Del the Funky Homosapien has contributed his share to the canon of hip-hop classics. His first two albums, the funk-infused I Wish My Brother George Was Here and the harder-edged, battle-rapping No Need for Alarm, left unique marks upon the golden era of early-'90s hip-hop. But the Bay Area rapper, a founder of the fiercely independent Hieroglyphics collective, is humble about his legacy. When asked to reflect upon these milestones, including collaborations with Dan the Automator (Deltron 3030) and Gorillaz ("Clint Eastwood"), he assumes a decidedly self-effacing tone. "An artist doesn't really get his feet wet in knowing what he's doing until maybe 20, 25 years on," he says, his voice hypnotically deep, imperturbably calm.
This modest reflection continues even when Del is discussing his recent album, Parallel Uni-Verses, a joint effort with former Artifacts member Tame One. He credits the New Jersey–based MC as the guiding force behind the record, which finds the like-minded rappers trading verses over eerie, funky, jazzy beats courtesy of production duo Parallel Thought. The longtime friends recorded the album from opposite sides of the country. "[Tame would] send me a beat with his rap on it," Del explains. "It would open a portal, so to speak. It's too expensive to go to the studio, and I can't really get loose" there.
Parallel Uni-Verses is Del's best effort in a decade. It's cohesive, due in part to the decision to stick with a single producer. The beats, built on rock, orchestral, and jazz samples, have more complexity than the simpler funk loops he employed on recent albums. But the key lies in his and Tame's united vision. The MCs match one another in flow and subject matter without sacrificing the idiosyncrasies that make them unique. Several tracks even tell stories, albeit simple ones, ensuring that clichéd braggadocio isn't their only trick. But Del can also throw out boasts like "Honors and accolades, that's the way the shit went/Growing up in Oakland, spitting for the whole district" and sound reasonable.
At least two songs on the album, the old-school, fast-rapping "Franchise" and the more sentimental "We Taking Over" explicitly pay tribute to Del and Tame's hip-hop precursors. On the former, Tame reminisces about meeting Kurious and the late Subroc, while Del extols on the latter, "Ultramagnetic, that's what really set it/On the West Coast, Ice-T, he's a legend."
Del's lyrics often display biting insight and a strong narrative flow inspired by the comic books, videogames, and anime he avidly consumes. "Life Sucks" finds him wanting to "get some shit up off his chest" over a smoothed-out beat full of string flourishes and vamping keyboards, as he pugnaciously raps: "I'm sick of niggas/I'm sick of coons/I'm sick of tunes half-written/Every rap they have is bitten."
The rapper has grand aspirations to reach the artistic level of those he admires most: Funkadelic, Sly Stone, the Headhunters, and Gil Scott-Heron. "These were the dudes," he says. "I'm just playing. I'm taking their records and looping them." He talks about hip-hop as being his "introductory phase," a stepping-stone for something bigger and better. He also mildly scolds today's artists for not having broader musical palettes. "I feel like they're doing themselves and the listener a disservice. ... The creativity is limited."
The modesty Del previously displayed evaporates as he describes his ambitions and drive. "Anybody that knows me, they know I'm working on music right now," he says emphatically. "That's what I'm supposed to be doing. I put everything into [it]." He has already completed two more albums, Attractive Sin and Delphonic (release dates undetermined). In the meantime, when not writing rhymes and fiddling with beats, he's busy reading books, newspapers, anything to expand his lyrical repertoire.
"I try to form an opinion of things I think are important, so when I'm rapping, I don't just sound like I'm some idiot," he says. "I keep it real so anybody can relate to whatI'm saying."