Dilated Peoples' new album, which deals with such subjects as unity, retaliation and war, is a powerful commentary on the post-September 11 world.
Of course, Expansion Team, released Tuesday (October 23), was recorded long before the terrorist attacks on the U.S., so the way it relates to the tragedy is merely an accident. Or is it?
"We just did it honestly," the hip-hop trio's Rakaa (a.k.a. Iriscience) said of the album. "Songs like 'War' and 'Self Defense,' the spirit of them were in our hearts. Sometimes we're in control of the brush and sometimes we're just conducting. We're like a vessel receiving divine intervention, channeling energies we don't even understand."
Expansion Team was an even darker album, Rakaa said, until the group opted to pull a song called "Target Practice" and "some other ideas" from the record after September 11.
Dilated Peoples did, however, pick "Worst Comes to Worst" as the album's first single before the attacks. In fact, they shot the video in front of the World Trade Center on September 4. (Two versions were sent to video outlets, one with the buildings in the background, and one without.)
The track, which includes the verse, "I got worldwide family all over the earth/ And I worry 'bout 'em all for whatever it's worth/ From the birth to the hearse, the streets, the guns burst/ Words I disperse are here to free minds/ And if mine are needy I need to feed mine," has certainly taken on a new meaning.
"It's really sticking with people at a time when we are coming together and unity is a big thing," Rakaa said.
"War," a 90-second number that opens to the sounds of sirens and gunshots, includes anti-war sentiments like "War is a war that can never be won/ War is the way Johnny got his gun," and is rapped over haunting chants and the lone beat of a snare drum.
"It's not about war in particular," Rakaa said. "It's more about illustrating the fact that a fight to end a war is still a war. It's like what Tracy Chapman said: 'Why are missiles called peacekeepers?' "
Expansion Team was recorded over several months in various cities. Dilated Peoples took recording equipment on the road with them and recorded while touring with the Roots and Jurassic 5.
Aside from resulting in a collaboration with the Roots' Black Thought, the sessions also gave the group some added inspiration.
"We have a great respect for Jurassic and the Roots," Rakaa said. "Being around them gives us a little bit of spark. It raises the bar, 'cause you have to grow just to keep up with cats like that."
Growing is actually the overall theme of the record and the Dilated Peoples' new label, also called Expansion Team.
"The label is an expansion of Dilated Peoples, and as people and performers, we never want to stop growing," Rakaa said. "Also, in sports, when a new expansion team comes into the league, it stretches the whole league. They are another team the league has to plan for, figure out how to defend, figure out how to beat. We changed the game up by coming into the game."
Dilated Peoples actually came into the hip-hop game in the mid-'90s when Rakaa and fellow lyricist Evidence met freestyling at open mic sessions around Los Angeles. In the spirit of their favorite groups, Run-DMC and EPMD, they added a DJ, Babu, soon after.
After garnering worldwide attention with underground singles such as "Work the Angels," Dilated Peoples signed to Capitol Records and released their debut album, The Platform, in 2000.
The album garnered critical acclaim, but didn't reach the masses until a remix of the record's "Ear Drums Pop," with vocals by Everlast, launched a feud between the former House of Pain rapper and Eminem (see "Dilated Peoples 'Searching For' Eminem On Battle Track").
For Expansion Team, Dilated Peoples chose to work with whoever was around and wanted to collaborate.
"It was like opening up your cabinets and grabbing spices to make something really tight off what you have," Rakaa said. "The album was a freestyle. We didn't have a blueprint of who we were going to work with or who the producer would be, we just worked until it felt right."
By the end of the summer, the trio had recorded with Black Thought on "Hard Hitters," Tha Liks on "Heavy Rotation," DJ Premier on "Clockwork," ?uestlove on "War," and the Alchemist on "Worst Comes to Worst," "Panic" and "Live on Stage" (see "Tha Liks, Black Thought Join Dilated Peoples' Team").
"Working with [DJ Premier] was a highlight of my career," Rakaa said. "He's not just a name or someone who can make beats. He's a producer. He's actually conscious of how you're hitting his beats, how you're projecting your voice. He kept working until we all felt it."
Dilated Peoples celebrate the release of Expansion Team with a performance Tuesday (October 23) at the Palace in Hollywood. A full tour will follow, though dates have not been announced.