Album Review: Dilated Peoples “Directors of Photography”
Words: Adria Bani and Erica Castello / August 12, 2014
Dilated Peoples has maintained a brand and vibe with mad integrity for years, “timeless,” as DJ Babu has described it. But while they’ve stayed a course, what has hip-hop done around them? With Directors of Photography, D.P. brings a message every head needs to hear: hip-hop is about ART. This album reveals what it means to be an artist—showing, not telling—through picturesque tracks worth at least a rack in words.
True artists stand out. Regular folks like myself can only marvel at the beauty and intensity that an artist can make palatable. And while everybody may have a lot to say, not everybody picks up a microphone. We live in a time of very narrow modes of communication, even while opportunities for communication seem endless. We are surrounded by a highly-programmed and regulated version of reality, sustained by the myths of “diversity of thought” and “freedom of expression.” Most people accept this mythological reality, tolerate it daily with the help of stress and distractions, and ignore the sense that something isn’t right. But the true artist can’t live that way.They march to the beat of their own drum, 808, bassline, whatever’s bangin. The true artist creates art not out of a need for approval or attention, but out of a need to share truths through a side street, to open paths through the subconscious of the audience, to penetrate mental programming through abstraction and interpretation. A director of photography frames each moment, molds each message, and ultimately envisions a story way before it plays out on the ground. With Directors of Photography, Rakaa (Iriscience), Evidence, and Babu frame a picture of artists, capitalizing on the magical synergy that exists between emcees and a dj who really rock together, who call each other family and mean it for real.
Not to say that internet-generation rappers who opt for the buy-a-beat market to showcase their solo skills can’t be great, but following eight years of independent projects, D.P.’s return to the classic emcee/dj formula is a beautiful thing indeed. During thirteen sonically solid tracks on Directors of Photography, narrative gives way to energy, and lyrics get deeper and deeper. After setting the stage with “Directors,” reflecting on their own development with “Cut my Teeth,” and an ice-cold interlude with Defari, Evidence and Rakaa delve into “The Dark Room”, a gorgeously grimy track featuring prodigy Vince Staples on the hook (“I done tried, I done tried, I done tried to survive/you don’t live till you die, hell or home you decide/near the flames of the fire, near the flames of the fire…”) Evidence praised Staples in a recent interview, noting how the young lyricist’s writing style flows naturally from a stream of consciousness. Bringing Staples to the table makes for a work of multi-generational genius, a bridge between the precocious Odd Future cohort and Dilated Peoples, the big brothers of honest, eager hip-hop. Directors of Photography proceeds with more show than tell, as DJ Babu flexes on “Figure it Out”, cutting the sickest of samples, “If you forgot my name, or my style/rewind this a few times you’ll figure it out,” and scratching the way only a Beat Junkie can. Although it’s clearly all about the dj, Rakaa and Ev bring home some of the stand-out flows of the album on this one, amplifying each other and illustrating once again the magic of a team: when your partna shines, you shine brighter too.
In the album’s second half, the DEPTH of Dilated’s artistry resounds. Minds will for-real float higher listening to “Let Your Thoughts Fly Away,” with the title and mantra cut precisely above a meditative and ethereal beat. This trip is followed by “Century of the Self,” Rakaa’s inspired interpretation of the Adam Curtis documentaries of the same name, addressing social control, manipulation, and the consumerism that keeps so many of us stuck. Social consciousness has always been part of D.P.’s platform, but this album never ignores the feels in favor of the message. Dilated’s goal with Directors was striking a balance between the classic sound they are known for while still pushing themselves to grow into something fresh and meaningful for this particular moment in time, and they absolutely succeed.
A stream of provocative and occasionally heavy, occasionally light-hearted tracks complete the work, leaving only soulful contemplation and blunt ashes behind. Long-time lovers of their vibe and new listeners ready to get with the Dilated expansion, rejoice. Directors of Photography elevates the archetype of the artist at a time when artists are more important, and more endangered, than ever before.