hilst Kanye West may well be the first rapper with a backpack and a Benz, Dilated Peoples’ career success to date could probably afford them the ability to match up that Jansport over their shoulders with an ex-fleet Mazda. Despite a recording career stretching back to 1998, and legitimate top 40 chart action with “Worst Comes To Worst”, the common held view on Dilated Peoples is that they are a second division rap outfit. And, like fellow midcarders such as Ugly Duckling and The Beatnuts, they’ve not been able to take any of the routes that the guys that they used to sit next to on the substitute bench have into the a-list, such as Linkin Park (Jurassic 5 and The X-Ecutioners), silly hats (Common) or white girls (Black Eyed Peas).
The one trump card that Dilated have always had up their sleeve, though, that could have enabled them to make it up to the next level is their rotund Asian turntable-trickster Babu. The man clearly knows his way around the crossfade (he was even celebrated in self-congratulatory girlfriendless tedium showpiece Scratch), and, in addition to lacing up the tracks with the requisite numbers of cuts and scratches, is also one of the 412 producers featured on this album (Babu and fellow Dilated Person Evidence handle the lion’s share of the 14 tracks on offer, but we also get The Alchemist, Reef, Nucleus and Joey Chavez. Not to mention Kanye West’s… actually, let’s not mention Kanye’s contribution to this album. To save my sanity).
And, of course, certain hip-hop journos have taken the “army of producers for an LP” approach as their current bete noir, citing ol’ Spitting Image features himself, Jay-Z, and specifically The Black Album as proof that employing any old idiot that’s got a GNVQ in music production to deliver beats for your album is going to result in the same sort of exercise in moribundity that The Black Album was.
Wrong answer bucko.
What made The Black Album dire wasn’t the tsunami of producers. Nope, rather it was the way that ol’ Jigga-lypuff chose this particular album to start sending everyone to sleep on the mic (Jigga-lypuff. Send to sleep. Do you see? Oh good.).
Of course, Neighborhood Watch is nothing like that.
Mainly because Evidence and… the other one have never been able to rhyme in the first place.
And I don’t mean in an “occasionally goofy” way. I mean they can’t rap. Period. Not “they can’t ride a beat”, or “they have poor wordplay”, or “they don’t come correct”, or whatever piece of shit cliché you care to think of. No, when I say they can’t rap, I mean “American Life” levels of being unable to rap.
And it’s a damn killer, because some of the backings on here are absolutely lethal. Opening cut “Marathon” is basically “Worst Comes To Worst” V2.0, with the driving late 90s radio-rap stylings. Dilated’s rapping contingent, however, decide to splay the track with their usual mitherings about their haterz and their struggles and their rockings of various parties, but they also managed to engage in their most heinous of crime, the tortured metaphor. Some of the metaphors they use on this album are so tortured I strongly considered phoning Amnesty on a number of occasions. So “Marathon” gives over far too long to “I run, like this, because stuff is a marathon, do you see?”, whilst the title track informs us that they are the neigborhood watch, because they “watch for criminals and watch for cops”. Still, as bad as these lines are, nothing can brace you for the repeated declaration that “she’ll play your heart like Toys R Us”. Thanks for that guys, the worst lyric of 2004 competition is now closed, we thank you for your entries.
And, yet again, this is a shame, because this album punches firmly above its weight beat-wise, indeed, “Caffeine” has an ominous piano riff and puffing-up-your-cheek basslines (lyric that ruins this song: “I’m from a real big city called Watch Where You Go / A place you think you know, only to find out you don’t”), whilst “Who’s Who” samples something that I should know but forget, needless to say it has the funk bit, and the electro b-boy bit, and then “Wherever we go, we might blow the party up and turn the show into a nightclub”. Cheers for that.
And then… look, “This Way” with Kanye West is fucking dire. What the hell are you Americans on about? Of course, it’s nice to have a track on the album ruined by something other than the home team’s rapping, but still… yeesh.
So, at the end of the day, hats off to Babu and the producers for bringing straight gold to the table on the instrumental side. As for Evidence and Iriscience? Well, as they always say, it only takes a couple of bad sorts to move in, and, poof, there goes the neighborhood.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-03-25