Thirteen years ago, Del the Funky Homosapien seemed like the future of hip hop. In a year’s time, the Oakland-based rapper released three projects that would turn out to be the crown jewels in his career: his fourth solo LP, Both Sides of the Brain; the first Gorillaz album, which he notably raps the lead on “Clint Eastwood,” and Deltron 3030, a collaborative project with Dan the Automator and Kid Koala.
Of course, those on the inside of the hip-hop world knew that Del was no fresh face. He’d come up in the early ‘90s writing verses for his cousin, Ice Cube. His Oakland crew, Hieroglyphics, already had a good deal of success in the underground scene. And, there were his eccentricities and his affinity for psychedelic drugs that could affect both his work ethic and his performances.
So, it is both disappointing and predictable that the years following his Y2K peak have been void of substantial contributions. Word of a sequel to Deltron 3030 has been whispered for years, but you’d be lying if you said you didn’t doubt whether it would ever happen, at least a little bit. But with the release of The City Rising From The Ashes, a three-song EP preceding the Oct. 1 LP Event II, now the question is if the return of Deltron is a good thing.
Well, at least on the EP, it is. The opening title track sets the table for something the first Deltron album couldn’t have possibly been: it’s retro. Hearing the DJ scratches, the four-on-the-floor beat, and even Del’s “zooma zoom zoom zoom” preface, the reminder is that hip hop like the underground scene of the ‘90s is long gone except for nostalgia tours. And looking back has never been as easy or fashionable in rap as it is in rock, making “The City Rising From The Ashes” questionable in terms of its marketability. But hearing Del rhyming with his typical precision, never afraid of a long-tailed phrase that might overreach its space—and with the confidence to pull it off—is still a joy. The only rough aspect is Mike Patton’s backing vocals, which are so slight they might as well not be there.
“The Agony” is more brass-centric, with Del in highly narrative form, an admirable craft but not as interesting without the entirety of the self-proclaimed “rap opera.” Only “Pay the Price” sounds like a significant step away from tried and true material. Del’s opening verse is breathless and busy in the best of ways, in the style that is very much his own. The three songs are not a unified statement, but a sampler of what is to come. It raises expectations significantly higher, and good, because no comeback deserves prevailing skepticism. I’m pretty sure Deltron is supposed to be the hero in this story, after all.