DILATED PEOPLES: The name alone hints at their m.o. The Los Angeles multi-culti trio (black, white, Asian) want to expand the parameters of people's conception of hiphop. After years of paying dues, they've signed to Capitol, and their debut LP, The Platform, is one of the most highly anticipated releases in hiphop. Billboard recently gave them a big, fat, juicy article praising their ability to maintain street cred while moving up to the next level. And these days, their live gigs are packing 'em in tighter than Roseanne in hot pants.

Between the sardine-squeeze and the group's rock and roll energy--complete with stage-diving and crowd-surfing--it's going to be a sweaty night at ARO.space. After eight years together, rappers Rakaa a.k.a. Iriscience and Evidence know how to rev a crowd, while world-class turntablist DJ Babu, of L.A.'s World Famous Beat Junkies, will pick up any slack with some wicky-wicky-wicked solos.

Dilated made their first dent in the scene in '93, with a contribution to Immortal Records' Next Chapter compilation of local unsigned hype. They inked a deal with Immortal and recorded an LP, only to watch the label fold and the record collect dustballs (it was never released). Turned off by the experience, they decided to go the independent route, hooking up with Bay Area indie ABB Records and releasing the single "Third Degree" in 1997. The song's murky, banging beat, driving horn section, and freeform mix of battle rhymes, politics, and other mini-mind bombs became the blueprint for the group's style.

"It was the first time that we put out our own material and got a chance to see what our niche was," says Rakaa, the fair-skinned member of the group.

The 12-inch scored airplay on mix shows from coast to coast, and created a demand for live club dates. In '98, Dilated added DJ Babu to their lineup, built up a killer buzz with singles like the now-classic "Work the Angles," toured madly, and parlayed said buzz into a new major-label contract.

Rakaa acknowledges that Dilated followed the trail blazed by Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, two groups that "entertained while they were dropping their bombs." But he thinks the group's roots go back even further.

"The whole of hiphop culture was initially based around the DJ plugging in his turntables, and everyone would come down and dance, rap, and graffiti," says Rakaa. "It was a big party. Even if the party was to alleviate the strain of real sociological issues, it was still a party-oriented culture. But you wanted to make it a positive party, a conscious party."

This attitude is spray-painted across The Platform like Krylon on I-5. On the disc, Rakaa, Ev, and guests--including B-Real, Everlast, and Tha Alkaholiks--have no problem "serving" wack MCs and professing their own mic prowess. But they also aim to "edutain." Rhymes Rakaa on one cut: "Messages I sneak in/They seem to seep in/Mixed with alcohol and weed on the weekend."

Forget the "stack that paper" materialism and "don't-fuck-wit-me-cuz-I'll-splatter-your-ass-on-the-pavement" posturing often associated with hiphop. Forget formulaic, radio-friendly loops with R&B choruses. These kids favor a grittier sound and a more elevated perspective, which puts them smack dab in the center of an L.A. hiphop renaissance that includes Jurassic 5 and the Black Eyed Peas. All three did time on the underground, doing things DIY-style before bubbling up and landing bigtime deals.

Rakaa agrees there's a movement going on, but he doesn't necessarily see it as a replacement for the commercial gangsta-ism that has been synonymous with L.A. rap for years. He simply sees Dilated, the Peas, J5, Styles of Beyond, and others of their ilk as another wrinkle.

"This whole thing is not about mainstream, it's about having the option of working with different people in mid-level situations," Rakaa points out. "Now there are independent labels that are professional; artists are able to come out and not have to go straight to the mainstream. For that reason, we haven't had to sell out and be carried up there."

Rakaa sums up Dilated's stance on the sellout issue--and the group's overall vibe--on "Ear Drums Pop," which pinches the mantra from De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate album: "From L.A. I spit rocks of data/That leave craters/Some are less than, some equal, but none greater/Suck your gun play/I'm lovin' the sun ray/Used to party Friday, Saturday, and pray on Sunday/ But I figured out in life that there's more than one way/That's why I'm doing things I always knew I'd do one day/I've seen many lands and tasted the best crop/I've witnessed many cultures expressed through hiphop/I'm building with that science that De La drops/It means it might blow up/But it won't go pop."

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