Assume for a moment that hip hop is, in fact, a religion. In this world of believers, there would be one all-knowing high priest who stands upon Mt. Freestyle and spews his prophetic verse among the hoodie-wearing, blunt-smokin’ crew lounging below. His name: Del tha Funkee Homosapien. His message: Understanding the Old-Skool. And he’s performing in the Hub tonight.
He’s not just talking about the O.G. pioneers like Run DMC or Funkmaster Flex. Nah, this 30-year-old cousin of Ice Cube, whom many identify as the frontman for the Hieroglyphics crew or the guy from Gorillaz who raps, has spent roughly a decade trying to script where this cult of hip hop will travel next.
Now, he sits poised to embark on his fourth solo effort, tentatively titled 11th Hour and begins venturing out from behind the pages of the music theory he’s been studying intensively for the last few years. Del, or his futuristic alter-ego Deltron Z, wants you to know why he’s out to save black music, why he’s not afraid to brag, and how he’s got cojones big enough to say, “Underground to me ain’t really what a lot of cats be thinking it is. People start getting these little umbrellas they wanna march under and shit like the underground nation, but I don’t care what you call it or what it is, so long as at the core they gonna be true about their shit, as opposed to just making they shit to sell.”
Followers of the underground hip hop faith may not have their own churches – yet – but they certainly adhere to a strict code of ethics, and have no qualms singling out traitors, or “sellouts.” Though his name is commonplace and his voice has blasted out of radios worldwide on the platinum-selling single “Clint Eastwood,” Del has remained a member of the elite few successful underground hip hop artists.
His first two funk-inspired albums, I Wish My Brother George Was Here (which Dr. Funkenstein George Clinton helped with) and No Need For Alarm, prepared Del to hook up with the Hiero crew and created enough of a following to successfully release Both Sides of the Brain and the ambitious concept album Deltron 3030. Now, Del says he is “really concentrating on me right now,” and promises little as far as collaborating, mostly due to the fact that, as he says, “I can’t be much use to nobody if I’m staying where I’m at right now, which is burnt the hell out.”
“I was just trying to bring in the reins a little bit,” he said, “because I basically extended everything that I could do with sampling, with busting rhymes just the way I was doing it. That’s one reason why I started studying music theory. I could also see the hip hop game expanding and I was feeling like, ‘Okay, you’d better start learning something because these guys are getting good out here. They know what they’re doing.’ [Otherwise] I’ll be out of a job and I would deserve it because I don’t know nothing about music.”
Although Del’s subjects might be blithe, (e.g. video games and body odor), the rap “game” is not one he takes lightly.
“I buy everybody’s album,” he said, “but I just don’t buy helluv underground shit ’cause there’s just too much out there and I ain’t got the time or the money or patience to try to sift through people just trying. Because a lot of shit that be on the underground scene just be like a hobbyist type thing, and I be serious about my shit. I don’t put it down or nothing, but I be looking for something a little bit more professional,” Del said.
Still, attaining success through open-armed harmony is hardly a revolutionary concept to him. In fact, it stems from the kaleidoscopically clad, starry-eyed figures from Del’s youth.
“My favorite artists [are] Bootsy Collins and George Clinton… Parliament, the Brides of Funkenstein,” Del said. “They’re like the dopest to me, so I study their music a lot… Unity is overall my message. I get that from the ’70s and from funk. I’m looking at these cats like, ‘Okay, these are my mentors. I should be out here doing as good as them because I have the same type of ambition.'”
And just how does Del plan to lure in those skeptical of today’s hip hop culture? “I wanna prove to people that might’ve left hip hop for a minute or might not have dipped to far into the hardcore scene that there is some shit they can get into, It ain’t all shit that’s so far out or cryptic that you can’t get into it.”
“I’ve gotten this far,” he added, “because I’m probably one of the only people out here that care enough to even [study music theory]. Otherwise, a lot of the history of just black music in general would just be lost.”
Today, Del boasts an in-home studio and recording capabilities on his tour bus to “basically eliminate any middle man at all … so it’s just straight from my head to wax.” Meanwhile, his living room is strewn with numerous “weird” instruments like a bass sitar, harps and melodicas. The constant flow of melodies, rhymes and baselines that emanate from both sides of this brain seem enough to keep him recording endlessly. Admittedly, moments of hesitation have stalled his forward motion.
“I was actually thinking, ‘Do I even want to do hip hop anymore?'” Del said. “‘Cause I had gotten to the point where I’m like too good for even that, and I was seeing hip hop basically out of here. [But] I made the decision, nah, my whole being is because of hip hop.”
As for this moment, Del oozes confidence and one cannot help but follow the fresh doctrine of hip hop he promises his believers. “Now I know so much about music theory that there’s nothing keeping me from making anything,” Del said. “I know my shit is gonna’ sound good to people because I know from the bottom up that it’s gonna’ be harmonious. That’s the way I wanted it … to have that kind of power with my music.”
This futuristic voyager and lyrical evangelist boldly steps foot into a realm of culturally-infused flows that might just be the future of hip hop. Blind faith it may be, but one can’t help but close one’s eyes and nod to the promises of the funkier homosapiens.