When most people hear the name Del the Funky Homosapien, they’re not sure what to make of it. But to hip-hop heads of the last 25 years, Del is a major force in the underground rap scene, mentioned alongside names like E-40, Andre Nickatina, and The Coup. A product of the Bay Area in the early 90s, Del’s rhymes are intricate and playful; the beats he raps over are boom-bap, and rooted in jazz and funk rhythms. Along with a successful solo career, he’s also founding member of Oakland hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics.
As Del prepares for a tour that starts in late April, I talked to him about recent music, stage fright, and his relationship with his cousin Ice Cube.
Jon: It’s been a few years since you dropped Iller Than Most. Why the tour now? What are you working on now?
Del: Iller Than Most got a pretty good response, so it seemed cool to tag it with that, since that was the latest of the rawness I hit people with. Nothing really crazy behind it.
But what I been working on is along the lines of that, but I would say more refined. I just really been working on the writing, the music too, but I feel the music is where I want it now. Just really hammering on the lyrics. I’m into battle rap hardbody, so my standards for lyrics are pretty high, but also thinking about the average fan too, keeping it entertaining for them as well. It’s a tightrope for sure, but I’ve analyzed the game enough to kinda know what could be tolerated and at the same time get away with shit I wanna pop, so to speak.
Jon: Do you have anything in the works with Hieroglyphics?
Del: Thinking about it…I’m always open, even though like I said, I’m like so focused on getting my own self where I feel I should be in this era.
I’m approaching that now, though, so you know…that only will add to the mix if we do work out another LP. It ain’t all up to me, though, as you know.
I am working with Domino on stuff, though, and A-Plus, so that’s Hiero flavor there, for sure.
Jon: I gotta ask, since it’s one of my favorite songs. “Mistadobalina”—you’ve described this character as “basically somebody who thinks he know what hip, he think he cool, but he’s really right off. Like he ain’t right on.” If you were to write the song, how would you describe “Missusdobalina?”
Del: Missusdobalina? Am I reading you? Well, it would be the same difference, basically, since it really doesn’t matter what the gender is. It never does as far as I’m concerned. All humans are capable of this stuff, you know, even me, so it’s more about character—uh, defects…maybe that’s harsh, well, traits. There ya go. So nothing personal, really.
Jon: The title of your debut album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, refers to George Clinton. What did you mean by “I wish he was here” since he’s not dead? Who do you wish was here with you today?
Del: I don’t wish for much, I just deal with shit, try to keep a sense of humor about myself since shit is so ironic far as life is concerned. I just funnel that through lyrics and I really work at that nowadays. Far as the title, I was a nutcase when I was younger, so when Cube asked me for the title of the LP, I stupidly did an impression of Liberace from a Bugs Bunny cartoon saying “I wish my brother George was here, heh he…” Cube ran with it and it emerged as it did.
I was a huge P-funk follower though, still am to this day. A lot of my philosophy on life is derived from the P, actually, so Cube was right on with the direction to be sure.
Jon: Do you keep in touch with Ice Cube? What do you talk about when you talk to him?
Del: Haven’t really spoke to him since my brother’s funeral, but when we talk it’s about regular shit I guess…we both are rap fans, music fans, fans of lyrics, so usually I just be on the latest, seeing where he at with it. I was always kinda more hip far as underground shit.
He older so he usually gaming me up, you know…seeing if my head screwed on solid. Right now I would probably want him to check out how my lyrics sound, see if he dig it…I try to be less abstract, more aware of being humorous, so I would wanna see if he was entertained by it all, hahahaha…he usually is but he think I’m a loon too.
I would definitely talk to him about who’s crushing in battle rap in my opinion, since I stay stuck to the shit 24-7 literally.
Jon: How would you describe your music without using genre names?
Del: Cutting edge, but that’s what they all say hahahahaha…Well, I feel there is some truth to that, but of course I would. Raw is a good description I guess. Minimal maybe. I work toward that at any rate. Humorous in general, but I sneak some kernels in there now and then, too. It’s urban in nature but it isn’t confined there. Informed. My experience and knowledge of black music is a lot, so all of that goes in there somehow.
Jon: When you think of music in Boston, what or who do you think of?
Del: Right now, I be so battle rapped out, I think of battlers first. So, Chilla Jones and 40 B.a.R.R.S. is the first thing that pops in my mind. My dude Mr. Lif is from Bosstown, so yeah he comes into mind. Benzino just popped in my mind hahaha shoutout to Benzino. My dude Ed OG for sure. Big Virtuoso too, as well, definitely.
Jon: In an interview with UndergroundHipHopBlog.com you mentioned you sometimes get nervous performing. How do you overcome that?
Del: I been studying comedy lately, reading Franklyn Ajaye’s fine book, and he said use it. It’s adrenaline. That’s what kicks in that hair trigger magic that is great in a performance, so use it. So now I take that advice and try to see it as my friend, not a enemy. Ha.
Franklyn Ajaye was in Car Wash, just so you know. He’s a great black comedian.
Jon: Who are some artists you’ve never collaborated with but would like to some day?
Del: Man, really, I wouldn’t mind hooking up with some of these battlers. I fool with Caustic, he’s pretty popular over at King of the Dot. He’s from the Bay, too. I wouldn’t mind fooling with Steams and Chess, they rep Cake Lyfe/ wegohard.tv. I’d fuck with K-Shine, too. Quantum Physics from up here in the Bay, too, I’d fool with him. Qleen Paper I’d fool with, too. Man, Detroit got hitters, anyone out there on the battle scene I’d fool with. You know, those are some of my favorites out there.
Jon: According to the Global Language Monitor, there is a new word created in the English language every 98 minutes. Since rappers are the poets of this era, can you create and define a word for us?
Del: Hahaha, you got me at the right time, I do this kinda shit all the time now. Hold up…
Omento—that’s when you give someone “the package”…pulling a Jokey Smurf.
Catch Del the Funky Homosapien with DJ Shiftee, and Domino May 6 in Cambridge at The Middle East – Downstairs.
$18 | General Admission | 18+ | 8 pm