Dilated Peoples, Expansion Team (2001)
Last year, Dilated Peoples — MC/producer Evidence, MC Iriscience, and DJ/producer Babu — weathered mixed reviews of their debut album, The Platform, and successfully carved out a substantial international audience hungry for meat-and-potatoes rap defined by chopped samples, scratched-out Premier-esque hooks, and bleedy-eyed metaphors with a series of live tours. In 2001, the Los Angeles trio offer Expansion Team, a new application for hip-hop VIP status. It’s a sharp-looking resume that includes a recommendation from Guru on the lead single, the Alchemist-produced “Worst Comes to Worst”; guest raps from Defari, Phil Da Agony, and Okayplayer.com associate Black Thought of the Roots; and expert beats by patron saint DJ Premier, the Beatminerz, Juju, Joey Chavez, and Questlove, as well as Evidence and Babu. “I’m after the gold, and after that the platinum,” Ev admits while reworking a lyric from Redman’s “Tonight’s The Night.” “You want what you don’t have/So far neither one’s happened.” Evidence and Iriscience verbally bomb Expansion Team’s lovingly sampled boom bap with strands of positive affirmations, but Dilated’s most conscious moment arrives courtesy of Iriscience’s lyric describing political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case on “Proper Propaganda.” More typical is “Pay Attention,” where Babu girds an incandescently melancholy piano ballad with an echoing female culled from Newcleus’ “Jam On It.” Instead of changing their cadence or offering an appropriately contemplative rhyme scheme, however, the two MCs attack “Pay Attention” head-on with an ill-fitting chorus. “Pay attention/Watch and observe” the two declaim, glossing over the beat’s myriad possibilities. On Expansion Team, there are no doubts, only convictions; dozens of MCs are lyrically slaughtered; trees are smoked in bundles. Expansion Team doesn’t even have a love song, so Iriscience placates us with suggestive lyrics like, “Honeys keep flirting like the flows are working/Don’t stop ‘till I’m certain then I close the curtains/Animal house shit” on “Heavy Rotation,” a team-up with the considerably more libidinous Tash and J-Ro from Tha Liks. It’s unnerving to think that rap legends such as Rakim and Lord Finesse primarily dealt in these kind of word games, since we expect today’s post-Eminem MCs to percolate their ripostes through shock values, pathos, and personal confessions. (Sadly, Evidence’s internet-only dismembering of Slim Shady, “Search 4 Bobby Fischer,” is not included here.) By limiting their content to mere shadowboxing, Dilated prove too faithful to its predecessors, especially since they have the talent to move far beyond recapturing old-school glories. Neverthless, Expansion Team has an abundance of sure shots – chief among them “Proper Propaganda,” Worst Come To Worst,” and “Clockwork” – that should fuel Dilated’s upward trajectory. Decades later, the jury is still out on Dilated Peoples, one of the most successful indie-rap groups of the era who didn’t quite transcend their niche. Capitol Records.