Unless you've made it your daily chore to visit Del the Funky Homosapien's MySpace page (and some of you have, I know), you might not have realized the Oakland rapper just released a new album, Funk Man (the stimulus package). Well, that is if you count putting a free record on one of those Bandcamp Web sites and making people exchange their e-mail address for the music as an official release. Del—probably the first rapper to ever sport a nose ring and a lip ring—has long had a peculiar way of traversing the hip-hop world, and this latest effort isn't any different.
But while being unique is recommended, Del's self-styled peculiarity isn't as intriguing as it was several years ago. Back then, he was trading nuclear bars with El-P on Both Sides of the Brain, rhyming about intergalactic rap battles on Deltron 3030, and playing the behemoth blue ghost version of himself on the platinum selling "Clint Eastwood" single, from the Gorillaz debut. Other weirdo emcees like MF Doom or Kool Keith have since marketed their oddity selves with lucrative ease, their alter egos, facemasks and whacky references parlayed into multiple revenue streams. Lately, though, the suggestion of Del evokes more shoulder shrugging and furrowed brows than a gaggle of illiterates walking into a library. So what gives?
It's not that anyone is doubting Del's ability to out-rap nearly every other emcee in hip-hop: Technically, Del's rhyme sequences, combined with an endless supply of thinking-man topics, should have his name in every top-five list. Trouble is, Del's a little too high and lonely on his own top-five list. A touring recluse, the absurdist seems to be the type who'd rather spend a weekend at his home reading comic books than doing something more, uh, hip-hop, like recording a YouTube video of himself eating cereal soaked in orange juice like P-Diddy.
That's a joke, but the point stands. The average rap fan needs something more interactive than a free download swapped for the reluctant surrender of an e-mail. Del needs to engage his audience and interact with the rest of the rap world at large. There's no easy fix for exporting his personality and music to the masses, but several avenues could help him form some community and populate it with you, the potential listeners. I hate to recommend it, but imagine what Del could do wiping another rapper's verse off a beat or two and releasing one of those icky mixtapes every now and then? If, in fact, the best mixtapes are the ones that include an emcee's upgrade to another emcee's previously recorded tracks, Del could certainly retread some joints with the lyrical facelifts they need. I imagine him getting crazy over a pounding, deranged beat like Busta Rhyme's "Arab Money," turning it into something called "Whack Rappers Smell Funny," and, honestly, my heart skips steps one and three.
Or maybe he could hire more producers—spend some money or recruit some new, cheap talent. Either way, when Del provides his own beats, his songs sound like masturbatory ramblings about algorithms, whack emcees and archaeology. More boom-bap, less felonious funk, please.
Meanwhile, with Funk Man and his last release, Eleventh Hour, Del relapses into his trademark sleep-running marathon rap: Basically, he rhymes for a very long time, often meandering into territory where he sounds off-topic and lost somewhere between Oakland and The Andromeda Galaxy. Del will probably never admit it publicly, but since he started "studying music theory," as he says, several years ago, he treats hip-hop like it's the annoying little brother that his mother makes him spend time with. So we get albums like Funk Man, where Del engages in what he calls a "13-point stimulus plan that's guaranteed to restore funk to our government." Somehow though, he often gets away with these quirks and airing out his obsessions with untraditional hip-hop topics. When he and Dan the Automator both posed as cosmic-hop rap saviors for their 2000 release, Deltron 3030, for instance, rap geeks practically hailed Del as the leader of the free world.
And Del's the sort of rapper who doesn't have a problem with employing untraditional hip-hop banter—personal hygiene, for example—and turning it into metaphors for how he's rap's elite. He introduced us to his funk fetish on Both Sides of the Brain with "If You Must." He takes it a step further on Funk Man with "I'm Smellin' Myself." He embraces his own mustiness while bragging about whiffing his armpits. "Walk around with a odor and scent/ let the funk ferment," he rhymes. Gross.
So, yeah, we get it, Del: You're weird. What can we expect next, though? A song about flatulence and how it complements how alone you have to feel?
Del the Funky Homosapien plays Lincoln Theatre with Mike Relm, Bukue One and Serendipity Project Friday, April 24, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16-$20.