Renowned for a back-to-basics style that recalls hip-hop’s formative years, West Coast natives Dilated Peoples have long been favorites of the underground. MCs Iriscience and Evidence began working together in 1992; after enlisting Beat Junky member DJ Babu as a turntablist, they created waves in the independent scene with early singles “Third Degree” (1997) and “Work The Angles” (1998). A deal with Capitol followed, and the group’s 2000 debut, The Platform, built on their early promise with a coruscating collection of old-school rap songs, setting the band up for their second album, Expansion Team.
Generally considered their greatest work, Expansion Team was released on October 23, 2001. The group’s burgeoning reputation enabled them to attract the cream of rap talent to the recording sessions, as evidenced by the appearance of Gang Starr legend Guru on lead single “Worst Comes To Worst.” It’s a classic slice of head-nodding hip-hop that interpolates a sped-up version of William Bell’s soul staple “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” with snippets from Mobb Deep’s boom-bap classic “Survival Of The Fittest.” Elsewhere, there are prime productions from such hip-hop luminaries as DJ Premier (who contributes the taut and bassline-heavy “Clockwork”), Da Beatminerz (the King Tubby-sampling “Trade Money”), and The Roots’ Questlove (the militaristic “War”). The Alchemist, too, makes contributions, helping out on the aforementioned “Worst Comes To Worst,” the bumping “Panic” and the album’s storming second single, “Live On Stage.”
Despite the array of guest contributors, Expansion Team remains unmistakably a Dilated Peoples album, with their trademark mix of DJ Babu’s scratches and Iriscience and Evidence’s battle rhymes prevalent throughout. The group honed the modern/old-school hybrid sound they created on The Platform, and, really, it’s their own productions that shine brightest. DJ Babu’s “Pay Attention” co-opts an Ahmad Jamal piano lick to create a classic example of jazzy hip-hop, while on “Dilated Junkies,” his production provides a welcome showcase for the turntablist skills of his fellow Beat Junkies.
Expansion Team was to become Dilated Peoples’ most commercially successful album, though it wasn’t enough to push them into the mainstream. In fact, other than a brief dalliance with the Billboard Top 200 in 2004, when they collaborated with a young Kanye West and John Legend on the single “This Way,” the band have firmly remained part of the hip-hop underground, beloved by many with a fondness for the genre’s Golden Age.