Los Angeles hip hop icons Dilated Peoples have returned to the world with fire and grace in the new full length LP Directors of Photography and the plethora of touring dates that have been in association. Rakaa, Evidence and Babu have been making one of the biggest impressions into the fabric of hip hop history for over a decade now and they have aligned yet again for a phenomenal piece of art. With the group moving past the major label systems that defined the beginning phase of their career, they are afforded a higher state of freedom in the execution timelines of their craft and it’s translated to an artistically heightened level of work from the three.
Babu took on more of the sound design tasks, adding in a level of his voice never heard on a Dilated album prior. Evidence splits his talents between production and lyricism, pulling off both with an incredible sense of evolution and confidence. His passion for photography has now infused with the group, becoming the basis for the conceptual direction of the new records theme. Rakaa is the unspoken core of the group, largely navigating the artistic, spiritual and business side of Dilated into what we see now. His lyricism has always been of the highest order and the new LP keeps that standard preserved.
Rakaa Iriscience is one of the most prolific in 21st century hip hop culture and his presence on Directors of Photography is nothing short of incredible. Outside of his career with Dilated, he’s a solo artist, college graduate, studies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the Gracie family, dabbles in photography and expresses life in degrees the public will never see but can feel through his music. A man of many gifts and talents, he’s been one individual we have wanted to interview since beginning SCV and the time felt very right this year. It brings us much joy to present this new interview with Rakaa about the 2014 Dilated LP, working relationships, martial arts, major influences in and out of hip hop, recent collaborations, touring the world and much more.
Erik: Hello Rakaa, I wanted to first congratulate you and your group on the new full length Directors of Photography. I was in 10th grade when The Platform came out and it was a record I always had in my discman during that era. Considering the landscape of west coast hip hop music in the mainstream during that time, it was an important source of artistic light within all that. Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship, Hiero, and so forth, that era was incredible and close to my heart. I feel Directors of Photography raises to the bar The Platform set over a decade ago and we are honored to conduct this interview with you about the new album.
Rakaa: Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate your support and time.
Erik: Watching the recent Finding Focus video interviews, it was interesting to hear all of you speak about the difference in environments and process that was present when recording the new album as opposed to what was going down when the group was on Capitol. Did you find the process of creating Directors of Photography more gratifying and self-fulfilling? What were the biggest positives of making a record like Directors of Photography for you?
Rakaa: I found it to be much more fulfilling and creatively rewarding. We always made honest and potent music, but it is almost impossible for an artist to create without being influenced by his or her environment. We made sure that the places that we recorded, the artists that we worked with, the people that we brought in for support on the business side of things, and the label we chose all reflected the environment that we wanted to create in. It was just up to us to be honest with each other, and ourselves and to push one another out of our comfort zones into a place where we could grow and be able to express that growth on the highest possible level. We didn’t have to make this album. We didn’t owe a label a project when we started it; we weren’t in tax or bank trouble; and our egos are in check. We wanted to make it, and we wanted to make it the best album of our careers. It was exhausting at times but it was inspirational.
Erik: The amount of exposure the new singles off Directors of Photography have been getting is incredible. You had the opportunity to present the Aloe Blacc ft track “Show Me The Way” as the second single and it’s one of my favorite tracks off the LP. Did you meet Aloe Blacc when he was doing his thing with Emanon or after? What type of experience did you have when putting the new piece together with Aloe?
Rakaa: Yes… It has been well received. We’ve known Aloe for a long time. He was a well-respected MC before he chose to focus more on the singing aspect of his talent, and I do know him from the Emanon days. He and Exile are family. We actually had the beat and verses done and were trying to figure out what to do with the chorus. We sketched out a few things, but I knew that I wanted Aloe on this from the beginning. He worked on solo stuff for Ev, and he also worked on the title track for my solo album Crown of Thorns, so the vibe is always potent and real. We just called and told him what we were trying to do, sent him the rough to check out, and he came back with something brilliant. He’s a very talented, humble, and intelligent person. Family. I’m extremely happy for his success, and I’m hearing distant rumors of a new Emanon project down the line too. That could be crazy.
Erik: I was really pleased to hear DJ Babu speak about the process of the new record and how his input is the strongest form to date on Directors of Photography. From your perspective, what did he add to the creative process and final product that he hadn’t done so before?
Rakaa: Hmmmm… In the interview, he speaks of being a full third of the group but maybe even doing more than a third of the work. To be honest, that is his interpretation of what is actually him doing a full third of the work for the first time. He went from just doing cuts to accent the music plus adding a solo showcase; to engineering some of the sessions and making some of the music — along with his cuts and solo showcase; to stepping up to be a respected voice within the group, a real producer, and still doing all that he was doing before. He had it kind of easy at times in the past, but he definitely earned it on this one. He wasn’t just presenting himself as a utility guy, and he wasn’t just standing in the middle trying to keep his head low when Ev and I were at war. He stepped up to where he should’ve been the whole time, and that was very important due to the amount of trust and patience that was needed to make this album. He definitely did his part, and he is an incredible person and artist.
Erik: The lyricism on Directors of Photography is incredible. The rhyme meters and structures are never predictable, the metaphors and conceptual purpose of every line are always sound and thought provoking. In terms of keeping your craft evolving and progressing, do you have methods that keep your writing abilities on this path?
Rakaa: Thank you. We pushed each other and ourselves. Methods? Hmmm… Read more, listen more, and open up to the patterns of other arts and artists. We weren’t setting out to be punchline kings. We wanted the poetry to shine through, and we wanted the pictures to pop as vibrantly as possible.
Erik: The flow of an album is one of the final states of analysis and final judgment of a record for me personally. The arrangement of tracks on Directors of Photography is another incredible element to the album. When all three of you came together to get the final structure together, was the process difficult or did you all come together seamlessly on this end?
Rakaa: Thank you. We all understand flow, tension and release, and the power of the music. There was some small back and forth, and there were a couple of rough sequences before we locked the final one in, but we basically just approached it like we would a set list for a show. That made it pretty comfortable for us.
Erik: Evidence’s work in photography is without a doubt a very strong influence on the albums conceptual theme. Growing up in a region like LA before the digital age, analog cameras were a big part of culture in all that. Were you ever influenced and close to any prolific photographers before linking up with Evidence? What does photography mean to you coming up as a student of life?
Rakaa: Ev has photography in his blood, but I don’t think he was really into it like he is now until he started shooting with his camera and Babu introduced him to Instagram. He’s obviously a talented and prolific digital photographer now — as is Babu. I’m personally much less prolific but at least as profound. I don’t shoot photos recreationally or to boost my social network follower count. I don’t do many photography field trips… maybe because I was juggling handling the business side for Dilated, being a solo and group artist, and finishing my degree when they were first catching the photo bug. I pretty much only shoot what speaks to me or what I don’t want to forget. I share that… well, most of it.
Erik: I have always loved Dilated Peoples for the fact that I can talk about any level of your craft and it has depth. The concepts for the albums are always in a state of totality where the sequence of the album and interlude sections build on a oneness. Lyricism, DJ and production techniques are in creatively potent and technically accomplished forms. Who are some other hip hop groups where you share that same level of respect for? How about outside of the hip hop world in terms of oneness and creative strengths?
Rakaa: I don’t like to start listing people… Hmmm… I have respect for a lot of artists out there, but nobody does it like Dilated does it. I feel the depth in what Fashawn, the TDE movement, Run the Jewels, Pro Era, Blu, Rebel Diaz, and others are doing right now. I love what MSK is doing with Graffiti around the world, and I have to give a shout out to my Rock Steady Crew and Universal Zulu Nation families for building fundamental bridges worldwide. BC One, R16, BOTY, IBE and a few others are pushing B-Boy culture to great heights. HHCF is doing amazing work in using Hip Hop, martial arts, and chess to teach life strategies to youth. Peace to my uso J-Boog for what he is doing in Reggae right now too.
Erik: Vince Staples is a newer artists that we’ve seen put in a lot of work into the culture of hip hop right now. What do you hear in his approach that drew you towards wanting to work with him?
Rakaa: Ev introduced him to the family. He’s talented. He has an original voice, a unique perspective, a creative way of putting words together, and the ability to use his pen and mic as paintbrushes. If he stays on track, he will continue to grow as a force in this scene and culture.
Erik: Defari is a feature that really made the record special to me. He’s always been a favorite MC of mine and I know Evidence did some production for him in the past. How did you guys come up with the concept of giving him his own track with who I assume is Evidence on the beat?
Rakaa: Defari is family. He has been a part of what we do since our first 12″ on ABB Records. We gave him and Phil the Agony their own one-verse interludes on our Expansion Team album, and we liked the texture and how they served as breaks without breaking the vibe. Defari and Ev are cooking up more heat together right now too, so be on the lookout for new music from them soon!
Erik: The sound of vinyl popping like bacon grease opens up and closes the album. Vinyl is a medium that we personally love the most and have been collecting for years now. Are you big on collecting vinyl? Do you remember some of the first hip hop records you ever bought?
Rakaa: Yeah, that popping sound adds to the vibe. It was originally just at the beginning but I called Babu after the first real sequence was locked in and asked him to add it to the end as well. It made it feel like more of a complete thought that way. Vinyl… I’m not a big vinyl collector. I have most if not all of the Dilated vinyl releases, and I keep pieces that were given to me by close friends. I have a few classic pieces too. The first Hip Hop vinyl I ever bought was Run DMC’s Raising Hell, King Tee’s Act A Fool, and Eazy E’s “Boyz-N-The Hood” / “Fat Girl” single.
Erik: I was in contact with a close friend the other day who studies Jiu Jitsu under the Gracie family. He mentioned you also practice under the same system and have been doing so for a few years now. Can you tell us a little about what this type of discipline has done for your music and life in general?
Rakaa: I’ve been training Jiu Jitsu with the Gracies off and on for many years. That’s family. I’ve done various martial arts in my life, but nothing spoke to me like Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It has given me focus, personal discipline, better physical and mental health, an outlet to diffuse and redirect anger and frustration, and a large family and support structure around the world. Blood pressure and pants size are down, cardio and energy levels are up. It’s obviously incredible self defense training as well.
Erik: What have been some of the biggest differences between the recent tours in Europe and the United States?
Rakaa: With the internet opening the world up at a certain level, the differences are less defined than they once were. That said, European crowds are generally more appreciative and come to events ready to have a good time. US crowds seem much more influenced by label and media campaigns, where international support is generally more based on talent and reputation. If they like you in Europe and you rock, they will continue to support. If you’re wack or try to look at Europe as an easy target once US support has faded, they’ll call you out on that too. I’m actually en route from the Czech Republic to Switzerland right now. We are blessed to have a solid presence at home and abroad, and we don’t take that for granted.
Erik: Thank you for your time Rakaa, we really appreciate it and are in full support of what you guys are doing creatively right now. Take care.
Rakaa: Thank YOU. Continued success and many blessings to you and yours. Peace.