Cats and Dogs represents everything that’s good at the forefront of underground hip hop. It’s the second solo album from Evidence of the legendary Dilated Peoples; production comes from DJ Premier, Alchemist and DJ Babu and there are guest spots from Aloe Blacc, Raekwon, Slug, Aesop Rock, Roc Marciano and Prodigy. What more can you ask for than that? A dope MC backed by the some of the best talent in the scene. But despite all this, there’s something about Cats and Dogs that leaves you wanting a little bit more.
That’s not to say it’s a bad record, far from it. It’s solid almost all the way through. Like Evidence said in a recent interview about Dilated Peoples’ body of work, there’s no way you could say it’s wack. But neither could you say that’s it’s amazing. The vast majority of the tracks are good, and occasionally, as in the case of “Late for the Sky,” very, very good.
Evidence’s flow is well, what we’ve come to expect from him: considered, measured stories told in his steady baritone. But multiple listens in, I still can’t recall a memorable line or witty couplet off the top of my head. The same with the beats. They’re solid beats that will get your head nodding when the record’s on, but like the rhymes, won’t leave much of an impression once the record stops. Most of them follow the same pace: majestic, stately, with soulful samples and hard-hitting drums. It’s a strong formula and it works. But it’s only when Evidence deviates from this pattern that he really shines on the uplifting “Late for the Sky” and “Same Folks.” This pair bounce in like a breath of fresh air, precisely because they’re lighter, more positive tracks, a burst of sunshine through the rainclouds if you like, which makes it a crying shame that “Same Folks” in particular has been relegated to bonus track status.
Having said that, that’s probably because it doesn’t quite fit into Cats and Dogs concept, of, well, it never rains but it pours. Its sacrifice is therefore understandable, if regrettable. It leaves us with an album that’s more consistent, but less surprising. Which brings us to the album’s flaw: it just doesn’t break any new ground. Evidence himself is aware of this (“I ain’t claimed to be a game changer”) and while finding your groove and producing more of the same quality that you’ve been good to enough to furnish the public with for the last ten years isn’t a bad thing, it just means we have a(nother) good album, not a great one.
In his autobiography Life, Keith Richards muses on why he still makes music in his old age and how people perceive his reasons for doing it, suggesting that most think he should just pack up and enjoy his retirement. But he carries on because despite the possibility of diminishing returns, being a musician means that you have to go on creating and making music because it’s what every part of your body and soul urges you to do.
It might be slightly strange to compare the relatively youthful Evidence with a true veteran of Richards’ age, but given the expiry date of most rappers’ careers today, rather than criticise Evidence for furnishing us with another solid album, perhaps we should simply celebrate the fact that one of hip hop’s relatively unsung warriors is still out there and doing his thing well. Cats and Dogs might not find Evidence a new audience, but it’ll no doubt delight the fans he already has. Either way, respect is due.