Few rappers are as enigmatic as Del the Funky Homosapien. The Richmond, California spitter has never been shy about flashing his back-handed brilliance, even if he’s always seemed a half-step away from tying it all together into a classic album – the Dan the Automator/ Kid Koala collab Deltron 3030 and I Wish My Brother George Was Here not withstanding.
The biggest recent news regarding Del is that for a long time there wasn’t any news. Between 2000 and 2008 he was almost totally silent, as personal strife interrupted his attempts to re-engage with rap music. Of course, between 2000 and 2008 the record business changed completely, and three years since his comeback there’s the sense that Del is still finding his place, still making up for lost time.
What strikes you now when you listen to a Del the Funky Homosapien album is how relatively normal it all is. Still, the man can run the cutter better than most MCs, and the sooner the long-promised follow-up to Deltron 3030 is delivered, the sooner he should have a proper forum for his lyricism.
I chatted to Del just after the release of Golden Era, his latest LP, and on the eve of a recent Australian tour. On the phone, much like his albums, he’s now a cogent straight-talker, even if he couldn’t quite remember where he was at first. The interview was conducted for a Scene Magazine feature story, but the Q&A is reproduced below in its entirety. – Matt Shea
You’re on tour, Del, is that right?
I’m in… Where am I? I’m in Iowa. We’re out this way playing some shows.
You’re still based in California, though?
I’m living in Richmond, California.
First of all, Golden Era – are you happy with the way it came out?
Yeah, it’s more than what I expected, yeah.
For the physical version it’s a three-disc set, packing in Funkman and Automatik Statik [Del’s two 2009 albums]. What’s the concept behind that?
Yeah, I packed them altogether. I did that just to make the package a little sweeter, for the collectors and the fans of mine. Just so it stands out; something that you can have and not everybody else is doing. And you get a little bit more worth if you buy it, if you know what I’m sayin’?
There are still a lot of fans coming back to you after you were quiet for a large part of last decade. How would you yourself say your style’s changed since coming back?
My style has changed, but I guess in that time I’ve tried to refine my style more than change it. I’ve tried to get more to the point. I think as an artist that’s your number one goal – to be as simple as possible, you know what I’m sayin’? You try to convey your message in the clearest way and most purest way that you can do it. So, that’s my goal always. As far as lyrically, I tried to be more direct and more precise about what I was trying to do. And musically, I’m trying to cut out a lot of extra fluff, and trying to be more precise as a composer.
You took a lot of time away from releasing albums, making a return in 2008 with The 11th Hour: were you a little shocked by the extent of the changes in the music business when you finally dived back in?
Actually, no. Because the way that the United States is constructed, I figured that was going to happen sooner or later. You can’t go cheating people, robbing people, and doing all this shit and think nothing’s going to happen to you. There were a lot of people in power who thought it was going to stay that way forever (laughs): “The customers are stupid, they’re going to buy this stupid shit for as long as we put it out.” No, that’s not what’s gonna happen. As soon as they found a way to get that shit for free: “Aw, fuck y’all. We ain’t buying your shit no more. It’s bullshit anyway.” They were taken for a loop because they thought it was gonna keep going that way forever. But that’s the nature of Snidely Whiplash, I guess.
Are you confident in the future of the music business?
I’m confident that music will always be part of people’s lives. As far as the music industry, it’s already pretty much a done deal. I think with music you have to offer a little more because other forms of entertainment are starting to eclipse music now. Music has got so many people, like, cutting corners and trying to basically cheat the public. People have been doing that for a long time thinking, “You can just do this and we’ll have a hit.” That’s not true. It’s not true! I think it’s just like regular public TV now, and you’ve got to offer more than just the music, I think. Just be hella, super-duper raw, you know what I’m sayin’? Just be out there, and really, really about your music – that’s an anomaly in these times, I think.
What about America as a whole? There was a lot of hope with the election of Barack Obama a couple of years ago but you’re doing it tough economically right now? Do you feel there’s much positivity in the country about the future of the United States?
Me, personally, I look at it like this: if people don’t get it together and stop trying to keep all the wealth to themselves, it’s not looking too good. At some point the system’s going to crumble and it’s already started to. One of the things that makes America so great is that it is kinda ragtag like that – you can do whatever you want to, but at the same time that allows for a lot of anarchy. Somewhere in between there you’ve gotta make it work. I ain’t gonna get too political about the situation, but if America continues to want to stick its nose in other people’s business and try to run every damn thing, not everybody’s gonna let you do that, and that’s when you come into conflict. That’s the way I look at it, but I would have a different opinion, you know, because I’m black (laughs), you know what I’m sayin’, so of course I look at it from a different perspective.
Bubbling away in the background for you is talk of another Deltron album. How’s that all been going? Is there a light at the end of that particular tunnel?
The album is pretty much halfway done. The music has been done, the lyrics have gotta get recorded – and that ain’t gonna take that long – I spent like three days in the studio with Automator and we got about half of the album done. I figure that as soon as I sit down somewhere and stop running around the globe (laughs) we’ll finish it up. But I’ve gotta eat and shit so I gotta be out here on the road too.
The Deltron 3030 album had that futuristic, forward-thinking feel about it – it was quite unlike anything else out there – is there anybody right now in rap music that you think is delivering a similar feel with their music?
Not really. But Deltron: I would damn near say it’s beyond hip-hop or rap music, but then again I’m kinda beyond hip-hop and rap. That’s definitely the base which I work from, but personally I’m into all kinds of music: funk and rock, primarily, and electronic music. I tend to look at things from more of a compositional type of viewpoint.
I read an interesting interview from 2007 where you described yourself as a visual artist first and foremost – you were talking about your works on canvas and that sort of thing: would you still say that now?
In a lot of ways, yeah. I don’t get to draw as much as I used to. But I can still draw – my father is an abstract artist and he’d have shows and stuff back in the 80s. So I learned a lot from my pop and I’ve been to art school, I’ve had art training. The thing about it is I’m not quite up on the new technology and how to freak it. I’m good with computers – I’ve been using them since about fifth grade – so as soon as I can sit down somewhere and just really learn some of these art programs, I’ll probably be back into that side of things. I’ve got a visual type of way of looking at stuff.
What are your thoughts on gaming and music – hip-hop in particular – is that part of the future?
Like I said, I just consider myself an all-round musician. I keep it more on the street urban side, you know what I’m sayin’? I did like a third of the music for Skate 3, but that’s in-game music – when you’re playing the game, on a lot of those levels that’s my music; not me rapping – the in-game music. Plus, I’ve got the songs on there that I did do specifically for the game. I would love to do more of that – that’s what I want to do. I’ve just gotta to prove to people that I can do it. Electronic Arts: they were the first ones to give me that chance to show that I could do that, so I hell appreciate it that they gave me that chance, man. I need to do more and have more under my belt so I can have a resumé. That’s what I’m working on, really.
I could never unlock the Hieroglyphics team in NBA 2K5. You ever manage it?
I’m not much of a sports game player. Fuck, I don’t even play games that much anymore. I play Skate 3 for a moment, but I ain’t got time to study game manuals. Do you want to do that or do you want to, like, survive? I had to choose music and learn more about music theory and about what I’m really doing with music – otherwise, I’m not gonna stick around for too much longer, especially if hip-hop becomes passé or something. I think about that, like: “What are you gonna do? Do you still wanna be down with music? Because if you do you’re gonna have to know something.” But I still fool with games on my iPad sometimes.
You’re touring with Bukue One. You guys go back a little way as I understand it – what can you tell me about him?
He’s a positive dude, you know what I’m sayin’? We’re on it. He likes to be involved in a lot of things at once. He likes to keep moving. He’s an avid reader like I am, and he also manages me as well. But he’s also a visual artist – he skateboards, he raps, he does a lot of different things. He’s also a little bit younger than me too, so he has a little bit more youthful exuberance, you know what I mean?
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Try to get this Deltron album done, working with Hopie Spitshard – because she’s from the bay area – on a project called Dolls and Robots, which is about to come out. That’s another futuristic type of project as well that I’m trying to get done this year too.
MP3: Del the Funkee Homosapien-“Makes No Sense”