Evidence, Rakaa & DJ Babu have grown immensely since their humble beginnings in the late 90's. From their breakthrough single "Work The Angles" to their debut release "The Platform" and sophomore effort "Expansion Team", the formula has remained the same for the California trio but their sound has kept evolving. And while Dilated Peoples have remained one of the undergrounds most consistent groups over the years, platinum plaques and mainstream success has never been within the groups grasp. Looking to change all of that and officially put the Dilated name on the mainstream map is the groups third release "Neighborhood Watch".
It is quite obvious that Dilated Peoples newest release is the groups most venturous effort. With the Kanye West produced lead single "This Way" blowing up all across America, Dilated has finally manufactured that one big single it so longed for with previous efforts such as "Worst Comes To Worst". The "Get By" influenced jam capitalizes off of the immense success of Kanye West, who also puts forth an out of place verse of his own, that unfortunately has nothing to do with the song's concept. Nevertheless, just from judging the lead single Dilated fans knew straight off the bat that "Neighborhood Watch" wasn't going to follow in the footsteps of their two previous albums, and they were right.
The main problem with "Neighborhood Watch" is the production aspect. Evidence and Rakaa have never been the most gifted lyricists on the planet, but they have always provided good song making ability and fresh concepts with hard hitting beats. This formula seen throughout their two previous albums is no where to be seen on "Neighborhood Watch". The production lineup has remained the same, (Alchemist, Dilated, Reef, Joey Chavez) but shockingly enough, the end product is completely different than expected. The always consistent Alchemist offers up a couple of lackluster and generic efforts on "World On Wheels", "Neighborhood Watch" and "Poisonous" featuring Devin The Dude, all of which are uncharacteristic efforts from ALC. The overused sample utilized by Reef on "Trying To Breathe" has been done one too many times and could have been done without. The more up tempo bounce sounds of "Who's Who" is another uncharacteristic effort from the group, while Evidence's own solo track "Caffeine" is a typical snooze fest complete with horrendous production by Nucleus. Even the group collaboration of "Closed Session" featuring Planet Asia, Defari & Phil Da Agony cannot overcome a wretched DJ Babu beat.
It's only when the production aspect of "Neighborhood Watch" reaches its potential that we finally get those vintage Dilated cuts. The one successful Alchemist produced track "Marathon" certainly gets the album off to a nice start, as Evidence and Rakaa offer decent verses over a vintage Alchemist bassline and handclaps. On the flip side of the coin, the beautifully produced "Reach Us" is one of the albums best tracks as it features a remarkable sample that transports the melodic and soulful track into another world. "Love & War" also features a great vocal sample (I Can't Fake It Anymore by Dick Monda & Ted Taylor), as Evidence laces the track with one of his best production works ever. Babu's scratching of Prodigy's infamous line "I got lots of love for my crew that is" in the hook is a nice addition to the track as well. Conceptually, the albums strongest cut is Rakaa's politically charged solo effort "Big Business". While once again the tracks production is a cause for concern, Rakaa's strong message is enough to carry the track by itself. "I fight for peace, that’s what the problem is. War is big biz, ask any economist. They speaking volumes just calling anti war and anti American synonymous".
While one cannot knock Dilated for trying to expand their horizons, "Neighborhood Watch" fails to capture that vintage Dilated Peoples sound popularized on "Expansion Team" & "The Platform". Whether its questionable direction, hit and miss production, or boring concepts, there are a multitude of reasons why "Neighborhood Watch" is the groups worst effort. But if we have learned anything from Dilated over the years its that adversity only makes them stronger. Let's hope that remains true, so that Dilated rebounds from this colossal disappointment.