"George Bush doesn't care about Filipinos."
No, Kanye West has not modified his notorious soapbox rant. This jibe is in fact courtesy of DJ Babu, proud Filipino-American and producer/turntablist for the Los Angeles hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples. Babu may poke fun at his crew's reputation as one of the few socially conscious voices in rap music, but it's a reputation, a responsibility even, that these SoCal b-boys take very seriously.
"A lot of people are afraid to get involved [in social issues] because this is entertainment," said Dilated MC Rakaa shortly before the release of the band's new album, 20/20. "But ultimately [when] you have a platform, you have people's attention. Just try to do the best you can. I wouldn't necessarily say, 'Get out there and turn a good time into a political rally,' but maybe you can find a way to entertain people and at the same time interject something positive and constructive."
Entertaining people with a beat-heavy blend of positivity, humor and social commentary is something Rakaa, partner-in-rhyme Evidence and Babu have been doing since the late '90s. Already a fixture on the West Coast, the DPs are just now experiencing the kind of recognition they feel is their just due — thanks largely to a growing army of loyal fans and the success of their 2004 radio hit "This Way," produced by and featuring the aforementioned Mr. West, as well as John Legend.
Steady radio play, combined with consistent rotation of the accompanying video, brought Dilated mainstream recognition. But the experience left the group with a bitter aftertaste. In their eyes, their label, Capitol Records, pushed the single more aggressively than Neighborhood Watch, the album from which it came.
"It was a mixed blessing," Rakaa said of the single's success. "It exposed us to a lot of people, but unfortunately, the overall campaign for the album didn't follow through. I love 'This Way,' but I just wish people would've gotten a sense of what the entire Neighborhood Watch album was about and not been so focused on the single."
A heated Rakaa went even further. "There's very few cats at the record labels that are part of hip-hop culture or even like rap music," he claimed. "Most of those cats are offended that they have to sell our record. They would love to sell flowery acoustic-guitar music all day, because that's what they personally enjoy listening to. They put on their Birkenstocks and go outside, cross their feet and just tool away," he said, strumming an imaginary guitar. "But don't front and then sleep on my project and not give it the same respect that you're going to give to the next record just because you might not happen to agree with it."
Fueled by frustration and guided by hindsight, Dilated Peoples recorded their fourth studio album, aptly titled 20/20.
"The 20/20 campaign is us bringing the Dilated sound to the forefront. These three cats," Evidence proclaimed, referring to himself and his bandmates, "are responsible for our new album, responsible for our new artwork, and responsible for picking our video director."
"We kept it in-house," Babu added. "The majority of production is us three right here. And we're really proud [of the record]."
The album's jump-off single and video is "Back Again," a defiant, Alchemist-produced banger signaling DP's dedication to hip-hop at its most fundamental level.
"I feel like the album is just uncut, pure, baking-soda free, like concentrate," Rakaa boasted. "Something's got to hit the water and make those ripples, and that's what we're here to do. Cats are going to try to dilute [what we do] and labels are going to try to sign [imitations] all over the place. But let them follow. Let them do what they do. We do what we do."