The 11th Hour ends a long absence for Del the Funky Homosapien, one of the world’s most uniquely brilliant rap artists. It is classic material, full of lyrical twists and turns, forthright yet deeply subtle and metaphorical in its exploration of life in the Bay Area. It is a triumphant return for one of the pioneers of underground hip-hop culture.
Since 1990, when he made his auspicious debut on cousin Ice Cube’s classic Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Del the Funky Homosapien has set the benchmark for advanced rap lyricism. His output for Elektra Records --1990’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here, 1993’s No Need for Alarm, and Future Development (shelved at the time, and later released on Hiero Imperium) – was hugely influential, laying a foundation for countless other MCs to follow.
At the dawn of the century, Del was incredibly active. His 1999 album, Both Sides of the Brains, sold in excess of 100,000 copies. Deltron 3030, a science-fiction adventure he orchestrated with producer/auteur Dan “the Automator” Nakamura (Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School) and visionary Canadian turntablist Kid Koala in 2000, also sold over 100,000 units and became a fan favorite.
Del also appeared on the first edition of Gorillaz, the “virtual” cartoon band created by Brit-pop legend Damon Albarn and Tank Girl comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. As the rapper on the smash single “Clint Eastwood,” Del helped turn Gorillaz’ self-titled debut album into an international success.
Ironically, Del now believes that his work from that period was too complicated. “Lyrically, I was stretching boundaries,” he says. “It was dope, but I felt like it was lacking substance. … I’m not saying the record didn’t have no substance at all, but I felt like a lot of people were, like, ‘It’s dope, but I don’t know what you’re trying to say to me.’”
So for the next several years, Del virtually disappeared from the scene. Always a voracious reader, consuming history tomes, how-to guides, technical books and philosophical treatises alike, he taught himself music theory, a complex series of lessons that explains the mechanics of music and how it actually works. His years-long study of a discipline that most “pop artists” never bother to learn – and is usually the province of jazz, classical and repertory musicians -- speaks to his dedication to his craft.
Del used music theory to make his recordings simpler and more powerful. As a result, the songs on The 11th Hour are bracingly direct. Opening with “Raw Sewage,” it is Del reduced to his battle-rap essentials, rhyming “auditory canal” with “storing a file.”
“I’m a scientific thinker, but it ain’t that kind of flex. Like, shit be seeming like its so damn deep, and it really ain’t that deep,” explains Del. In his raps, Del “breaks shit down,” interpreting complicated situations and people, and even himself, into ideas that everyone can understand. It’s his ability to use razor-sharp words to explain his thoughts, however, that make him such a brilliant artist.
Meanwhile, save for key assists from J-Zone (who twists a beat for “Funky Homosapien”), KU (“The Last Hurrah”), and Opio from Souls of Mischief (“Naked Funk”), Del produced the majority of The 11th Hour’s B-boy funk himself.
“I love making music. It’s more of a habit than anything. It’s just something I do to release the stress – making music probably more than writing rhymes. Writing rhymes helps me express myself, too, but there’s a lot of stuff I can express with music that I can’t express with words,” says Del.
“I grew up listening to certain things, primarily Parliament-Funkadelic. It gave me a certain feel, and I feel like I want to capture it. Not copying – I don’t want to copy Parliament-Funkadelic and any of the other bands I enjoy. But I do want to be able to do that in my way,” he adds. “I would say this album is funky, but it’s not a funk album. It’s more hip-hop than anything. But I definitely tried to give it funky influences and stuff.”
The 11th Hour arrives via El-P’s hip-hop juggernaut Definitive Jux. “I’ve known El-P for a long time,” says Del, noting that the two rapped together on “Offspring,” a key cut from Both Sides of the Brain. “I remember when he was over at Rawkus and all that shit, dealing with that. Now he’s got his shit popping, and I’ve got a lot of respect for that.”
Meanwhile Hieroglyphics -- the storied Bay Area collective that includes Del, Souls of Mischief, producer/mentor Domino, Casual, and Pep Love – continues to thrive. Last year, Hiero Imperium, one of the most successful independent hip-hop labels, celebrated its 10th anniversary by releasing nearly a dozen albums (from Souls of Mischief’s A-Plus, Minneapolis rapper Musab, and many others), completing several successful national tours (including one headlined by Del and Devin the Dude), and even launching a clothing line, Hiero Jeans. “We’re working on a Hiero album now,” says Del, who co-owns Hiero Imperium with his crew.
The icing on the cake, however, is Del’s new solo endeavor, a project that hip-hop fans have anticipated for nearly eight years. With The 11th Hour, he gives it to you.