated Peoples make the quintessential “backpacker” music, the ultimate “keep it real” hip-hop. Their beats bang, their cuts are precise and their rhymes are sharp. They are like a modern Gang Starr of sorts. The Los Angeles trio of emcee Rakaa Iriscience, emcee/producer Evidence and DJ Babu truly got their start when Work The Angles blew up in 1997. Their impending LP’s (00’s The Platform, 01’s Expansion Team and 04’s Neighborhood Watch), have all shown a new level of maturity while sticking to the script. But there is a fine line between making the same album over and over again and just doing what you do best.
The album kicks off with the appropriately titled “Back Again,” yet another anthem over an Alchemist banger to the 10th degree. “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run” is more of the usual goods over Ev’s always reliable keys. Where they faltered on Neighborhood Watch, their most lackluster album by far, was in the production. 20/20 does suffer from some monotony at times (ie. “Another Sound Mission,” “Rapid Transit,” “Olde English”), but for the most part is bangs as you would expect. The Evidence-produced and Talib-slayed “Kindness For Weakness” is among the slickest shit they’ve done. Cableton helps heat up the anti-war joint Firepower, which is among the more moving music they’ve made to this point.
Of course it is longtime producer Alchemist who closes the door on the album with the title track, killing it as viciously as he did with the opener. But yet again, it is DJ Babu who really sews the album together with his nearly unbeatable prowess on the wheels of steel.
In this game you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Fans cry foul when an artist switches their style up but they bitch just as loud when an artist gets repetitive. As I said, it’s a fine line to walk. Personally, I like Dilated right where they are; this is the kind of music I want from them. Too many artists try and be all things to all people; Dilated is just being themselves. While they undoubtedly have their sound down, they have yet to perfect it as this LP still plods along at some points as their others have. As long as they keep trying to perfect it, I’ll keep listening.