Del the Funky Homosapien is the Taiwan of hip-hop. Writing rhymes for Ice Cube, his cousin, releasing commercially successful albums such as I Wish My Brother George Was Here and repping the West Coast via the Bay, Del was once at the center of rap. But when the Golden Age of hip-hop fizzled out as the genre moved toward the mainstream, Del blasted off. Ever since, the man’s been a musical island, doing inimitable projects like the future-epic Deltron 3030 and crossover hit Gorillaz, which met varying degrees of commercial success and earned him fans outside the hip-hop realm. His latest effort, Eleventh Hour, stretches the boundaries even further — and shows that independence can be worthwhile, if risky.
Save for a couple of tracks, Del handled the production on Eleventh Hour himself, and his skills have definitely improved from the hit-or-miss beats of 2000’s Both Sides of the Brain. That’s no surprise, considering he spent the past eight years teaching himself music composition. With Eleventh Hour, Del has gone from making music to bump while cruising down Oakland streets to making music to bump while cruising around the Milky Way. Each distinct track feels like something you’d hear at a club on Jupiter’s eleventh moon. The fluorescent synths of “I’ll Tell You” glow like neon lights while those of “Slam Dunk” blink with computer-like precision. And the swirling keys of “Hold Your Hand” create a radiating backdrop for Del’s buoyant drawl. The mix of synthetic noises with funky rhythms and basslines gives Eleventh Hour a futuristic sound that’s both organic and artificial.
But Del didn’t spend his eight-year recording hiatus just studying music. He was, as he told Riotsound.com, dealing with its main cause: problems involving “some real crazy bitches—no offense ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about—who basically were plotting for my downfall,” as well as other “unsupportive” people. That sums up Eleventh Hour’s subject matter. Though Del still sounds fly as ever, flipping unlikely words through complex rhyme schemes (he matches up “dream merchants” and “reimbursements”), he fails to turn the rants and everyday stories he once told so well into anything coherent. Compared to his best tracks — 1991’s “Sleepin’ on my Couch,” comes to mind — Del’s tirades sometimes come off as formless, unfocused rambling.
When he’s not complaining about hos and false friends, Del sticks to subjects like his love of hos and real friends. He also throws in some battle-rapping and boasting — two things Del has always been fantastic at. But though he drops a few nice lines about Ewoks and Cocoa Puffs, he rarely hooks you into his train of thought and, as a result, is often uninteresting. “Situations,” for example, feels like Del bitching to his shrink about all his pent up personal problems: “You know how hos be / they think they pussy gold please / I told her please you chose me / to get close to me dough from me / I ain’t buying it and now you feel low and weak.” Pretty much anything sounds good coming out of Del’s mouth, though, so the music still fills the air nicely, but lacks lyrical purpose.
Still, you can’t fault Del for rapping about what’s going on in his life. Taiwan didn’t become a prosperous, independent nation by submitting to China and Del didn’t become a prosperous, independent artist by selling out; he earned it by staying true to himself. Del’s innovative production and presence make Eleventh Hour a worthwhile experience.