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Approximately three-quarters of y'all are water. --Black Thought

Amid the vast seas of pop hip-hop conformity one finds occasional islands of innovation and independent thought. Some are continents of creativity: Acts like De La Soul, The Roots, and Common have eked out an existence with enough mainstream love (read: sales) to stay signed, and enough underground respect to stay relevant--true to craft and culture. Some other groups are smaller still, dotting the hip-hop seascape like a Melanesian archipelago, small and loosely connected entities trying to keep their heads above water. Planet Asia, Defari, Blackalicious and Dilated Peoples are such out-of-the-way destinations, known only to a relative few hip-hop travelers.

The Platform, Dilated Peoples' new release, represents the best of the hip-hop underground, providing an untainted glimpse into the age-old (since the '70s!) practices of emceeing and deejaying. Dilated's credo is summed up succinctly in the hook of the title cut, "The Platform, takes respect to perfect the art form/at times a battleground where rappers get their hearts torn."

Conspicuously absent on this joint are platinum and ice-encrusted gimmicks, store-bought samples, and the formulaic thugged-out rhyme deliveries that deluge the airwaves.

Emcees Iriscience and Evidence come with lyrics that range from battle-tested to introspective, while Babu, the DJ/Turntablist, rips tracks to shreds, demonstrating competition-type skills and the ability to keep a beat and move feet. The collaborations on The Platform read like a who's who of Left Coast Lyricism: Aceyalone, Tha Alkaholiks, Defari, B Real, as Dilated rocks over kinetic production by Babu, Evidence, the Alchemist and a slew of others. Irie and Ev open up the third eye on "Triple Optics," build geometrically on "The Shape Of Things To Come," and just plain bring it on "Annihilation." Dilated Peoples' skills clearly stand out in a saturated and watered down hip-hop market, but it remains to be seen whether their "platform" will attract the rap tourists, or just the culture connoisseurs and purists.

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