When the members of a rap group go solo, the results can be disastrous, both when it comes to the music and the friendships. When there's, eventually, inevitably, a reunion tour or new album, it reeks of anticlimax.
Not so for venerable L.A. hip-hop act Dilated Peoples, however. Since the release of their fourth and final album on Capitol Records in 2006, Dilated’s members — Evidence, Rakaa (Iriscience), and DJ Babu — have each succeeded as solo artists. Despite rumors of a permanent split, they’ve never disbanded, touring Europe together at least once every year and appearing on each another’s albums. Currently finishing their tour with Jurassic 5, the group’s first album in eight years, Directors of Photography, drops today, August 12, on Rhymesayers.
“We don’t have those nightmare rock ‘n’ roll stories where we stole each other’s money and now we’re getting over it because we need to pay taxes,” Evidence says, speaking by phone as the tour bus cuts through Kansas. “We’re doing this because we want to do it.”
Directors of Photography is as much a product of the group’s shared history — they've spent nearly two decades together — as their time apart. The chemistry between Evidence and Rakaa remains palpable, but their verses are more personal this time around. Eschewing nostalgia, they temper battle rhyme braggadocio with introspection grounded in the present, capturing themselves and L.A. in a series of intimate close ups.
Though beats are divided between Evidence, Babu, and a coterie of prominent producers (DJ Premier, Alchemist, and Jake One), the sound remains cohesive, and true to the group's essence. Boom-bap drums still hit with the force of waves slamming Venice pier pillars, and Babu’s impeccable scratching still stitches the tracks together.
“We were very adamant about not putting [Directors of Photography] out unless it came out correct,” Evidence says.
The album title stems from Evidence’s interest in photography, which was inspired by his late mother, who worked as professional photographer. On Instagram, Evidence has thousands of followers who have no idea he raps. “[I think people are] coming up to me at a restaurant because they’re going to give me props on my music, but they’re like, ‘Mr. Evidence, I like you on Instagram,’” he says, laughing.
Evidence’s yen for photography eventually led both Rakaa and Babu to step behind the lens as well. The CD version of the album comes packaged with photos shot by each member, several of which are named after the new songs.
Though proud of the record and its packaging, Evidence is reserved when asked about its potential impact. “I don’t really know what to expect with this one,” he explains. “What you can accomplish with three months on a major label might take a year’s worth of working on an independent.”
Today, Dilated Peoples will perform at Amoeba in West Hollywood before their album release party later that night at the Whisky, the very first venue where they performed as a group. Reflecting on their career, Evidence uses his photos as an analogy. “I love the innocence of my old photos. I love the over editing that I did and not really knowing what was going on. That’s the beauty of it,” he says. “But I definitely like where I’m at right now.”