Business As Usual: Dilated Peoples Return After Eight Years Apart With Their Release, Directors of Photography
There are few things in life that one can take a significant time away from, and then resume with the same level of skill as if they had never left. Riding a bike, or swimming might come to mind, but generally speaking, it is more difficult than easy to just “pick up where you left off”. The same could be said for friendships and relationships, though when the situation occurs where time and distance doesn’t interfere with the original chemistry, it can be a beautiful thing. In music, these examples seem more a rarity than common occurrence, but for the L.A. based hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples, it appears being apart hasn’t hindered them one bit. In fact, their upcoming release titled, Directors of Photography might prove that time away has helped solidify them more than anything.
Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa Iriscience sit casually on a black leather couch before hitting the stage as one of the acts on the Word of Mouth Tour with Jurassic 5. It is a gorgeous day in the hills of Griffith Park, perfect considering their performance will be at the idyllic outdoor venue, The Greek Theater. When diving head first into the question as to why now was the right time to reconnect, there seems to be less of a direct answer as opposed to the idea of just letting things happen on its own. ““We started a few times, broke a little ground, but things didn’t line up right and it just didn’t keep happening.”, explains Evidence. “I can’t pinpoint it better to say what the initial spark was that got us in line to make things start tumbling, but I would say more than anything that this record is not something that we had to do, but something that we wanted to do…and if you want to do it, you gotta get it right. It might have just taken a little longer for us to all sync again.”
Indeed it has been roughly eight years since the trio released an album together, but during that time, they each put out solo releases and kept busy with personal endeavors. Evidence had The Weatherman and Cats and Dogs, Rakaa dropped Crown of Thorns, and DJ Babu added a third volume to his Duck Season series. In addition to making music, Rakaa returned to school, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Advertising. When asked whether becoming a student had an impact on his creative process as it relates to music, he explained that being under the scrutiny of his peers was most invaluable. “Critique is a part of taking art class and art school. You put your stuff on a board and you actually get graded off your ability to critique somebody else…you can’t just be like, ‘it’s good’, you have to be like, ‘you could have drawn that eyelash shorter’…you have to find something, and I think that forced me to step back a little bit and look at my own work a little more closely.” Being able to analyze one’s self is a skill far too many rappers overlook, but Rakaa goes on to explain how the experience further impacted him. “I was much more open to the process of recording or rerecording or writing a verse that was dope…but just because its dope, does that mean it’s the best verse it can be? I think that what you’re hearing is a result of what I feel is growth, and after all this time to still be growing and still be getting better, I think a lot of that is a testament to the fact that I went back to school and put myself back up for critique.”
With the heavy bass from sound checks going on in the background, the group reflected on personal change, but also the changing of something else that was always a prevailing theme in their music: the city of L.A. itself. “I said on the album, ‘My city done switched up, but I’m still devoted’,” Evidence states as he quotes a line from the track “L.A. River Drive.” “You know, it’s like…I go walk down the street that I used to know and I’m just like, ‘where the fuck am I?’, you know what I’m mean?” It’s evident that they are all acutely aware of the gentrification happening throughout Los Angeles, but Evidence appears to be at peace with it. “It’s interesting to see the new, but remember the old, but I guess that applies to anything in life”.
Though L.A. is home, the group has always made their name touring around the world, a plus for them given the waning cd sales of an industry trying to keep up with technology. Eight years can be an eternity in the music biz, and although some industry heads worry about the new threat of music streaming services, the group sees no reason to fret in today’s environment. “We’re like underground rap dudes, we weren’t really making money selling records anyway,” affirms Rakaa, before comparing a check that Evidence recently received to opening the suitcase in the film Pulp Fiction. “Like, we made money in the music business, but not actually selling units….it was much more like the record is live so we’re getting checks for publishing, we’re getting checks for merch, we’re getting checks for touring…we put ourselves in a situation this time where the checks can definitely come in.”
With the trend in hip-hop being centered around getting the hottest “right now” producers or guests to hop on an album, the group felt comfortable doing business as usual. Directors of Photography isn’t rife with features, and the few that do make an appearance such as Aloe Blacc and Vince Staples, have some level of history working with members of the group. “Most of the album was done in house” states Rakaa. “When someone like Alchemist or even Bravo or Joey Chavez, when we work with them, that’s pretty much working in house. We’ve worked with them our whole career.” Evidence adds, “I think at this point in our career, we finally had the confidence to say you know what, we’re sick at what we do…this is us, for better or for worse, and I’m proud of that, because at least it shaped a sound…the fact that he (Babu) and I could make the pace of the record together and most importantly, start the record out with our songs, that was really key more than anything else now that I think about it.”
Interview by: Mark Anthony Jenkins
Photos by: Celeste Mendez