By Sara Williams
Oakland-native Del tha Funky Homosapien, born Teren Delvon Jones, furnishes the world of hip-hop with illuminating and super-funky lyrical content.
The 34-year-old’s experience spans more than two decades and his exceptional lyrics range from science fiction narratives (Deltron 3030) to cartoon-character-delivered hits (Gorillaz) to humorous bits about personal hygiene, amid critiques of music industry and other lyricists.
And Del has credentials to boot.
Here’s the run down: he started rapping in the early ’80s as a teenager, first contributing lyrics to his cousin Ice Cube’s group The Lench Mob in 1990. He released his first solo album "I Wish My Brother George Was Here" in 1991, his second album "No Need for Alarm" in 1993 and a third album "Both Sides of the Brain" in 2000. He and the Heiroglyphics crew came out with their first full length in 1998, "Third Eye Vision", and second in 2003, "Full Circle". The group also has its own independent label, Hieroglyphics Imperium. He’s worked with renowned producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura and Kid Koala to make "Deltron 3030", a superbly produced selection of science fiction stories. Del was a guest on the Gorillaz’s debut singles, including "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock the House."
Because Del’s exceptional lyrics flow with creative imagery, it’s no surprise his songs have been featured in video games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. He’s also made appearances on Prince Paul (De La Soul) and Handsome Boy Modeling School’s albums "So…How’s Your Girl?" (1999) and "White People" (2004). He’s appeared on The Coup’s "Steal This Album" (1998), Zion I’s "True & Livin’" (2005) and "Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture" (2005).
In an interview at the tail-end of his most recent tour, City on a Hill Press (CHP) caught up with Del to discuss his studies, future plans, troubles with women, his recently released DVD, "11th Hour" and an album with the same title, which will come out this spring.
*CHP*: Where do you see your career going?
*Del*: I’m trying to get more into production. I want to try to do some movie soundtracks or a cartoon or something, but for now I’m satisfied with just producing some other acts. We’re trying to make hits, though. That’s primarily what I’m trying to do. But not like the hits you hear now. Some hits deserve to be hits. Some hits ain’t nothing.
It doesn’t take much talent, but then again it’s not really about that; whether it’s good or not, that’s my opinion. If other people like it, they like it and that’s basically what it boils down to. But it can be such an over-saturation; like if that worked then everybody in the record company wants to copy that ’cause they just see a formula and they think that’s the way to do it, even though that ain’t the way to do it.
*CHP*: So you’re not trying to find a formula for a hit?
*Del*: If I’m trying to figure out a formula then it’s my own formula, or my own way of doing things, so that when I go in to try and make a beat or make some music I’m not stumbling all over the place. You got to have some kind of plot or some kind of plan, [but] it doesn’t have to be systematic like that. It can be loose, but you need some kind of guideline or else you just fly all over the place.
Funk is hella important to me so I’m trying to extend that in music. I want that to survive, so that’s one of the things that I’m trying to do.
*CHP*: How are you going to do that?
*Del*: I just try to make whatever I make funky in some way. Funk ain’t necessarily a musical style. Funk is more or less a way of doing things, like they say hip-hop is a way of life. Hip-hop is pretty much the son of funk, ’cause all the kids’ fathers and mothers and uncles and aunts that used to listen to funk, they’re now into hip-hop. It’s just a new generation of that, so it’s connected.
But you can play anything in a funky way. You can either play it stiff, exactly the way you see it out the book, or you can kind of jazz it up a little, add a little flavor to it: so that’s funk. That’s what adds flavor to whatever you’re doing, like the gear I’m wearing now.
*CHP*: That’s funky?
*Del*: Yeah, this is funky.
*CHP*: Tell me about what you’ve been studying and how funk fits in.
*Del*: Basic music theory. Funk is my centerpiece. I guess you could say that’s my root right there, but I study the blues, a little bit of jazz theory. It’s just basic general music theory, so I can get a good foundation for what I’m doing. Funk basically is what I try to do, but I do it in my own way. I try to be cinematic with my music.
*Del*: I try to evoke some sort of feeling out of people. I think it works. I think I’m getting better. I was cool before, now I got a lot more control over what I’m doing since I have a good foundation.
*CHP*: You said the new album shows you being more real. How does that translate?
*Del*: As opposed to maybe "Deltron 3030," which is fantasy. I wanted to leave anything like that off of Del tha Funky Homosapien. I wanted it to be something that people could relate to. I just stick to real-type situations and real things, as opposed to, like, ‘I’m crushing somebody with my rhymes and make a diamond out of their head,’ or something. I leave that for something else. I just try to keep it real.
*CHP*: Give me an example.
*Del*: [There’s] a song I wrote called "Foot Down" and it’s basically talking about putting my foot down. The second verse is about females trying to get away with everything. Not all females, but some females like to try to play games.
*CHP*: And what are females trying to get away with?
*Del*: Depends on what type of females you’re talking about. I feel that females are emotional. They don’t go about things like dudes do. Dudes are kind of brash, more threatening. I feel like women do things more covertly.
They might they get upset with you. You can more or less feel it than them actually telling you-that’s something you kinda got to read sometimes. Whereas a dude might get all up in your face and all aggressive and stuff; so different degrees of that.
*CHP*: Is that some of the stuff that’s on "11th hour?" Your women troubles?
*Del*: To be frank, the last two girlfriends I had were basically whores so…
*CHP*: Like actual whores?
*Del*: Somebody that will do anything for anybody; a slave basically.
*CHP*: So why were you interested in them?
*Del*: I didn’t know. You know, hoes are sneaky. Of course they don’t want you to know that they’re a whore.
*CHP*: So like Iceberg Slim’s Pimp?
*Del*: I love that book. I’m from Oakland, so most of that stuff I grew up around, but I was living the book Pimp with those two chicks, basically. I mean I wasn’t pimpin’ em; I feel like that’d take too much energy out of what I’m trying to do. That’s just not me.
But I mean I had to be a certain way, otherwise they would take over my household to the point where we’re fighting and stuff like that. They’ll actually be sockin’ me in the nose, try to cut me, throw stuff at me. It was very violent.
I think the worst thing one of them did was try to hang herself in my garage twice.
*CHP*: That’s heavy.
*Del*: Yeah, she hanged herself twice in my garage and I had to save her basically. But the second time she damn near killed herself, so it was a split second situation where it’s like, ‘OK, what am I going to do?’ or else this chick going to die.
But I could see that she was taking pleasure in doing all these things, so she wasn’t that crazy because if she was she wouldn’t know what she was doin’. I mean, I got all that out my way now. I basically had to move ’cause she was still coming to my house every day. I couldn’t get rid of her. I finally just had to move otherwise.
*CHP*: You said you’ll be giving people a slice of your personal life in the "11th Hour" DVD that’s out now. What does it show?
*Del*: It’s partially about some of the chicks, troubles I had with them since that just happened to be going on at the same time [as recording the album], so that’s in there.
*CHP*: And you’re working with Dan the Automator right now for another Deltron. Is it titled 3030 also?
*Del*: It’s called "Deltron Event Two." It’s a different story with a different setting. It’s still in the future, but this future is not technologically advanced, so it’s kind of a twist. The reason I did it like that is because I felt like I could not live up to any expectations that anybody might have about Deltron. I figured everybody would have expectations so high. I just said I’m not even going try to out-do that Deltron. I’m gonna let it stay there in time and just do something else.
It’s still relevant though. This one is based on the theme that everybody just destroyed everything, everybody went so far with technology that it just ran itself out.
*CHP*: Tell me about the relationship between science and music for you.
*Del*: There’s a science to everything. Everything works this particular way, so I feel like that’s the science of it, being able to break it down and explain how it works, so there is a certain amount of science that goes with music-but there’s also a certain amount of a feel that goes with music, too. So it’s got to just feel right. It ain’t just about memorizing changes and all that stuff, the theory, intervals, chords-that’s part of it just so you know what you doing. After that it comes down to feeling it. Ain’t really too much of a science to that. That’s either you got it or you don’t.
*CHP*: It sounds like that’s what you had and now you’re trying to get a handle on the science.
*Del*: Exactly. I knew a little bit just by playing, but I have a way better foundation now. So now it doesn’t take me hours to figure out how to play a bass line or a lead part or something like that. I can just hop on the keyboard and start improvising ’cause I know where all the keys are. I know what the purpose is behind all of it, so there’s nothing left for me to really figure out-just get on and start playing.