"I've always been a proponent of exalting the DJ in music, because to me, that's the backbone of hip-hop," says Rakaa from his home base of Los Angeles. "If we let people focus the attention elsewhere, that can be a problem. A lot of these rock groups recognize what a DJ can do. A lot of cats in hip-hop need to realize it, too."
Babu's cuts and Ra and Evidence's thoughtful rhymes drive Expansion Team, a tighter and more musical offering than the group's 2000 debut, The Platform. The trio, which came up through the West Coast open-mic underground, tackles weighty subjects like hip-hop materialism (on "Trade Money") without bogging down philosophically or neglecting hooks. The group is part of a growing number of hip-hop acts (the Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jurassic 5) bringing a different set of priorities to the table and offering a break from the bling-bling of Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and the assorted Cash Money millionaires. But as Ra points out, the struggle to shift the music's focus from guns, goods, and money isn't new.
"Before this stuff today, there was already Slick Rick. There was already cats rockin' big gold ropes. Everything that is now, has always been," he says. "But with us, we just keep screaming to be heard."