A lesson for the rap-impaired 

WHO: Dilated Peoples

WHERE: WSSF Mainstage

WHEN: Friday, April 20 3 p.m.

I seriously wondered what I would have in common with this rap group from California and what we would talk about.

Dilated Peoples is well-established south of the border and amongst Canadian circles of hardcore rap and hip hop fans. But for a 29 year old white chick who grew up in middle class Ontario attending a private Catholic school, the closest thing to rap I listened to was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and perhaps a little Public Enemy when we were feeling really crazy. I wasn’t sure how I was going to discuss a music that I didn’t necessarily relate to.

But a 15-minute conversation would quickly change my take on Dilated Peoples and perhaps on that musical world all together.

In 1992, the platform that would be known as Dilated Peoples began to take form when writer/rapper Rakaa and emcee/producer Evidence decided to record together. The two continually met at hip hop shows and discovered they shared an unusual relationship between music and graffiti – another foreign concept to the pristine shores of my hometown of Kingston.

"Evidence and myself both started out as graffiti artists," says Rakaa. "We can still pick up a marker or spray paint and get a tag on or fill in the background or something, it’ll be beneficial on a wall someplace. Starting as a graffiti artist and then getting into DJing and emceeing, I just use the same principles that I apply to graffiti I apply to my music, which is texture, colour, balance, dimension, composition. It’s the same thing I’m trying to put across. I just turn it into a metaphor for my recipe for my rhymes."

I have to admit, I was just a little surprised to hear graffiti and rap being described so thoughtfully and artistically. So much of today’s mainstream rap comes across as angst-driven or superficially inspired.

"People don’t always understand," continues Rakaa. "Sometimes you have to get past things and reflect. They say hindsight is 20/20 and it’s just unfortunate that people miss out on things and it only becomes part of their hindsight. There’s a lot of positive, creative messages going on in music and people are slowing picking up on it around the world. Hip hop is a part of world culture now. People didn’t think jazz was real music. They thought the blues was devil music. Rock and roll was gonna send you to hell."

Listening to this explanation articulated like poetry, it seems utterly ridiculous to classify all of rap/hip hop as racially-motivated, sexually explicit or hate-mongering. A closer listen to the lyrics of Dilated Peoples – rounded out by DJ Babu – reflects the honesty and disillusion, days and nights, good and bad, of the world surrounding its authors.

"I’m just a life observer. I’ll walk around the streets. Regardless of how much money I have or don’t have, every once in a while I just get on the bus. I’ll ride a bus to the end of the line, look outside the windows at what’s going on. I also read a lot. I travel a lot. And I try to connect with people a lot."

Rakaa says inspiration for his style came from listening to such legends as Hendrix and Marley. And although he neither plays guitar nor considers himself Rastafarian, he can appreciate their musical talents and finds ways to apply their arrangements or chords into his own work.

"I just try to open myself up and allow myself to be sparked."

Now we were treading into territory I could relate to. Dilated Peoples may not be in my CD player as I drive home today, but conversations such as this are why I adore my job. Opening yourself up to others’ thoughts, ideas and emotions is incredibly stimulating. Catching a glimpse of someone’s passions is inspiring.

"You might not necessarily like what I do, but we’re connected," says Rakaa. "I don’t think that creativity or energy has an age limit or racial distinctions. Some things are better nurtured and fostered in certain environments, but now different elements of the hip hop culture are all over the planet. I travel overseas to areas of Europe where the whitest of white people happen to be and those are some of the illest hip hop kids. There are 40 year olds there who have been doing it for 10, 15 years since they first heard Run DMC and they were the only ones doing it in their country. So that just proves to me that there are bridges being built all over the world. It’s up to us whether or not we want to use them."

The trio is in the process of putting together a new CD, entitled Expansion Team . And like their present release, The Platform , the title holds some significance. The Platform reflects the group’s eclectic nature, sense of balance and desire to make the people listen. Rakaa explains that much like sports, when you’re new to the scene and get invited in, you are the expansion team. This CD should establish Dilated Peoples as more than just the new kids on the field. In fact they’re a growing force to be listened to.

"Everything is constantly changing. Even rap music sounds totally different now than it did 10 years ago. And in 10 years it’ll sound different again. If you don’t grow, expand and evolve you just become extinct."

Hence, they are dilating peoples.

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