Going back to basics means different things for different artists. For Common, a return to hip-hop essentials meant abandoning the wiggy experimentation of Electric Circus for a sound as warm and life-affirming as a brilliant summer afternoon and an inclusive vibe that felt like home. But True Schoolers Dilated Peoples already boast one of the simplest formulas in hip-hop. So for them, going back to basics means abandoning the mild experimentation and occasional stylistic curveballs that have enlivened their previous three albums. Dilated Peoples throw nothing but fastballs down the plate on their fourth major-label release, and their patented blend of hard, minimalist beats, boyish, athletic battle raps, hyper-soul sampled hooks, and DJ Babu's ubiquitous scratching has gotten a little stale. In a further testament to Dilated Peoples' commitment to not expanding the boundaries of hip-hop, 20/20 is stitched together with skits involving the group's fondness for marijuana. Revolutionary it isn't.
Dilated Peoples can usually be counted on to deliver at least one fist-pumping anthem per disc. But 20/20 fatally lacks an instant classic along the lines of "Worst Comes To Worst" or 2004's Kanye West-engineered smash "This Way," though strong tracks like "You Can't Hide, You Can't Run" and the Talib Kweli-assisted "Kindness For Weakness" come close. And in spite of occasional lines like "Got Boots [Riley] on, now we know Bush is Lucifer," on the whole, 20/20 could benefit from a lot more of the political acumen and social consciousness Evidence and Rakaa consistently bring to their guest spots. Dilated Peoples' orthodox appeal has always been its aversion to gimmicks and flash, but on this underwhelming album the venerable trio offer little in the way of humor or excitement, either.