Del tha Funkee Homosapien got his start with cousin, Ice Cube, but soon found that there was no other way to go but his own. In the years since 1991′s I Wish my Brother George Was Here, Del carved his name in rap’s illustrious wall with a unique and heady approach to hip hop as part of Oakland’s Hieroglyphics crew, solo, and with monster collaborations in Deltron 3030 and Gorillaz to name just a few.
DtFH freed himself from the shackles of the corporate recording machine to open a deluge of musical creativity over the past year and a half in At the Helm (with Hieroglyphics), Parallel Uni-Verses (with Tame One), Eleventh Hour, Funk Man (The Stimulus Package), and Automatik Statik as well as scoring part of EA’s new Skate 3 game.
Del took some time before hitting the stage in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall to talk about being free of record companies, the writing process, and skateboarding.
K&N: The last time I saw you, you downed a bottle of Patron while performing at The Social in Orlando, Florida. You slowly put away most of the bottle without missing a beat. I was impressed.
I’m impressed my damn self because I’m not really that much of a drinker. I used to be. It’s fuzzy because I used to be worse than that, but not anymore. Yeah but, Patron is so smooth you don’t even know.
K&N: The Oakland weed scene seems to be at the forefront of a revolution. It is practically free of federal meddling and the culture of the area is spilling across the United States. What is it like to be an artist in the scene? How do people feel, now operating without significant threat from authorities?
We never feared the police in the first place. That is the least we have to worry about out here. It is different now with the proper ID or what have you, the cannabis club card. Nobody cares about that no way. All the smoke out here is the purple (I think a reference to Purple Erkel) anyway, so it’s the best bomb, I don’t even smoke anymore because I get hella paranoid, but everyone else out here, everyone knows we get the best bud. It’s just the vibe of the Bay area. Sly and the family Stone, you know, Jefferson Airplane, it’s just the scene out here.
K&N: What’s up with the Hieroglyphics?
We all doin’ our thing. We’re all grown, so we all do our own thing. Souls of Mischief are in the studio working on a new album with Prince Paul called Montezuma’s Revenge. A-Plus is on this tour with me.
K&N: In addition to being a fan of your sound, I also enjoy your progressive collaborations with the likes of Mike Relm, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala. How do those things come about?
I guess it’s like anything else, you meet with people and try to consolidate some moves. I’m always trying to work with talented people. If I like them, I’m diggin’ them, you know what I’m saying? I’m going to try to work with them. I’m just blessed I guess to be in this position and be able to take advantage of meeting these people.
K&N: Who do you really want to work with now? Who’s on your radar?
Man, That’s a good question. Nobody I’m actively pursuing now, but I am working with people. I’m working with Psalm One out of Chicago. I’m also working with A-Plus outside SOM.
K&N: Rapping? Writing, producing?
Mostly producing, you know, but I do a lot of stuff. I’m rappin’ here and there. Whatever comes down the pike, If I’m feelin’ it, I’m feelin’ it. I have 3 projects out now.
K&N: You’ve been busy, a lot of releases in a short period of time.¬† What’s going on? What is responsible for this creative flourishing?
For one, I got separated from the music business and they hold up things with a lot red tape you have to get through to release anything. I also got past a couple bad relationships, and once they were out of my life it opened more space for me to work. On top of that I’ve been studying music theory, I’ve been studying for 11 years and that just makes everything that I’m doing way more efficient. Basically, I’ve always been prolific, but you might not get to hear anything because I had to go through a record label. Now, I understand music theory and I can do things 2 to 3 times faster than I did before.
K&N: So are you enjoying this sort of DIY approach, free of the record companies?
Yeah, I look it like being a mercenary.
K&N: How so?
Yeah, I’m operating outside the system.‚ You know what I’m saying?
K&N: In talking about your experience in musical theory, it brings me to the question of your sound. It feels very complex and layered beyond the beats and vocal style. It’s very stone-y or psychedelic you know? Is it the music theory or a producer that is responsible for this sound?
In part, you can say it is the musical heritage of the Bay area. Mainly Parliament Funkadelic and Frank Zappa . I draw a lot from various areas. So it’s basically that and Public Enemy .
K&N: Apart from your sound, your lyrical content is different than the usual hip hop fare? You can talk about things ranging from science fiction to the Internet. How is your informed style looked upon in the hip hop community?
I don’t really associate with that many people. When I’m not on the mic rappin’ I don’t necessarily live my life as a rapper. I’m just living real life. I know a lot of people got respect for what I do, but I don’t necessarily hear about it in the hip-hop press. Maybe it’s not cool to talk about me or whatever, but on the low, they feel me.
K&N: Another component of your lyrical style is the rich vocabulary. Are you a bibliophile? Where does your relationship with words stem from?
I was a gifted student in school. I’ve always had good comprehension and excelled in English. I’ve always been a heavy reader. That explains a lot of it.
K&N: Your vocal style is yet another unique attribute to your sound, where does this come from?
My voice is just the way it is, you know? As far as lyrical style, It’s just the culmination of everything I learned. Even now, I be pickin’ up from rappers now. You naturally just pick up on stuff you like and assimilate it in your repertoire, in your way. Once you learn how the mechanism works then you can freak it the way you want to freak it. So it’s just been years and years of learnin’ damn near since hip hop came out. I’ve been listening to it, absorbing it, so I take that whole range and build from it. Plus, the area I’m from has a lot to do with it.
K&N: What are you listening to?
Frank Zappa. You know, so much. Let me look at some of the recent things on my computer … Black Dynamite Soundtrack, P-Funk All-Stars, Sweat Band, Jimmy Castor Bunch, God’s Mama (I think that is what Del said), um, Slaughterhouse, yeah I been bumpin’ Slaughterhouse, and oh yeah, I got L.L Cool J’s Walkin’ Like a Panther.
K&N: How does the writing process work for you?
At the point right now, it’s all inclusive. I sit down and work all day pretty much everyday – Del pauses to instruct a child (I hope) “blow your nose. Go blow your nose. You got – ewww, damn …” – It’s pretty much all day. You feel me? Like now, I got a beat rockin’ I hear the faint sound of rhythm through the phone. I’m feelin’ it and when it gets to the point of being a cool groove and I feel like it has a song structure , I start writing. Then I’ll have a song, I’ll lay the vocals – I try to do everything at once because if I don’t, I will get caught up in something else and I forget about it.
K&N: You are in a shit-ton of video games, a lot of skateboard games like Street Sk8er 2, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and Tony Hawk’s Project 8 just to name a few. It seems like the people involved chose you because they are fans?
That’s usually how it works, that or the company involved has so much money that they can pick who they want to pick, so they pick the biggest stars they can find. Some people are more innovative, they feel me so they want to work with me. I just finished scoring Skate 3 for EA.
K&N: Wow, so you just scored an entire video game as opposed to lending a track?
Well I scored 1/3 of a video game.
K&N: How was that? What kind of process is that?
It was pretty difficult man, but it was fun. It was a learning experience and I learned a lot from it. It took a while.
They were feeling me after they heard my first – What happened was, I had an album out called Funk Man and it was basically free. They got their hands on it. They liked what I was doing. They liked the direction I was taking on the production, they knew I was learning music theory, so they figured I would be perfect to score their game. That’s why they came to me initially. They gave me a general idea of what they wanted and let me go from there. So I made a gang of stuff, let them hear from a myriad of tracks and they chose from that, so it was like a three month process.
K&N: Are you a big gamer?
Me and my girl were talkin’ about this last night. I used to be extremely into video games, I mean, that’s all I did for the most part. Like literally, that’s all I did. I got to a point where I decided I’m not going to make it if I devote all my time to this. I still appreciate it, don’t get me wrong. I have just about every game on my computer. I have Super Nintendo on my Mac right now, with every single game ever made on it. I’ll play a few levels now and then, but don’t really have time and that can be frustrating, but what I get from being able to do music better is so much more than that. And it pays more.
K&N: What do you think attracts skaters to your music?
I hung out with skaters when I was young. I think t is because they can respect the fact that I appreciate skill level and I try to be skillful in what I do. It’s apparent that I take pride in what I do and skateboarders take pride in what they do. I think all underground things got that in common. People like to have their own style, they like to stand out, they like to be known for what they can do and I think they identify with me for that.
Del tha Funkee Homosapien will be droppin’ his unique style and makin’ heads bob in support of the Automatik Statik Tour and headlining the entertainment for the Annual Skateboard Competition at the SPoT. Do not miss this opportunity to see one of the most innovative MC’s and tightest live hip-hop acts around – Friday, December 4th at CZAR along with fellow Hieroglyphics crew member, A-Plus.
Article for REAX Magazine online