Although they are caught somewhere in a limbo between underground grit and Kanye’s ubiquity, Dilated Peoples has still found their niche in today’s hip-hop culture alongside fellow West Coast talents like Jurassic 5. Unlike J5, though, Dilated Peoples are chronically troubled by weak rhymes and repetitive hooks. “20/20,” the group’s fourth and latest LP, provides a few notable tracks enhanced by pulsing beats and the fluttered mixes of DJ Babu. But Dilated Peoples has again delivered an uninspired compilation of sing-along hooks and banal rhymes, failing to cure their persistent afflictions.
When taking a stab at creative experimentation, Dilated Peoples tend to falter; when appealing to simpler acoustic sensibilities, they’re at their best. “Back Again,” the album’s minimal second track, is the most consistently enjoyable. Despite overly self-referential lyrics, the song’s clear focus is encouraged by a pulsing base, forceful beats and the breezy scratching of DJ Babu. The aggressive and confrontational “Kindness for Weakness,” featuring Talib Kweli’s perceptive raps and Babu’s talented spins, marks another album standout. And on “Satellite Radio,” the core group sticks with the basics — a creeping underlying beat, subtle scratching and syncopated lyrics — and the result is solid and stirring.
But besides these three tracks, the album has few highlights. “20/20” suffers from mediocre tracks vainly aching for a trace of inspiration. Particularly of note is “Firepower (The Tables Have to Turn),” which features Capleton. This homage to hip-hop’s reggae roots had a lot of potential, but regrettably falls flat, as the track’s energy and charged lyrics cannot overcome its insipidly convenient and recurring hooks. Worse still is “Back Again,” rife with the kind of masturbatory lyricism that would elevate the emcees to a self-proscribed iconic status if it weren’t entirely inconsistent with their meager lyrics and beats.
The album’s title apparently refers to a fabled new type of marijuana that wholly elucidates the smoker, allegedly granting perfect vision. Maybe if Dilated Peoples had sparked this wonder drug before recording, we would have been granted with a more lucid and notable effort, but it seems that with this group, only hindsight is 20/20.