Del The Funky Homosapien got his first big break in 1991, when his cousin Ice Cube helped get him a record deal with Warner’s now defunct Elektra imprint. Things with the label didn’t pan out, but Del responded by co-founding one of the West Coast’s most influential underground rap crews, Hieroglyphics, and releasing a series of loopy, funk-informed records culminating in 2000’s Both Sides Of The Brain. That year also saw the release of the cult-embraced concept album Deltron 3030, created with Dan The Automator, Kid Koala, and a host of guests that included Damon Albarn. The project was the precursor to Gorillaz, of course, and the “Clint Eastwood” vocal guest spot that delivered Del to his biggest audience yet. And then, he was gone. In 2008, an eight-year absence was broken at last with a fresh album, Eleventh Hour, released on Def Jux, and Del’s already followed that up with two digital “leak packs” (rarities EPs) and a brand new free album, Funk Man. Del’s currently touring—he'll swing by the Fox Theatre on Thursday and the Bluebird Theater on Friday—so Decider met up with the Bay Area underground legend to discuss P-Funk, logography, and the music racket.
Decider: Why did you decide to release Funk Man as a free mix-tape?
Del The Funky Homosapien: It’s actually not a mix-tape. It’s a real album that I would have released and sold, but since I know a lot of people ain’t buying these days, I figure I might as well give it away.
D: Considering that, shouldn’t you try to make what money you can, while you can?
DFH: I don’t make music to make money. I make music because that’s what I like to do. You would think, “Yeah, of course, that’s what an artist does,” but there ain’t too many artists around anymore. I see a lot of people who, if they thought they wouldn’t profit, would find an easier hustle. It’s a racket now, like everything else, but we’re in a capitalistic country—everything’s a racket. Take what you can. I think the difference between that line of thinking and me is obvious.
D: Even so, you have to support yourself in a time when people are “stealing” music.
DFH: But I wouldn’t call it stealing. I mean, who was the genius that came up with the idea of selling sound anyway? It’s like bottled water—it comes straight out of the sky, but it’s always, “Our water tastes better.” If the industry had supplied more good things for people to buy before it got too late, it probably wouldn’t be like this. They’ve been trying to get over on people for years and years, like, “You’re gonna buy this. You’ll always buy this.” Now it’s a free-for-all. People are like, “Fuck ya’ll! I can just take it!” They were just waiting for the chance.
D: Funk Man offers a lot of variety from song to song. Did you feel freer to experiment knowing you’d release this one gratis?
DFH: At this point, I feel like it’s back to when I started rapping, when you were an outcast for doing this. Remember them days? I sure do. That was before Fred Flintstone was rapping, trying to sell you fucking Fruity Pebbles. Now it’s back to that, so I’m going to do exactly what I want to do and whoever wants to listen, can. I’ve been studying music theory too, which allows me to do this on a more professional level. And at my age, if I’m still doing it the same way I was when I was a kid, I wouldn’t buy my own shit.
D: The illustrated cover, the various characters you act out, and the record’s general funkiness all seem to allude to P-Funk. Was that intentional?
DFH: No, but my whole steez is pretty much built upon what George Clinton started—he and his clique are the biggest influence on me, so you’ll see that throughout whatever I do. They’re the greatest musicians. Half of them came from James Brown’s camp, and who else is there, really?
D: The spelling of your rap name recently changed from “Tha Funkee Homosapien” to “The Funky Homosapien.” Why?
DFH: That was never even a big-ass deal. That was something the record company thought was aesthetically better, but shit, I know how to spell. I just didn’t care at the time. I was like, “I’m putting a record out! Call me whatever the fuck you want.” They probably thought they were being hip. A lot of other record titles and names were spelled like that around that time—instead of an “s,” it was a “z,” or whatever. But once I sat back and thought about it, after about ten years [laughs], it just looked childish.
D: Was the label heavy-handed about your image or its expectations?
DFH: Not really. From their standpoint, they were picking me from a pure breed. They knew I wrote for Ice Cube, and their attitude was, “Anything Cube puts on, I’ve got dibs. I don’t care if his name is MC Booty Scratcher. I’ve got to have it!” I mean, there was a bidding war over me, and motherfuckers ain’t even heard my shit—they were going on hopes and dreams. So they weren’t tripping on my image, but I know they had bigger expectations than what I sold. I’m not gonna say I’m not successful in my own right, but I wasn’t another Cube.
D: You’ve explained that the gap between Both Sides of the Brain (2000) and Eleventh Hour (2008) was due to a bad relationship. To what do you attribute your recent burst of productivity?
DFH: Well it ain’t no secret. First of all, I was never no slouch anyway. Secondly, being in that situation made me more humble. I thought there was no way I could ever be off point, and I finally felt what it was to be stifled. I was still studying music theory and trying to make songs though. I didn’t care if she was trying to stab me or throw my drum machine through the window… I wouldn’t have cared if the house was burning down. And if you’re working that hard up against something, as soon as the pressure is gone, you’re jumping on clouds like Goku. Your power level’s just hella high, you feel me? I used to complain about everything I had to do, but after that, I’m never stopping.
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