Del Interview: Back In The Chamber

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By RiotSound contributing writer Todd Davis

Hailing from Oakland, California, Del the Funky Homosapien began his career honing his songwriting skills as a contributor on projects for his cousin Ice Cube and Cube’s protégés Da Lench Mob. In 1991, with his cousin’s help and musical input, Del dropped his first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, and quickly garnered critical acclaim as well as commercial success. Although he had a hit record on his hands, Del was disappointed with the album’s overall musical direction and eventually severed his professional ties with Cube. His subsequent second LP, No Need for Alarm, has come to be regarded by many as a Hip-Hop classic and is, by most accounts, Del and his Hieroglyphics brethren’s finest work to date. No Need For Alarm is also responsible for introducing the masses to Del’s extended family, aka Souls Of Mischief, Casual, Pep Love and producer Domino.

Nearly five years after dropping his sophomore set, Del began gearing up for the release of Future Development, which was slatted to be the rapper’s third solo project. Unfortunately too much time had elapsed and about a month or so prior to the album’s scheduled release date, Del’s label, Elektra Records, sent the MC his walking papers. Future Development would eventually become available on the Hieroglyphics website as well as on cassette format in Japan. The album would also be re-released by Hiero Imperium in 2002.

Del’s more recent installments, Both Sides Of The Brain and Deltron 3030, a collaborative effort with Dan The Automator and Kid Koala, hit the streets in 2000, with both projects receiving favorable reviews from fans and critics alike. However, the MC’s most notable collaboration to date has come courtesy of Hip-Pop group Gorillaz as Del performed lead vocals on the smash hits “Clint Eastwood” and “Rock The House” off the group’s multi-platinum self-titled debut album. Back on the grind following a brief hiatus, Del is ready to hit the fans off once again as his fifth solo LP, Eleventh Hour, is set to drop March 11th. Recently caught up with The Funky Homosapien to talk some Hip-Hop and see what the Eleventh Hour might hold.

Click here to listen to “Bubble Pop”, off Del’s brand new LP, Eleventh Hour.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve been away for a few years; the fans want to know, what’s been up?

DEL: Well, let’s see… Basically, I been working hard, living out in Richmond, California trying to stay out of trouble, although that was pretty hard for me to do seemingly. [I’ve] had my head in the books, studying music theory and songwriting. My goal was to get to a point where I could play well enough to be able to elevate Hip-Hop to a new level and also preserve the funk through my music. Now, in retrospect, I feel like I’ve accomplished those goals to a degree. I’ve also been touring crazy and just trying to promote myself and talk to the fans, let them feel me as a human being and not some rap star.

RIOTSOUND.COM: So, as far as putting out another album, would you say your absence from music wasn’t fully intentional?

DEL: Well, it wasn’t by choice. I basically had a lot of problems going on, mainly with chicks. I got involved with some real crazy bitches – no offense ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about – who basically were plotting for my downfall. There were other people around too that were basically unsupportive. I just went hard with the music theory, the funk theory and tried to keep my black ass out of jail.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For your new album, Eleventh Hour, you opted to go with Def Jux as opposed to the more obvious choice, your own imprint, Hiero Imperium, how come?

DEL: The Def Jux thing came up not because I had any problem with my own label, Hiero Imperium, or my crew, Hieroglyphics, but because I simply wanted to get the album out NOW. I got tired of waiting around and was looking for options. Def Jux seemed perfect because I’m already real cool with El-P and a few artists on Def Jux. Plus, they have the machine I need to really get the LP out there and be heard. Promotion, press, the video just got shot, you know? They’re behind the project and I’m doing all I can on my end to make this project take off. A major label thing wasn’t even an option, really. So, you know, that wasn’t an issue. There were other offers, but of course with Def Jux, me knowing them, it was the natural choice.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What prompted you to call this project Eleventh Hour?

DEL: Eleventh Hour simply means the time that is too late for some people, [may be] right on time for others. It’s [only] a matter of perspective. We as humans tend to think a lot of the time that we can control all variables to manipulate the outcome and forget that God really is in control of the world.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What are some of your favorite things about this new record and how would you say it compares to your previous work?

DEL: Expect some funky, fundamental Hip-Hop, straight up. I have a few surprises like my man KU on-board, Ladybug Mecca [of Digable Planets] is on my album, J-Zone got down, Opio. But for the most part, it’s a re-affirmation of Del and who he is and how he do things in his world. All the tracks are good for different reasons. There’s a bit of variety on there, but not so much variety that I sacrifice continuity. This project is really just getting back to the fundamentals of it all. Before people get too confused, there are a lot of similarities with [this album as well as] my first album and with my second LP. It has the personal situations of the first album and the youthful frustration and rage of the second one.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I understand that you are also working on Deltron Event II, which is the follow up to your acclaimed Deltron 3030 LP, what can you reveal as far as that goes?

DEL: It’s going in a different direction. It’s a new story that is related to the first Deltron, but a different time and characters. It’s gonna be like a rock opera, it’s all about what happens when there isn’t enough to go around [and] what some people will start doing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Professionally your career dates back nearly two decades, when did music first enter into your life?

DEL: Damn. Well, I been into music since as far back as I can remember, and that’s pretty far back, I was born in ’72. My parents had me surrounded by a lot of funky music, a lot of soulful music, African rhythms. My pops used to take me to these little African-like festivals and art exposes. My pops is an abstract artist, he did the art for my Eleventh Hour LP cover. So anyway, music and art has always been around me. I’m a visual artist as well, but music was something that came more natural to me. I started writing small poems in school around 2nd and 3rd grade. I was a gifted student, English and comprehension being my main gift, so to speak. I got interested in rap because the songs were saying things that I never thought you could say in a song, real things. Things I actually saw in the street growing up. Plus it was kinda related to slick talking like I heard in the ’70’s growing up, like from pimps and stuff like that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You have such a vast array of musical influences; what have been some of the key elements in your sound?

DEL: Funk, pretty much. We got a lot of funky people out here; Graham Central Station, Tower Of Power and Sly [and the Family Stone] are just a few of the main ones, but it’s our legacy out here. So, that [influenced me], and later on Too Short. But the cultural influences are a big part of it too, particularly the African influences.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Being that gangsta rap pioneer and Hip-Hop icon Ice Cube is your first cousin, how big of an impact did he have on you when it came time for you to make Hip-Hop your profession?

DEL: When Ice Cube came out with “Dope Man”, when I heard that on the radio, I said to myself that I’m gonna bug Cube until he gives me a chance. Because we rapped together growing up, he knew I had something and he knew I was crazy about rhyming.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Initially you were signed to Elektra Records, right? But, it was actually your association with Cube’s Street Knowledge label that helped you garner this deal, correct?

DEL: Correct. There was a bidding war going on for whatever Ice Cube had coming next due to the success of the AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted album, and Elektra had the best deal, the best A&R looking out. Dante Ross played a very big part in my success and is still a close friend of mine to this day. He was the A&R who signed me, Leaders Of The New School, KMD and Brand Nubian to Elektra.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Overall, how would you describe the music that you create?

DEL: I would describe my music now as an off-shoot of the funky music from the ’70’s. The music back then had a diverse range of references. The whole spectrum of black music was an influence, so I take my cue from that. I try to make aggressive music, exciting music. Sometimes it’s chaotic and sometimes I like to take a more minimalist approach. But anything I play, I do it in a funky way, with attitude and feeling. Of course everything is coming from a Hip-Hop perspective because that’s my foundation, but I take it back to Africa, man.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as your lyricism, what are some of the things that you find inspiration in?

DEL: To tell you the truth, anybody who got skills I get inspired by. Dope lyricism in general pushes me to try harder to reach higher levels. Content wise, I try to keep it funky and street, that comes from my ’70’s background. Rap wise, I get a lot of inspiration from old and new rap cats, but also I try to look back at the O.G. rappers like James Brown and Rudy Ray Moore [aka Dolomite]. Dolomite, to me, is the baddest rapper ever.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What would you say has been the secret to your success?

DEL: I feel that my ability to stay hip no matter what the scene is like is a major factor concerning me hanging around for so long. Also, I try to be engaging and respectful of everybody I come into contact with, so the vibe is just good. I find people want you to win when you keep everything 100. When you front, more people wait for your downfall and they’re reluctant to help you out. And we all need help, I don’t care how large an individual thinks they is, they didn’t get there by they self.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides music, is there anything else you want to focus on in the future?

DEL: Really, I’ve come to the acceptance that this is what I do, music. It takes all of my time and energy to keep everything crispy and hip. So I don’t have much outside of music that I would like to accomplish. I am still a visual artist, so maybe one day if I ever get the time to learn the technology available I may get back into that. The thing I’m really into right now is developing dance tracks. I find it one of the musical genres that really allows you to express yourself musically without going outside the realm of making people’s body move. I’m sitting on two dance albums right now, ready for someone to release them. They are no joke. Like I said, I grew up in the ’70’s, dance music was in when I was coming up. Really just bringing that funky sound, keeping it alive, that’s my main aim in life I guess as far as career. I have the ability to do many things though, if given the opportunity I’m a pretty sharp dude.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You are also part owner of Hieroglyphics Imperium; what are your future goals and plans for that venture?

DEL: Hopefully we can see that grow and prosper into something bigger. Right now we are working on a Hiero album which is gonna be the jump off. We have signed great artists like Knobody, he’s a young spitter from the Oakland area, straight from the hood, but he spits fire, believe me. He’s one of my concerns right now. Also Tajai has his own label, Clear Label, with my boy JC on there as well as Beeda Weeda. So we got a lot of stuff popping. But the goal is to create an increase in visibility and cash flow so that we can develop other Hiero projects and other acts that we sign to our label. Quality music has always been our number one priority and the Hiero symbol exemplifies that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Hip-Hop, are you happy with it?

DEL: I’m ambivalent like I am about most things. It’s cool but not the greatest. But then again, there’s always things wrong if you wanna sit up there and pick ‘em out. I just choose to look at the positive more than the negative aspects. I feel that Hip-Hop has in a way returned to its’ roots, the streets. I do feel that the creativity that drove it in the beginning, the thing that helped it rise from the streets into something bigger, is lacking because of the preoccupation with making money. All of that is about over now though. Cats ran after that pot of gold for too long. The public ain’t buying it no more, literally. Artists are gonna have to get creative again to keep the public’s attention for longer than a passing fad. I ain’t mad at it though, I just sit back and spectate, do what I need to do, I ain’t a hater.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Really, who is Del the Funky Homosapien?

DEL: Well, really, if you listen to THIS particular record, Eleventh Hour, you should get a pretty good idea of where my head is at. I’m basically a good dude but I’m not a saint. I do what I need to do to survive like everybody else out here that knows what’s up with survival. Also, I’m very open. I don’t discriminate, although I do tend to have a funky attitude from time to time. Hey, I’m the Funky Homosapien, I’m supposed to! I get down, if need be.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Is music always your number one priority?

DEL: I’m never away from music. If I am for too long, I start to develop that funky attitude I was just mentioning. I start to get real testy and stand-offish. My problems start to come to the surface. I handle all my business through my music, so I am mostly cool. But, I need that form of expression to release.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What has been your biggest Hip-Hop moment?

DEL: Probably my first album and Gorillaz. Gorillaz is my first and only platinum album I was involved in. I’m glad to have been a part of something like that before we got to this point where it’s gonna be like in the ’70’s again. Going platinum is gonna mean something again. Not the norm like people looking at you like if you ain’t gone platinum you must be weak. Platinum is a MILLION records sold!!! Before, that was as big as a man walking on the moon, but we got to used to it. But people ain’t having it no more. We are gonna start respecting their hard earned dollars again in the future, watch. Also, working with George Clinton, the Brides of Funkenstein and Funkadelic are very high points in my career. Being able to meet and know the Jungle Brothers and Q-tip are also up there. Writing for Ice Cube and Yo-Yo as well are highlights for me. There’s a lot, so those are the top ones probably.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What’s next for you?

DEL: Making dance records and popping in that arena and still rapping when I want to, not because I have to. Making people respect funk like it should be respected, because without funk things become plain and flavorless.

RIOTSOUND.COM: The new album, Eleventh Hour, is scheduled for release in March, correct?

DEL: March 11th is the due date, yes. “Bubble Pop” is just one of the songs off the album, but the official single is a tune named “Workin’ It”. The video is finished, directed by Grant James and should be out pretty soon. Hopefully BET, VH1 and MTV show it, ‘cause it’s hot, hot, hot!

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve also been known to collaborate with others, most notably the Gorillaz on their debut album; do you have any upcoming collabos fans should be looking out for?

DEL: I’m always working with people, but one thing I’m really trying to do is a project that Dave from De La Soul came up with named Modest Millionaire. That involves me, him, Prince Paul, Ladybug Mecca and whoever else we see fit to include. Also, I’m working on finishing the Deltron Event II LP. I have an EP that’s produced by Compound 7 [C7], that’s A-Plus’ production crew. It’s named LED, which is DEL spelled backwards. That’s done already. And the Hiero album of course, we are working on that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Any tour plans at this time?

Del: Yeah, but I’m getting more into production and less into running on the road. To tell the truth I’m burnt out, for real. Luckily now I can accomplish most everything with a computer, or I’d be in big trouble. My energy level is not like it used to be. But yeah, I’ll still be doing spot dates throughout the year. I just got off a two month tour last year for Eleventh Hour and I had been touring and doing stuff all year long. Just trying to get the word out that I can produce some real hot shit, funky shit that’ll make people move, and [it’s] all new but not so new that it forsakes the greats that came before us.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you have any last words?

DEL: Buy the Eleventh Hour! If you download, you better be prepared to be on my street team and tell everyone you know to buy it. And also come to the shows and support, you know, support my projects and I promise I’ll bring the funk to your front door every single time. And funk is its own reward.