While Dilated Peoples were on an eight-year group hiatus, Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu didn’t remain idle in their solo careers. With their long-awaited fifth album, Directors of Photography, it appears as though their time apart has served them well.
Contrary to their previous efforts, the production was kept mostly in house, a change befitting the album’s title. Evidence and Babu admirably handle the bulk of the duties this time, namely on bangers like “Trouble” and “Hallelujah”. While the number of guest producers is kept to a handful, those enlisted are some of hip-hop’s best. Long-time collaborator The Alchemist sets the stage for Rakaa and Evidence on “Cut my Teeth”, where both MCs recount the many lessons learned from growing up in the Mid-City and Venice areas of Los Angeles, respectively. On the album’s first single, “Good as Gone”, produced by the almighty DJ Premier, Dilated silences the critics and doubters, the inevitable bi-products of their longevity in hip-hop. With “Let Your Thoughts Fly Away”, the group does just that, providing listeners with a mental oasis over a Diamond D beat slightly reminiscent of Mos Def’s “Kalifornia”. But of all the LP’s featured beatsmiths, it’s Seattle’s Jake One that steals the show with “Show me the Way”, in which Dilated treasures not just the success they’ve accrued, but the decades-long grind preceding it.
Lyrically, Rakaa and Evidence have reached a stage affectionately known as “grown man rap.” The days of straight braggadocio are not altogether gone, but the MCs have clearly taken a more personal approach to this album. On a handful of tracks, Dilated waxes poetic about lessons learned (“Cut my Teeth”), living life to the fullest (“Show me the Way”) and enjoying hard-earned success while still wanting more (“The Bigger Picture”). If Directors of Photography has any flaws, it’s that it leaves its audience wanting to know more about said directors. The group takes the listener on a journey unlike those of their previous albums while leaving many questions unanswered. In short, Dilated Peoples, even while artfully venturing into new lyrical territory, are not ready to bare their souls just yet.
In summation, Directors of Photography shows no ill effects of the trio’s long layoff. Five albums into a stellar career, the group is as hungry as they were on their 2000 debut, The Platform. Combining that drive with eight years’ worth of maturation, Dilated Peoples have crafted one of this year’s best LPs.
Gems: Cut My Teeth, Show me the Way ft. Aloe Blacc, Let Your Thoughts Fly Away, Century of the Self ft. Catero, Opinions May Vary ft. Gangrene, Trouble, Hallelujah ft. Fashawn, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Vinnie Paz & Action Bronson