Keeping tabs on all the great hip-hop artists out there can take some time. To help you out, Cheat Sheet is a regular feature in which we give you the quick facts on some of today’s hottest and most influential artists. This week’s Cheat Sheet is on Del the Funky Homosapien.
Who: To say Del the Funky Homosapien is the weird cousin of West Coast hip-hop is both literally and figuratively true. Born Teren Delvon Jones, Del is a first cousin of renowned West Coast rapper (and less-than-renowned West Coast actor) Ice Cube. Del got his start playing in Cube’s backing band (Da Lench Mob), and this association helped him land his debut release, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, on Elektra Records in 1991.
Whereas Ice Cube’s verses were grim, violent and dripping with affected machismo, Del professed a lighter tone—more prankster than gangster. I Wish My Brother George Was Here employed heavy funk beats as a stage on which Del could practice his humor and wryly-combative take on race relations. Del’s music was unquestionably more open to risk than Cube’s, and though George chalked up decent sales, Del’s sophomore album, No Need for Alarm, was a commercial flop, owing mostly to Del’s insistence on rampant experimentation. Casting aside P-Funk samples for an array of synthesizer riffs that bordered on squelchy jazz, No Need for Alarm was one of the most forward-thinking hip-hop albums of the nineties and a record that, unfortunately, doomed Del to a decade in commercial exile.
Over the past ten years, Del has released several albums (the most recent of which is 2011’s Golden Era) and become a fixture in the left-of-center hip-hop community, fronting the super-group Hieroglyphics and making frequent appearances in Damon Albarn’s cartoon trip-hop collective Gorillaz.
A remastered version of I Wish My Brother George Was Here was re-released in March, along with a limited addition poster.
The Sound: It’s difficult to pin down Del the Funky Homosapien’s sound, owing mostly to the fact that Del insists on changing it on what seems like a daily basis. Whereas I Wish My Brother George Was Here was a prime example of early-‘90s, funk-influenced hip-hop, No Need for Alarm obscured this approach in favor of a collection of raggedly synthesized oddities. Golden Era hews closer to the banging swagger that has become universally regarded as “trip-hop”.
Throughout all his stylistic left-turns, the key to Del’s longevity and devoted cult following has been his unique, relentlessly clever flow. His devotion to a no-bullshit approach to rapping has progressed in lockstep with his love for psychedelics and combative sense of humor.
Essential listening: The entirety of I Wish My Brother George Was Here. It’s a classic; it has to be consumed whole.
Of Del’s more recent releases, “Double Barrel” and “Makes No Sense”, both off of Golden Era, are good examples of the trip-hop styling with which Del has been increasingly associated.
As to Del’s collaborations, Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” is without a doubt one of the best, in addition to being a generally unimpeachable single. Del’s fruitful work with Hieroglyphics has resulted in plenty of worthy tracks with “Make Your Move”, off of 2003’s Full Circle, serving as a worthy point of entry.
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