Record Review - 2 December 05 2001

With Expansion Team, Dilated Peoples attempt to put a contemporary spin on a rusty hip-hop ship, in which the DJ is the captain and the beats are the oceans he navigates. And while the results on Peoples' sophomore major-label release don't quite align with their ambitions, the West Coast trio does create some inventive and rugged music as they flaunt old-school influences Eric B & Rakim, Stetsasonic, Public Enemy and especially De La Soul.

Most potent when sampling Philly-style soul riffs (New York City on "Proper Propaganda" and William Bell on "Worst Comes to Worst," the album's first single and best track), DJ Babu along with battle-freestylers Evidence and Iriscience steer through soundscapes from a variety of producers. Da Beatminerz, The Alchemist, DJ Premier, Juju, ?uestlove and Joey Chavez provide a mix of approaches that somehow cohere into a funky whole.

Aiming for a positive vibe — or at least veering away from horny ho's, quick cash and self-inflating boasts — Evidence and Iriscience attack topics as heavy as war, propaganda, philosophical self-defense ("Whatever you put out, you gonna get back") and radio airplay. But their clever rhymes remain subservient to DJ Babu's more creative influence, and unless the track has an obvious repeated chorus (and many do), it's easier to appreciate the twisting palette of beats, samples and loops than it is to decipher the philosophical rants.

There's little chance of mass exposure for Expansion Team, which is appropriate for a group that remained underground for the majority of its almost decade-old career. Yet Dilated Peoples offer inventive contemporary hip-hop that cherishes its roots while expanding into non- commercial, if hardly radical, waters.

Dilated Peoples play Thurs., Dec. 6, at the Cotton Club.??