DILATED PEOPLES with KANYE WEST at the Docks (11 Polson), Friday (March 26), 8 pm doors. $38. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If you're a broke-ass backpacker who's spent the last seven years holed up in a basement freestyling, tagging walls and worshipping L.A.'s Dilated Peoples like they're underground rap martyrs, you're probably both outraged and confused by their new single, This Way. It's an unprecedented pop crossover for Dilated. The song was produced by and guest features Kanye West, who's doing the kind of numbers some guy called 50 Cent was doing this time last year.
This Way features a fruity flute and a bright piano on the beat and an urgent gospel choir on the hook, sort of on the same tip as Talib Kweli's Get By, which was also produced by West. And the video! Shit, it's glossy as next month's Vogue.
But what the fuck did you expect? The group called their second album Expansion Team, not Stagnation Team, and in hiphop, remaining "underground" forever is a symptom of failure.
Did you think Dilated would still be living on dry crackers and tap water to stay true to the sewers of rap on your behalf? Hiphop is universal now, and those brothers are just expanding with the times.
Listening to their newest LP, Neighborhood Watch, it would seem that Dilated had fun finding a new niche. The soundscapes are lusher. Robust bass lines abound. The MCs, who used to rhyme with a staunch, near-pious sense of rap loyalty, sound refreshingly less self-conscious.
"The first two albums, The Platform and Expansion Team, were just us coming into our own," says Rakaa on his cell from Trafalgar Square in London. "The new record shows the skills we displayed in our last two albums, but applied at a higher level, more creatively."
Rakaa, who has collaborated solo with the Herbalizer and has not collaborated with Linkin Park (though Evidence and Babu have), assured me that the Kanye collaboration was completed long before the producer's Fiddy-like hype.
"We did This Way last summer, so it was a different situation than working with Kanye West right now. He had some time to devote. Halfway through the song, he asked if he could kick a rhyme on it, and the vibe became pretty personal and pretty cool."
Oh, and Rakaa on the run from cops in the new video isn't supposed to come off as a cliché. It's actually part of the theme that underlies the album's entire concept.
"Neighborhood Watch is the name of a community program in the States where you look out for yourself, your neighbours and your community, and we just use it as a play on words, saying we don't just look out for criminals, but also for cops.
"I've witnessed my fair share of police brutality, and definitely harassment and disrespect, but I personally haven't been Rodney Kinged up or anything."
Rakaa has been training in ju-jitsu for years, so if any blue-uniformed punk tries to Rodney King or even Abner Louima him, you know he'll be handling his business. "Yeah, man," says Rakaa, "I gotta save my hands for microphones and not punching people in the head. No doubt."