Photo by Block
There are three things you pick up right away when swappin’ words with MC Rakaa a.k.a. Iriscience of L.A.’s hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples. A: He ain’t a player-hater; B: He knows his shit; and C: When it comes to playing ball with the majors, for Dilated it’s all about business.
“We’ve put ourselves on tour around the world and made records that have been able to touch people, without the help of any major label,” says Rakaa about Dilated’s signing with Capitol Records last year. “We’ve done more for ourselves than a lot of these majors can do for us. Capitol approached us in a very open way, and we sat down and created a business situation that we felt comfortable with for this project.”
The project Rakaa refers to is Dilated’s latest drop, The Platform, which he describes as “a bangin’, full-flavored smorgasbord.” The disc’s 16 cuts feature Rakaa and fellow MC Evidence showcasing their signature freestylin’ on a base of funk-heavy tracks loaded up with tight samples, silky piano riffs and head-boppin’ street poetry, along with phat doses of choice wax-scratchin’ wizardry courtesy of DJ Babu. Lyrically the album addresses everything from wack MCs to social apathy, and in true old-school fashion both rappers toss back & forth rhymes that hinge on impromptu genius. Consider the reality check Evidence doles out to other MCs in “The Main Event”: “You betta step up/you lookin’ kinda lost/Claimin’ two ghetto streets that don’t even cross/If you didn’t know/I’m a true artiste/who drops gems like I’m on the run from police.”
The Platform is packed with appearances by West Coast underground hip-hop artists the Alkaholiks, Cypress Hill’s B Real, Defari, Everlast and Aceyalone, reflecting Dilated’s loyalty to other homegrown acts that Rakaa feels don’t get the attention they deserve.
“Mainstream media tends to give light on what it wants to give light to, and leaves everything else in the dark,” he says. “You know the Goodlife scene? That movement has been here for years and years. Up north, the Hieroglyphics and Mystic Journeymen. Another example is the Freestyle Fellowship — they never got the light as artists like somebody whose records have graphic, violent, sexual or shocking lyrics. The media would rather have somebody who’s in jail than someone who represents hip-hop culture as an actual talented innovator. But you know, occasionally you get both.”
Rakaa and Evidence are California natives who made their way onto L.A.’s hip-hop scene via graffiti art. After hooking up and freestyling together at the now-defunct Hip Hop Shop, in ’94 they recorded Imagery, Battle Hymns and Political Poetry on Immortal Records; though the Imagery album was never released, it’s now a bootleg considered essential on hip-hop mixtapes. Babu, who’s also a member of the DJ crew the Beat Junkies, joined Dilated in ’97, and after inking a deal with NYC’s ABB Records the same year, D.P. went on to release a slew of vinyl-only hits like “Third Degree,” “Confidence” and ’98’s 12-inch cold drop “Work the Angles,” which is also included on the Platform set.
Underground hip-hop is steadily gaining its own kind of momentum, as witnessed by the recent popularity of acts like Mos Def and rapper Talib Kweli. Yet unlike the way grunge developed as a commercial answer to mainstream pop and rock in the early ’90s, underground hip-hop has developed alongside mainstream hip-hop acts, attracting the attention of major labels and reaping the rewards (to some degree) of a growing backlash against pop-slanted hip-hop giants like Puff Daddy and the spiritually bereft bitches-’n’-ho’s gangsta-rap slag of artists like Master P.
So the obvious question is, now that they’re signed with a major label, can Dilated Peoples still represent as underground?
“We were perfectly willing to keep putting out our records independently,” says Rakaa. “This has nothing to do with us changing our frame of mind toward the industry or anything else — we saw a business opportunity, and we decided as businessmen to roll with it. There was never a determined sense to stay in a local, press-it-up-ourselves situation. You don’t do anything by yourself. Even if you’re really independent, there’s still the people out there that are doing it for you.”
Dilated Peoples and Talib Kweli perform at El Rey on Tuesday, May 23.
DILATED PEOPLES | The Platform (Capitol)