Dilated Peoples :: Expansion Team
Label: Capitol Records/Okayplayer
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
To write record reviews, the person behind the pen must cultivate a
sense of independence free of restrictions. Any class on journalism
will tell you that bias is your worst enemy and levelheaded objective
critique your best friend. That's why it's almost a matter of law
among serious writers than when the label sends a nice t-shirt and a
promo gift with a new record, the person writing the review can't be
the same person who accepts the gifts. If it's addressed to you,
you give the gifts away - or you keep the gifts but you give the
album to somebody else to review. Maintaining impartiality is a must.
If this review is starting to sound like an editorial, then you're
probably already keyed in to the fact I have a larger agenda this
time than simply reviewing Dilated Peoples' "Expansion Team." As a
writer I pride myself that I've cultivated that healthy sense of
objective and impartial critique. There are disturbing trends among
various stripes of rap writers out there. Some writers love everything
from a small label and hate everything from a big one, no matter how
good it is. Some love everything from esoteric and obtuse rap artists
and hate everything from thug rappers, no matter how good it is. Either
rule can also be applied in it's inverse form: Murder Dog might tend to
favor thugs more than XXL, and Elemental might tend to favor indie rap
records more than The Source would. In fact, I've noticed that people
tend to buy rap magazines that reflect their ideal view of hip-hop
and what it should sound like - a selection that fits like a glove.
Therefore as a writer I walk a fine line of credibility which seems
to get cashed in on a weekly basis. If I write a review in praise of
Ja Rule's commercial appeal, I'm accused of painting shit yellow and
trying to pass it off as gold. If I write a review that points out
how banal and repetitive DMX has become lyrically, I'm accused of
hating him simply because he's a successful rap artist. Neither one
is true of course - the whole point is to judge each album on it's
own individual merits regardless of personal feelings. Ironically
enough my personal taste would actually indicate the furthest possible
distance from bias because I'll rock records by Aceyalone, Too $hort,
Scarface, Mountain Brothers, and Trick Daddy in steady succession.
Growing up in the midwest I never cultivated a preference for one
sound, style, or regional brand of rap - my attitude was simply "if
the beats are good and the lyrics make sense, I can dig it."
The point is quite simply that I already expect to catch flack in
advance for this review of "Expansion Team." While it's true that
the label sent me a copy of the CD, I bought a copy of my own just
to maintain impartiality even a degree above what's expected for
rap reviewers (and besides, it was only $6.99 at Best Buy). I'll
be sending the album to a fellow website staff member to enjoy,
and enjoy is indeed the key word here. I always know what
direction my reviews are going in when I find it tedious or a
chore to listen to an album start to finish - and this album was
far from difficult to play. Still, I know how some of the people
who visit RapReviews.com feel - they think that I automatically
shit on buzzworthy commercially hot rapper like Fabolous and Jadakiss
and praise any so-called "underground" rap artist with indie cred.
Let's debunk that myth with a look at the facts: I've handed out
high praise possible for albums that are far from indie or small
sellers on Billboard. Nas,
Beanie Sigel have all
gotten high praise from the ink end of my pen. As I said before,
the most important criteria for me is not how popular a rapper is.
If popularity or sales were a good gauge of how skilled a rapper
was or how good his album is, then we'd have to rate "To the
Extreme" by Vanilla Ice one of the ten best rap albums of all
time. When you realize how ludicrous that idea is, you'll see
that it's impossible for me to blindly hand out praise to albums
just because they're from popular rappers or sell really well. On
the other hand, if a rap album's popularity is reflect by the
HIGH quality of the tracks on it, I'll be the first to
step up and say, "This album deserves to go gold, because it's
a high caliber of hip-hop that other artists could learn from
and improve their own albums by listening to."
Critics have their own critics, and certainly I have my own fair
share. I accept that as the price I pay for doing something I
love and sharing it with others - writing about music. I expect
those critics to yell at me for dismissing the latest DMX album
as bland and praising a group like Dilated whose core audience
sometimes trends towards what people sneeringly call "backpackers."
Yet it's hard to argue with the quality of this album. Producers
from DJ Premier to Alchemist to Babu turn in quality beats
not to be missed, and rappers Rakaa Iriscience and Evidence
solidify the sonic foundation with quality rhymes. Some people
choose to take issue with Evidence's vocal tone - it's deep and
a little blunted, and people who don't like Cypress Hill's B-Real
will probably feel the same about Ev. To me though his voice
cuts through a track like a ginnsu and makes such a distinct
impression that it increases the sonic punch of his lines. Paired
with the higher pitched Iriscience, the duo achieve the musical
harmony of hip-hop's great tag teams: Run-D.M.C, EPMD, Public Enemy,
and so on. I can't think of a single song I don't enjoy on this
album, but a few stand out among them even so: the Primo laced
"Clockwork", "Heavy Rotation" featuring Tha Liks, and the
beautiful "Proper Propaganda" led with an introduction by Harry Allen.
I'm willing to take the hit. If people will be mad that I trash
mediocre or poor albums and hand out praise for those that are
worth the time to listen to, the wrath is well earned. When DMX
makes an album that is as musically tight and lyrically fresh as
Dilated Peoples, he'll earn a score for that album he deserves.
Groups like Dilated don't have to rely on trends or flashy videos -
they simply represent the hip-hop elements in the tradition of
great artists from Rakim to Ras Kass. That doesn't necessarily
translate into commercial success in today's fickle pop culture;
although once in a while a brilliant album like OutKast's "Stankonia"
defies the odds and actually reflects it's quality in sales volume.
If Dilated achieves the same feat, this album will easily go platinum.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 30, 2001