Dilated Peoples Debut Material, Improvise At Pre-Release Show

With animated stage presence, rappers spit political rhymes over old-school scratching.

NEW YORK — With the Tuesday (May 23) release of their debut, The Platform, just days away, Dilated Peoples were feeling rowdy Friday at their Manhattan tour stop at SOB's.

"Call the fire department now, get 'em ready, alert 'em, alert 'em, it's goin' down tonight," rapper Rakaa Iriscience said backstage before Dilated Peoples erupted into their hour-long set.

Without the help of Talib Kweli or Jurassic 5, opening acts on previous tour dates, Dilated Peoples had the New York spotlight all to themselves. As Rakaa Iriscience, Evidence and DJ Babu took the stage, the group laid out its platform for unpretentious, old-school tinged hip-hop.

Iriscience's baritone, paced-out lyrical style complemented the rapid-fire, precise flow of Evidence (born Michael Parretta). With a head of loose curls and a Bob Marley T-shirt, Iriscience ventured into extended, contemplative verses with the relentlessness and timbre of a jazz soloist.

Midway through the show, Iriscience displayed his poetic sensibility with a reflective rap about the word war. While the audience clapped on the two and the four of the beat, Rakaa spouted his thoughts on social injustice and political unrest.

Evidence, eyes bulging, ripped through his rhymes with a rapid-fire precision reminiscent of Canibus and the RZA. Acting out his lyrics, he would methodically slice his arms through the air. During the laid-back funk of "Annihilation," he made sure to flash his marijuana stash while he spit the phrase "my leaf stays fresh in a bag," arousing several audience members to hold up joints.

Just when DJ Babu began to dissolve into the background of the head-nodding beats, he launched into a frenetic, old-school session of cutting and scratching. With Iriscience and Evidence on the periphery, Babu fractured the lulling backbeat of "Guaranteed" with breakneck cuts and calculated samples.

When Babu finished his thing, Evidence told the crowd, "The backbone of hip-hop is the DJ." Before Rakaa and Evidence dove into their rhymes on "Triple Optics," Babu introduced their names using a needle and the group's new record. This subtle use of pre-recorded words made it seem as if Dilated Peoples had a host of hype people hiding in the shadows of SOB's.

By emphatically warming up the crowd before every two or three songs and incessantly thanking the fans for their support, the two MCs created an easy rapport with the audience. During "The Platform" (RealAudio excerpt) the fans tossed their hands in unison with Evidence as he recited the chorus.

As a build-up to the group's most recognizable tune, "Work the Angles" (RealAudio excerpt), Evidence summoned all the rowdy heads to come to the front and "rock 'n' roll." He then asked the crowd to start out the song by chanting, "I work the angles/ Sharp and precise."

To close out the night, Babu concocted a soulful, horn-driven groove for Evidence and Iriscience to verbally improvise over. Iriscience chose to leave the audience with ruminations about peace and love while Evidence showed off his keen ability to flip, rip and skip words with rhythmic perfection. The freestyle session culminated into Babu dropping the funky licks to "No Retreat" while Evidence and Iriscience repeated the phrase "We are the Dilated Peoples/ No not the pupils/ But yes we are the students."