The omens look good for Dilated Peoples on the release of this, their third album. With veterans like the Black-Eyed Peas successfully reborn as a pop act and OutKast rightly crowned as the biggest band on the planet, the future of hip hop no longer looks determined by the size of your Glock. You feel that if the LA-based trio are going to cross over - something they threatened to do with previous releases The Platform and Expansion Team - then the time is now.
Unfortunately Neighborhood Watch isn't going to do it.
If there's an obvious criticism it's the rapping itself. Head honchos Evidence and Iriscience operate in that no-mans land between conscious issue-based hip hop and the outlaw unconsciousness of straight-up braggadocio. As they proclaim on the title track, they're sort of inbetweeners - against the criminals and the cops. Unfortunately, their microphone skills have neither the intricate dexterity of Q-Tip nor the juvenile thuggery of 50 Cent.
A line in "Caffeine" - 'I'm an underground cat, but still I like money and cars' - neatly encapsulates their dilemma. The Peoples demand 'bling' without ostentatiousness; respect without the trappings. Consequently, their stance consistently falls between the cracks. Any social commentary is mostly of the exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin variety and is ultimately po-faced and humourless.
This is a shame as the music itself is first class. DJ Babu constructs his beats masterfully, mercilessly twisting a single riff from umpteen different angles and pummelling the listener into submission. On Who's Who - effectively a repetitive two-note drone - it could be Terminator X out there speaking with his hands.
A welcome variation to the formula comes right at the death, courtesy of current hip hop wonder boy Kanye West; on "This Way" he elevates the album to previously unforeseen heights. Alas, about 50 minutes in, it's too little too late.
Maybe that's the problem with a 'neighbourhood watch' - its a worthy cause in theory, but a little dull in practice. Until Dilated Peoples can dig a little deeper they'll remain strictly second division. --Jack Smith
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