Cole Rehearsal Studios in Hollywood: Weezer and the Mars Volta practice here; Rage Against the Machine recorded their Evil Empire album here. Now turntable terror DJ Babu of Dilated Peoples strolls around a soundproof rehearsal room holding a big-ass bong. “Do you want a hit?” he asks studio manager Tony, as if offering a cup of tea. But that’s Dilated Peoples — three humble dudes who’d give you their last hit of kush.
“?‘Back Again’ is a proclamation,” says rapper Rakaa, with his flaming fro. “That’s our foot coming through the door, letting people know what time it is!” From the new 20/20 album, the Peoples’ single is big — the NBA is playing the jam on broadcasts; the Lakers’ Lamar Odom, a big fan, appeared in the video. Yeah, Dilated Peoples are riding high with their fourth album on Capitol, but they’ve been in the game for a minute now, and they know how to appreciate every second. “Dilated were just doing us, 130 percent,” says MC and producer Evidence. “There’s no formula-chasing. It’s a complete blessing.”
Dilated Peoples began in Venice: By chance, Evidence (dubbed so by longtime friend Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas) moved right next to Quincy Jones’ son, QD3. “I was a graffiti artist,” says Evidence. “My mother would let me paint on my back wall, and QD3’s garage was next to the wall. He would play loud music, so I introduced myself. He said, ‘I’m Quincy, and I’m a rap producer.’?” QD3, who made his name producing 2Pac, invited Evidence to sit in his sound lab, where Evidence would draw in his graffiti books while Ice Cube or Too $hort stepped in and out.
Inspired to take up rapping himself, Evidence got a beat tape from QD3 and took it to fellow Midcity graffiti artist Rakaa. When the two nabbed Filipino spinner DJ Babu (of the Beat Junkies crew), the group was complete. They still needed a name, though; friend and go-to producer Alchemist laid “Dilated Peoples” on them.
“It had some street flair,” says Evidence. “Sounded like an army.”
After their 2000 debut, The Platform(on Capitol), Dilated Peoples hit it big in 2001 with the Alchemist-produced “Worst Comes to Worst,” which L.A.’s Power 106 put in heavy rotation. In 2004 came Neighborhood Watch, which brought Dilated major mainstream attention, with Kanye West and his friend John Legend appearing on the smash “This Way.”
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“Kanye West blessed us,” says Evidence. “I mean, all kinds of opportunities came about.”
Though the record was a banger, it didn’t cross over financially. Still, says Rakaa, “The exposure was on a bigger level than ever — everything across the board was off the charts compared to how it had been before.”
Today, Dilated Peoples are focusing on their new record. “20/20 is what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity,” says Evidence. “I don’t think you will find another record in 2006 this raw on a major label!” Producer Alchemist returns; rappers Talib Kweli, Defari and Krondon of Strong Arm Steady make guest appearances; Dr. Greenthumb (B-Real) makes herbal calls; reggae artist Capleton throws flames on “Firepower.” Dilated’s staples — true deejaying and emceeing backing up politically charged lyrics — are in full effect. Here’s Rakaa on “Alarm Clock Music”: “We need black and brown unity/So we need to keep that jail shit out of the community/Plus George got a few more years/That’s a couple of wars there and a couple more here.”
Dilated Peoples have their own campaign strategy: spitting heavy artillery and dropping bomb beats. “We didn’t come into the game to lose,” says Rakaa. “There’s a lot of fabricated groups out there, a lot of cookie-cutter nonsense, but the reason that we always win is because it’s real. And when it all comes down to it, people are going to recognize the real.”