Del Tha Funkee Homosapien


Sat Nov 16

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien is a highly evolved species of MC. In fact, he is not so much an MC as an MC's MC; he subsists on a thousand rap practices and ideas that have emerged, cohered, and hardened over the 20 or so years of hiphop's brief history. This does not mean he is a wack MC or that he bites in the sense that distressed the great Roxanne Shanté in her 1985 song "Bite This" ("talk about how they're so devoted/took my rhymes and swore they wrote it"). Del's genius is not that of an originator but a selector.

An explanation: The evolution of the MC can be recognized in five basic stages, each with its defining song. The first stage is the classical period (Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"); next is rap's golden age (Run-D.M.C.'s "Sucker M.C.'s"); then comes its modern era (Rakim's "Follow the Leader"); fourth is post-modernity (NWA's "Straight Outta Compton"); and the last is the silver age (Nas' "The World Is Yours").

Nas' Illmatic represents the peak of the forward-looking MC. After that dizzying point of rap innovation, MCs no longer subsisted on the fresh air of the future but on the stable accomplishments of the past. (Some people argue that Eminem is the last MC, however Eminem is not rap's terminal point but something like a sudden muscle spasm on a still-warm corpse. Eminem is to hiphop what Basquiat was to the history of Western painting.)

We are currently in the period of late-rap or aftermath rap, a time when MCs like Mos Def have abandoned originality and replaced it with the art or craft of referencing a variety of MCs in the hiphop canon (Rakim, KRS One, Chuck D). Rappers in the local and formidable Oldominion crew express on their CDs the mood of late-rap, which is preoccupied with decay, death, reanimation, and monsters. Then there is the endless list of West Coast rappers--Madlib, the Nonce, Jurassic Five, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien--who deliberately rhyme in classical and golden-age tempos and meters.

Born in Oakland in 1972, Del got his start writing rhymes for his cousin Ice Cube's backing crew, Da Lench Mob. His first solo CD, I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991), was packed with P-Funk samples--as was the trend of the time--and produced one hit, "Mistadobalina." Despite his close connection with Da Lench Mob and Ice Cube, Del didn't sound or think like a gangsta. He was playful, in a way that recalled early MCs like Slick Rick, Dana Dane, and even early Fresh Prince.

Del's second effort, No Need for Alarm (1993), completely broke away from mainstream hiphop and, as expected, bombed on the charts. Arguably, Alarm is the first late-rap record. It really doesn't speak to its time at all, and though you can detect in Del's raps traces of the rapid "robotic, futuristic, George Jetson" timbre and cadence that was popularized by Das EFX's "Mic Checka" (1992), very little else can be linked with the album's period (the silver age), let alone its "Cali" geography. If played today, Alarm sounds like something Madlib of the Lootpack produced, with its jazz loops and strings/strains of East Coast melancholy.

The same year Alarm was released, Del found success with a Bay Area crew he helped form, the Hieroglyphics, whose members included Souls of Mischief and Casual. A whole other article is needed to discuss the Hieroglyphics, but what can be said immediately is that Del produced Souls of Mischief's CD '93 'Til Infinity.

Recently, Del has been down with Dan "the Automator" Nakamura, and is currently world famous for his performance on Gorillaz's "Clint Eastwood" (2001), a song that is decadently burdened by multiple pop/rock/ hiphop exhaustions: that of the lead singer, Damon Albarn; Nakamura's dusty DJ beats; the melancholy whiffs of a dub melodica; and the exquisite old-school rap of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.