Del tha Funkee Homosapien Gears Up for Best Album
For someone who’s been winning in the rap game since his 1991
debut, Del tha Funky Homosapien isn’t rolling in the dough and a
household name like many of his contemporaries. The Oakland-raised,
Richmond-residing emcee—who founded the hip-hop collective and
record label Hieroglyphics that’s home to such underground stars
Souls of Mischief and Casual—had a whiff of international fame in
2005 as the lyricist on the song “Clint Eastwood” by the cartoon
band Gorillaz. But the rapper was so distracted by bad things in
his life, from a violent girlfriend to a battle with Legionnaires’
disease, that he didn’t even know the band’s Demon Days album went
Those days are the subject of the recent DVD documentary The
11th Hour, which is the same title of a forthcoming album that
he’s hoping will finally establish his name as one of hip-hop’s
headiest, creative forces. He chatted for about an hour from his
recording equipment-packed home in the East Bay last week, proving
to be humble and insightful. Below is the bulk of that
I’ve been reading that life’s been tough for you in the
past couple years: sickness, robberies, bad women, no new albums,
and the like. Is life starting to swing in your favor
Life is ups and downs anyway, so I don’t look at it as that bad
or that good. I try to stay centered, and never get too upset when
shit happens and I don’t get too over-joyous when shit is cool ‘cuz
it don’t stay that way, ya feel me? I’m just living, trying to
concentrate on my girl, on my money, on my work.
I heard that you didn’t even know that the song “Clint
Eastwood” you rapped on for the first Gorillaz album, which went
platinum, was a huge hit. Were you not paying
I did it as a favor for Dan the Automator and after that, I
kinda forgot about it. It was more like a hobby between those
dudes. I sure didn’t expect it to be the pop sensation it became. I
ain’t mad at it, though.
You’ve got this new DVD The
11th Hour out now, and, along with concert footage, it shows some
of the bad shit you were going through in the past couple years.
What made you decide to do that movie?
My man Grant, who directed the movie, he started out doing tour
shit, right, and then he was kicking it with me at the house…
[At this point, Del trails off until it’s clear through the
words he’s saying quietly and the keystrokes in the background that
he’s sending an instant message, his preferred form of
correspondence, to a buddy about some mixes]…
That’s my boy up in the office and I was doing something for his
mixed tape and he only wanted 16 bars and I kicked 55 bars. Then I
did another one with the beat he sent, I remixed the beat, and
kicked another 40 bars on that one.
Did he dig it?
He juiced! He said, “Man, wow, you was ripping!” But…where was
Your boy Grant…
Oh yea, he just felt it was hella interesting the way I was
living. So he decided to make it a full-on documentary. It seemed a
little more interesting than what was going on on the road, where I
do my shows, go back to the bus to sleep or study, and try to make
music. It’s not like there was hella drama [on the road].
So you’re studying music composition now. Why do you
think that’s important?
I’ve always been a musical person and music just interests me to
the point where I was never hella into just looping stuff straight
out. I wanted to do something with it, be creative—unless it was so
dope that I could bear to change it, you feel me? And it just grew
to a point where, creatively, I wasn’t able to express myself as I
wanted to just doing it like that. I had to be able to get what was
in my head out as a sound, and I couldn’t do that just using other
people’s music. That’s how I grew into that.
At the same time, I felt like if I didn’t know something about
music while being in the music biz, I wasn’t gonna last much
longer. It’s even to the point where what we considered hip-hop
wouldn’t be considered hip-hop no more. I couldn’t keep up.
So what about hip-hop has changed? Some stuff sounds new
and improved, but other stuff sounds as simple as some of the early
releases. Do you have examples?
I like the stuff coming out of the South a lot. What they do
with beats and rhythm is hella tight to me. That pretty much to me
is what hip-hop is about. It really isn’t about music and harmony
and melody. It’s more about rhythm. It could be straight noise, but
if it’s rhythmically sound, it’s the noise. Like that drip beat
from back in the day. It wasn’t really musical, it was more
rhythmic than anything, but everyone was freestylin’ to that drip
What’s up with the “Hyphy” movement in the Bay Area? I
musn’t have been paying attention, because all of the sudden E-40
was back on the radio again.
E-40 is one of my favorite rappers, hands down. He’s one of the
cleanest rappers to me—hella inventive, hella funny. And you got to
be humorous to be in hip-hop. You can’t be talkin’ about shootin’ a
million fools and be serious about it. No one’s gonna take you
seriously. If you’re acting too much like you’re really a gangster,
people really start hating you.
But I like a lot of stuff from the street, I like the hard
stuff, but I like lyrics though too. They don’t have to be
necessarily complicated lyrics, like I like Cam’ron, which I
wouldn’t say is hella complex as far as vocabulary.
Half of it at least has gotta be your personality and how you
come off. It ain’t really what you say, it’s how you say it. People
are gonna catch the vibe, get more into your music, then get more
into the words behind it. First they’re absorbing the song as a
whole. That’s something I learned—people ain’t like me. I’m an
artist. I dissect each part of the song. But the average person is
hearing it as a whole song.
People want you to be creative, people don’t want to hear the
same old thing. But there’s only one Dre, only one
Neptunes—everyone else is trying to be like them. They are the
scholars, they know what they’re doing. That’s who I look to, these
are the cats, not necessarily to beta them, but to reach their
level of excellence. That’s what I’m trying to emulate, in my own
way of course. I’m more into funk, you feel me, but as well I like
basic beats too.
I heard that in the past couple years you had some
insecurity in the studio too. Then I was thinking that maybe that’s
why, in the past, you’ve worked well with a sort of disguise, like
Deltron or as part of the Gorillaz.
I’m like a comedian man. I grew up listening to Richard
Pryor—he’s like my hero. So if I’m talking to you, I might slip
into characteristics of someone I’m talking about. I started
applying that to music too.
As far as Deltron, that was a specific concept I had, because I
was watching a lot of anime and I wanted to do something like that
with rapping. I really didn’t know if it would come out as a
product, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that
marketing wise it was a good idea. It was still Del, but different
enough than Del tha Funkee Homosapien that someone would buy it. So
I was trying to press forward with it, and once I got done, Dan the
Automator just filled in the blanks. It was 65 percent him and Kid
Koala. I didn’t expect it to sell hella well, it was just something
I wanted to do.
And to this day, there’s lotsa people who be on the street
around here, that tell me, “Man, Del, I love you, I love your
stuff, but Deltron went over my head, bro. I ain’t gonna lie, that
Deltron, I couldn’t feel that.”
I think it’s a good album. I said a lot of things, well, I don’t
want to say innovative, but I said something that was true. A lot
of people love that album and Gorillaz opened me to a whole ‘nutha
world of fools. They weren’t even born for I Wish My Brother George
Was Here [his 1991 debut], or they were too young to remember that.
I ain’t mad at it, I let people know that’s fine, but that ain’t
really what I do as my core stuff.
Lately, I’ve been trying to get my core nice. I feel like I was
mixing elements of Deltron all into Del, and after awhile, I was
spreading myself too thin. I gotta be more consolidated so that
when people buy it, they know what they’re getting. Everybody got
their own taste. I know from being somebody to be out in the
street, I know what the average fool is gonna like. Not to
discredit people that like my other albums too.
Nowadays, I try to be conceptual, but I don’t try to tell hella
stories. People used to be telling me, “You gotta tell stories to
reach people.” But that don’t matter. Redman don’t be telling no
stories, and he went platinum. I don’t see where they got that
logic from. It’s really about the vibe, and there’s a conceptual
vibe where each song is its own world. When I go to the next song,
it’s not gonna hit me the same way.
So you’re in the midst of your next album. What can we
I’m pretty much done, but I got a few little gems to work on, to
add whatever the new thing is. It’s got street type stuff on there,
funkier type stuff, which I ain’t gonna say ain’t street. But it
may not be what kids consider street nowadays. The funk is a little
more melodic. I go between both of those.
You’re a pretty weird cat for the mainstream hip-hop
scene: pierced lip and eyebrow, plays and raps about video games,
smokes bidis. Do you get any backlash from that?
I don’t really talk to hella mainstream dudes, but from what I
hear, they like me. The Neptunes, I hear they grew up on Del and
Hiero, so they like me. And Dre and Cube, I know they like me. But
I don’t think anyone has seen the full extent of what I can do.
That’s what I’m doing with this album. Before, I was just doing it
and I was satisfied with that. Then I started to see that some it
ain’t good enough. People were grading it and saying it wasn’t
worth [buying] it. I thought I was tight, but I got some work to
Do you think that notion of not having to work for
success afflicts a lot of kids entering the hip-hop world
I think a lot of kids in general nowadays—not even just with
hip-hop—they get stuff fed to them on a silver platter. Their
parents don’t reprimand them and everything is so easy for kids
now. I ain’t mad at it—I love that ease after having to do it the
hard way for so long. But for a kid to start out with it being so
easy and see stuff on TV where fools just pop out of nowhere with
diamonds, it ain’t happening like that.
Then is there a responsibility to not rap about some
I don’t think they should necessarily rap about the troubles
they had to go to get the diamonds, because really, it’s
entertainment. Whatever is entertaining, you can’t really be mad at
that. But people should have a general idea when making art that it
is influential and not go too overboard with the negative stuff.
It’s all real anyway, negativity just as well as positivity—that’s
planet Earth. But to overdo the negativity, you gotta be like,
“Okay, I know I could hurt people.”
Did you ever see rap going as mainstream as it did? I
All I know is that I when I saw the commercial for the Russell
Simmons bank card, I thought back to the day when L.L. Cool J was
my favorite rapper. I would have never thought back then he’d have
his own back card. That’s when it really shocked me that hip-hop is
really here. It just permeated every crack of the earth.
But everything—and I ain’t trying to be like this, but all black
music has done has done that. Hip-hop is a little different though.
We got to put a little more of what we really wanted to put in it.
Like when funk was out, it was a time of so many disco artists, and
they were pushing disco so hard that if you were a funk band, you
had to do a disco song. I don’t think it’s like that anymore.
Since it’s gone so mainstream, does rap still have the
power to educate like the way it did when Public Enemy was
I think so, but the information is different. When Public Enemy
was out, it was all about black power. Now, I don’t want to say
we’ve made it, but it’s gotten to a point where we can do stuff.
It’s also gotten to a point on the street where all this crazy
stuff is happening. That is still communicated through the
So what’s up with this
I’m plugging The 11th Hour DVD, and this tour is to get out
there and get some paper too. Also, I’m bringing A Plus on the road
with me too, and he’s got a new album My Last Good Deed. That’s my
boy. Me and A Plus and Tajai are pretty much Hieroglyphics. It’s a
chance for me and him to get together and also try to get him more
out there and push his first solo effort, which is a really good
A Plus, you know, is from Souls of Mischief, and they have a new
album coming out. Prince Paul is producing it, so that’s going to
be tight too. As opposed to doing another Hiero album, for once,
we’re trying to go back to what we were doing before. Casual is his
own entity, Pep Love just released Reconstruction. He more or less
embodies Hieroglyphics more than anyone else in the crew. He’s more
conscious. The rest of us kinda do our own thang, but Pep is more
concerned with that than we are.
You’ve said that the attitude of the ‘70s was what you
were all about. What do you mean by that?
Well, I’m slightly political, but just my whole attitude is from
the ‘70s—just cool, you feel me? I’m not really on the same type of
tip as cats out there. I still use slang from the ‘70s, still like
stuff from the ‘70s.
I was born in ’72, ya know. That’s the best point in black
music, that’s the pinnacle. They still had trained musicians doing
music, you couldn’t just hop in the game. You had to really be a
musician—even if you didn’t understand music theory, you had to
have an intuition. And that really supersedes a lot of stuff out
But I think it is coming back today. A lot of cats from sampling
so many years and listening to so many great artists, they’re
starting to learn, like the Neptunes or Dre and Timbaland or
Outkast. They’re taking it further, upholding the mantle, taking
So financially, you’re okay these days? I mean, you’ve
been independent for awhile, so the labels aren’t sucking away your
I got money. I ain’t rich, I’m doing cool though, doing cool
enough to try to make some moves to make some more money. The money
I got I spend on equipment.
We were on labels at first, so whatever we made was getting
funneled through the label. But then we were dropped off the label
and started our own. We got our own thing going with that, but it’s
not easy doing that. Just the fact we don’t reach as many
I’m trying to make this album really work right here. I’ve go a
lot riding on this album, as well as my reputation. I don’t think
my reputation is bad, but people are wanting to see the real Del. A
lot of people like different songs on different albums. I’m trying
to consolidate, to say, “This is what Del is about, this is what I
do.” All fortified, as opposed to everything being scattered.
Except for the first album, which Ice Cube [his cousin]
produced, my other albums were kinda floaty. That’s because it was
up to me and I didn’t have my head on straight. I had a lot of
problems, but now I’m not as confused as I used to be.
4•1•1 Del tha Funkee Homosapien comes to Velvet
Jones next Thursday, September 28. His DVD The 11th Hour is out in
music stores now, and his new album of the same title should be out
early next year. For more, see hieroglyphics.com or