Outside of a classic rap set featuring rap artists whose most significant mainstream success came before the invention of America Online, the idea that Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Supernatural and Beat Junkies would be playing a live event at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion on Friday, August 1st should be met with a notion of idyllic comfort for a fanatic of rap’s traditional presentation. In fact, upon entering the venue for the festivities, hearing 70s rhythm and blues instead of the latest turnt up anthem was a pleasant respite, a remembrance of things past. However, when sitting down in the back of the tour bus with Rakaa Iriscience and Evidence, Dilated Peoples aren’t concerned about what’s classic, or even what’s happening next. The moment is very much in the now, the focus on performing, their August 12th released sixth studio album Directors of Photography, as well as relaxing and accepting their place as now veteran emcees with 20 years in the game. Having existed in the rise, fall and leveling (for some) of the rap industry, an interview with the duo is an intriguing look at a rap group calm, controlled, aware and stably set on solid ground.
For as much as the interview is serious, it was equally earnest and oftentimes refreshingly hilarious. Upon noting that the duo’s longtime DJ, Babu, was from Washington, DC, I asked them to recall their favorite moments in the city over the years. Thinking deeply, Rakaa Iriscience said, “being escorted from a club with two very attractive Ethiopian women to eat some Jamaican food.” Evidence quickly followed with, ” the weed. There’s some great weed in the DMV.” It’s ultimately that balance in the duo that makes them great, and has served the duo well. Enjoy the interview!
So, you have almost 25 years in the industry now, right? What keeps it fresh and relevant? How does the unit stay strong?
Evidence: The relevant part, I don’t know. Relevant is in the eye of the beholder.
Rakaa: It’s relative.
Evidence: To some they say it’s a big success story, to others they say you’ve barely scratched the surface. For me [the success] is that there’s no nine-to-five. I wake up, and make beats, smoke weed and feed the squirrels. I live a pretty interesting life. I honestly love what I do. Whether it was photography, or skateboarding before that, it was always about what I like to do.
Rakaa, what inspires you? I’m presuming it may be something different?
Rakaa: I’m a preachers kid, I was always in church. So whether it’s speaking or making music or storytelling, I’ve always been up to something. I also did speech, debate, monologue, theater and all of that in school. I’m probably most inspired by boredom. I get bored really easily, so i just take on heavy things when I get bored. I get inspired, and just go do it. As far as what’s kept us secure more than anything, we’re not cannibalistic about each other’s time and energy. We don’t deplete our own soil completely. You’ve gotta circulate your soil, it’s like farming. You let the nutrients reinvigorate themselves, so that when you plant something that there’s not barren earth. We give each other a lot of space to charge up, and when it’s right, we do it. We have more love and respect for each other than we have a need for each other. That takes a lot of the pressure off. Anytime we do something these days, it’s because we want to do it, or because it makes sense to us. We sit down and decide the best approach to things naturally and move accordingly. Whether it’s recording, picking a tour, doing artwork or anything else like that, we do what feels right. By not chasing it, it puts us in a very good place.
The name of the latest album is Directors of Photography, where did that come from?
Evidence: DP is “Director of Photography,” so, you know, “DP” is also Dilated Peoples. The lens, focus, photos, vision, perception, it felt like something that would be a dope audio/visual concept. You know, it also means double penetration (laughs)
“Show Me The Way” is getting a lot of love from a lot of people. It features Aloe Blacc and was produced by Jake One. I just wanted to get a sense of what it was like to work with Aloe again, and Jake One, too? I get a sense with [Aloe Blacc] that even though he’s singing with Avicii or whatever, he’s still hip-hop at the end of the day.
Rakaa: Man, that’s Aloe Blacc from Emanon, he’s been a rapper since back in the day.
I know…but it’s crazy…
Evidence: [Aloe Blacc] is hip-hop at the beginning of the day, but by late night he turns into someone else. But he wakes up hip-hop, that’s for sure.
So what was the process like working with him, was it in the studio, or did you just get the hook sent to…
Evidence: We had him flown in fresh to Boston, on the G5, like a lobster (laughs).
Only the finest! (laughs)
Rakaa: Only the finest for Aloe, crushed linens and things…(laughs)
Evidence: We were actually in France, so it was pretty dope. He’s actually been on a lot of our solo albums in the past years. Every interview we did before those albums, nobody said anything about him, but on this campaign it’s all anyone is talking about. I guess that’s fuckin’ hats off to him!
The idea that he’s still hip-hop is cool to me though because people know him now and think he’s an R & B vocalist…
Evidence: It’s funny. We’d say “make some noise for Aloe Blacc on the vocals at our shows a few years ago and people would be like [makes noise for fanfare and applause], and now it’s like, “no shit,” like “ohh, well that’s so interesting.”
Rakaa: He’s still a hip-hop dude. You know how rappers sing in the shower, well, I’m thinking he probably raps in the shower. He’s known as a singer right now, but he’s been around for a long time doing what he does, he’s a real talented dude, a smart cat and he found a good lane. He pushed that opportunity, and he’s doing that for sure. He’s always supported us, just as people, and I think that him and Exile may be working on a new Emanon album. They’ve been flirting with that for a real long time, so I hope they do that so they can see he has chops and that he can really spit. He’s not one of those dudes that thinks that rap’s a joke, that rap is easy or like, “I can sing, let me try this. He did it for a long time before he pushed singing as his main thing.
I also wanted to ask about Jake One. He’s not a producer that gets a ton of prestige from mainstream rap fans, but he certainly has a deep history of great tracks. Thoughts about him?
Rakaa: He’s the kind of guy who if you hear his tracks your like, “Oh I like that,” or “oh, I have that album.”
Evidence: I mean, he’s on Drake’s new album. He lands so many gigs. He’s on 50 Cent’s album, this, that and the third…
Rakaa: His name doesn’t ring like a lot of other producers, but I’m certain his accountants and busy and that his wall space is crowded with records.
Evidence: He’s not an attention seeking type of guy, though. He’s the 180 of Kanye.
You’re now working with (Atmosphere-affiliated) Rhymesayers Entertainment as a unit? How has that been? Working with Atmosphere, how did that come together? Making the shift from Capitol to Rhymesayers, how was that?
Rakaa: Ev has the experience with Rhymesayers, so this is our first go around with them as Dilated Peoples. Ev had solo projects out with them before, he’s much more locked in with the team over there like as how they work on the day-to-day. It’s good people there, they have good hearts, and they’re definitely working to get things done. They like the project, and it makes a big difference when the people who are around you like what you’re doing. We haven’t worked with Atmopshere as far as the Dilated records, but we have worked with them as far as touring and different things like that and they’re always very cool, supportive family-oriented and welcoming.
I wanted to discuss touring, because it’s such a significant part of the industry model now. I feel like for an act like you, touring is where you prove your greatest worth. So, thoughts about how you two perceive the importance of touring?
Rakaa: We’ve been touring for awhile. It was always my idea that we should be able to tour with or without a record. It shouldn’t be that you should only tour or perform when you have a record on the radio or videos on MTV. That seems to be a shame. Touring is something we locked into very early. There was once a time where people said rappers don’t tour, especially internationally. Now, it’s pretty much how things go. People now realize that the music business isn’t the most stable thing. You can’t control the record side, but you can control the tour game a lot more directly. It depends on what your goal is. If you’re content being a legacy act playing old stuff forever, then you can do that. People will keep you to a certain level, and you can tour the world. We have a legacy card, and that’s great to have, but we don’t rest on our laurels. We don’t perform your big brother’s favorite song, or the song you used to hear in this grade. We can do those things, but we also put out records right now that whole new people who know those records can rock to, a new Dilated song, or an Ev solo song, or something from DJ Babu’s record or my record. To me, that feels like a proper balance. You have to have self respect for what you’ve done in the past, respect the people who respect the work that you’ve done, and at the same time, if an artist thinking about the future, make records that are forward thinking as well.
This seems like a great time to ask about 2001’s “Worst Comes To Worst,” which was statistically your biggest mainstream hit, and the one song that most rap fanatics are most aware of you making. How do you keep that song fresh over a decade later, and what does it mean to you now?
Evidence: Well, we keep it last. (laughs)
Rakaa: (laughing) It’s always fun to have something to look forward to.
Evidence: (laughing) When you’re on that song, you know it’s almost over. It’s good because you’re like, “fuck, tonight sucked,” or, you’re like, “I’m about to celebrate a great show.” We’ve messed around and put other songs at the end before, like ones that were more relevant for that week or that tour – like (Kanye West-produced) “This Way” – but it always ends up that, let’s leave with that.
Rakaa: It’s such a unique song, at that time, it’s not a formulaic song, with 16 bars, eight-bar chorus, 16 bars, it’s a weird and unique song. It always feels interesting. It flows, you don’t get caught up in it. It’s like [Evidence] said, it’s either a celebration or relief
Evidence: Plus, Guru has a part where he talks on the record, and we dedicate that part to him. That’s always dope.
Hip-hop can do anything now, but when you distill it to its core essence, it’s an emcee and a DJ. With everything happening in rap, how important is it for you guys to keep things focused on this essence.
Evidence: I don’t know. I guess there comes a point when you get good at what you’re good at, and you do what you know. There’s plenty of bells and whistles we can add right now, but when you’ve got something good, unfortunately/fortunately not many people are doing that, so it makes us unique. If it’s not broke, don’t fuck it up!