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.

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