Having it Both Ways

Del the Funky Homosapien has moved out of the shadow of his famous cousin -- and every musical cliché -- to help lead Bay Area hip hop

Del found himself freed of the constrictions of a contract -- but also without an immediate means to distribute Future Development. Around the same time, Souls of Mischief were dropped from their label deal, so the group decided to self-release its future projects as Hiero Imperium. Del's album was sold as a tape at the band's shows and through its Web site, hieroglyphics.com. It took the group a few years to make the transition from recording artists to label operators, though, and Hiero releases were notoriously delayed. For instance, Del's new album Both Sides of the Brain was originally slated for a summer release last year and is expected (tentatively) March 21.

"From Future Development to this one, that's like 360 degrees," he says. "Future Development was taking it back to the essence. I learned everything, gotten through all the trials and tribulations. This one, I come around again to doing what I really like." Del has returned to describing the strange personalities he runs into in Oakland -- as he did on his most well-known track, "Mistadobalina," from his first record -- while pushing the syntax experiments he debuted on No Need For Alarm even further. By balancing the humorous, storytelling aspect of his personality with the educational, lesson-giving side, he covers more terrain on the album than all three of his previous works combined.

While Both Sides of the Brain is as unconventional as one would expect, Del made a conscious effort to retain enough reference points to keep it inviting for the uninitiated listener. "I study what people are listening to, I keep my ear to the street, make sure I don't go too wayward with what I'm doing," he says. "Because you know when you're an artist sometimes you got that ego, like just because you can do it, that means it's good. And that ain't the case. You gotta keep your eyes open and see what people are willing to accept." He stops to consider the implicit question he's posed. "Well, basically, I know what people are willing to accept. If you got a cool beat going on, you cool. If somebody's got to figure out what the beat is doing, it's weak. Like after five seconds and somebody's trying to figure out where the one's coming in, that ain't tight."

Still, now that Del's gone independent, he doesn't see the point in making a big deal of his credentials. On Both Sides' last song, "Stay on Your Toes," he trades verses with Souls member A-plus about the mainstream-underground debate -- one that's become tiresome to the whole Hiero camp. "It's like people over here on this side are complaining mainstream fools are ruling in hip hop and there ain't no dope shit coming out no more, just hatin' and complaining, basically," he explains. "Then you got the other fools in the mainstream thinking that anybody on an underground, gritty type level -- I don't even like using that word underground, I'll say just the funky, gritty, ground-level thing -- and they think everybody in that camp is hatin' too. And that be making me mad, because I got Jay-Z's album, I got a Puff Daddy album, I ain't hatin' on nobody. I'm trying to make my money, too. But I can understand people in the underground like that, because when I was younger I used to be like that, too.

"But when I got older I realized you have to make money somehow, you ain't giving your art away for free. When I figured that out, I realized I couldn't trip off what the other guy's doing, and it ain't my business what he's doing, anyway. He ain't keeping me from selling."

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