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Dilated Peoples - Neighborhood Watch

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Artist: Dilated Peoples

Album: Neighborhood Watch

Label: Capitol

Review date: May. 4, 2004

If there was some truth to the claim that Dilated Peoples were at the top of their game when they released The Platform in 2000, it began to slip away with the next year's Expansion Team, and, at the rate things are going, will soon be clearly false. They've never done anything revelatory, really, but in the past their strengths have outnumbered their faults. MCs Evidence and Iriscience have relatively interesting flows to make up for their forgettable lyrics and stage presence, and Alchemist's sharp melodic production and (World Famous Beat Junkie) DJ Babu's scratches often help salvage the rhymes. But almost nothing about Neighborhood Watch sounds fresh, from its staid beats to its lackluster world-weariness, nor does it even reprise the valid territory they've tread in the past; rather, despite a few quality tracks, the album feels wholly uninventive and listless.

Admittedly, to speak ill of social consciousness in hip-hop is to flout its foundations, but the sum of the various messages proffered throughout Neighborhood Watch is less a sobering perspective on modern life than a lot of high-horse melodrama. The title track, with its mantra "Neighborhood watch: Watch for criminals and watch for cops," sees a familiar on-my-block urban panorama, while "Tryin' To Breathe" takes on the pressures of fame (alas, not as hilariously as Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar"). "Poisonous" is a cautionary tale about vindictive women (emotional baggage: so hot right now). "Big Business" seems poised to make an important political statement with its thoughtful observations and edgy piano sample, but it wastes its shot at gravitas on dull metaphors ("I pledge resistance to the grass that hides the snakes of America") and cloying truisms ("Is the opposite of progress congress?").

Even on the less message-laden tracks, the words rhyme well enough, but the only memorable couplets are the terrible ones. To wit, part of the refrain of "Poisonous" is actually "She's dangerous to touch / She'll treat your heart like Toys 'R Us."

But more disappointing is that the production seldom delivers. Apart from the excellent "Love and War" and the no-hi-hat groove of "Caffeine,” the album's backdrops are consistently bland and conventional. So much the worse when Alchemist opts for thump and handclap/click in place of kick and snare (see "Marathon" and yet another strike against "Poisonous"). When the obligatory skit "1580" (which ain't much of a skit) samples Expansion Team singles "Worst Comes To Worst" and "Live On Stage," Neighborhood's beats only sound all the more paltry by comparison.

At least Babu is on point throughout, but even his talents don't lift the record much until the final scratch track "DJ Babu in Deep Concentration." Same goes for Kanye West, whose distinctive turn on the penultimate "This Way" comes a bit too late to elevate the tone. At 57 minutes, Neighborhood has a few songs' worth of quality befitting Dilated Peoples' earlier efforts – credible beats, witty rhymes, well-placed samples, and so on – and way too much bloated filler material surrounding it.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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