I first heard Del Tha Funkee Homosapien back on the Judgement Night soundtrack from 1993, when he teamed up with Dinosaur Jr. for the track Missing Link. I was totally taken with the guy’s flow and strange syncopation, and it wasn’t long before my friends and I were throwing Mistadobalina lines at one another in the hallways at school. 15 years later, it’s hard not to credit Del with laying the foundation of my hip-hop palette.
What I liked about Del is that he never seemed to dip into familiar pools. Elaborate puns and double-entendres are his forte, and he never half-assed what he was trying to say. His 1993 album No Need For Alarm is still one of the best rap albums I’ve ever heard, and it’s widely considered to be among the most classic albums to come out of Oakland in the history of hip-hop. He’s always seemed to pride himself on being something of an oddball rapper, abandoning the typical, tired lyrical themes that so many rappers have milked over the years. He was the original backpacker, way before it became a common and slightly derogatory symbol of hip-hop with artsy, conscious lyrics.
While not necessarily his best, Deltron 3030 is easily Del’s most colorful and ambitious effort. Released in 2000, the record is listed as a supergroup collaboration, but for all intents and purposes it’s still Del’s show. The guests on the album, from Sean Lennon and Prince Paul to Brad Roberts, are mainly present to provide atmospherics and flesh out the concept. Producer Dan The Automator sets the stage by laying on the density, creating an eerie tapestry of sounds, with Kid Koala providing the follow-up gloss on the tables.
The album’s a narrative of the futuristic date in the title, and Del paints himself as a savior superhero named Deltron Zero. Dystopian hero fantasies aren’t your typical hip-hop fodder, but It’s a bizarrely fun, loose-concept album that’s officially described as a “fight against an oppressive government and powerful corporations, while also battling to be the Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion.” See, I told you he wasn’t your average rapper.
A pillow-talk introduction by Blur’s Damon Albarn (who would soon become Del’s bandmate in Gorillaz) leads into the half-title track 3030, a seven-and-a-half minute mission statement for the ambitious album, including such bizarre lyrical gems as this:
Protecting the brain from conspiracies against my cosmos
While I float to neo-Tokyo with Opio
Or discuss combusitible rust clusters with Plus
Evade cyber police in a computer crib confuse the kids
But I can make a kickin rhymes thats sacred
Telepathic mind that takes its greatness from the matrix
Del’s well-publicized love affair with psychedelics undoubtedly plays a heavy hand in his rhymes, as he taps into a little George Clinton and Sun Ra while rockin the space suit. He was deliberately hopping off the beaten path, but the album’s not just an aimless left turn or hollow wordfest- he seems truly eager to paint a clear mural, however sci-fi abstract it may be.
Positive Contact is probably the most recognizable track, and one of the more straightforward jams that could find a home on just about any of Del’s solo records:
Virus is another score, with tinkling chimes accompanying threats of widespread superviral assault on the atrocities of the day, which are, depressingly, quite similar to those of today. Corporate control and corruption, racial oppression and so on don’t seem to have changed much in the thousand-plus years between now and then.
Naturally, no hip-hop record would be complete without self-fellation and declarations of lyrical dominance, but occasional indulgences aside, Del’s storytelling thankfully lacks the all-too-common self-satisfied delivery that quickly turns sick to schtick. His wordcraft shows that he wants to be taken seriously, something he’d have much more luck in accomplishing if he abandoned the retarded nonsense of mid-album skits like New Coke and the Fantabulous Rap Extravaganza parts I and II.
In all, the album’s a stepping stone to greatness, not for the execution but for the sheer ambition of it all. It’s concrete evidence that Del’s colors go far beyond the typical. A Deltron sequel has been in the works for several years, and was expected to see a 2008 release. Back in March, Del told an interviewer that the instrumentals were finished, and he was working on the lyrics. So with any luck, we’ll see the release of Deltron Event II in 2009. Can’t wait.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.