Del Tha Funky Homosapien’s Offbeat Debut Helped Shape West Coast Alt-Rap
Rap fans often focus on the emergence of gangsta rap when discussing the history and legacy of west coast hip-hop, but digging beneath the surface will expose you to a whole world of artists not relegated to musing about drive-bys and blunt rollin.' One of those artists is Del Tha Funky Homosapien, who is noted as one of the rap game's most abstract personalities, with a track record that's earned him underground and indie legend status. But being a unicorn in a scene filled with the equivalent of lions, tigers, and bears made his come-up even more improbable.
By 1991, West Coast rap had been rising to prominence for several years, with artists like Too $hort, Ice-T, King Tee, N.W.A. and Ice Cube gaining mainstream attention on par with their New York-based contemporaries. Gangsta rap had become established as the dominant sound coming out of California, as seminal efforts like Rhyme Pays, Born to Mack, Eazy-Duz-It, Act A Fool, Straight Outta Compton, and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted gave national notice that Left Coast rap was a force to be with reckoned with.
Ice Cube's defection from NWA in 1989 following Straight Outta Compton and releasing his own platinum-selling solo debut, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, gave the rapper a platform to establish his own voice. But aside from showcasing Cube's more socio-political slant, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is also known as the genesis of Da Lench Mob, which in 1990 referred to Cube's crew of untapped talent featured throughout the album. Before the "official" trio would emerge, Da Lench Mob also consisted of legendary west coast acts like female emcee Yo-Yo, Watts native KAM, and most notably, Del tha Funky Homosapien. Del, who also happened to be Ice Cube's cousin, would be afforded the opportunity of appearing on the AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted song “Turn off the Radio,” nepotism was not a given, as he would be thrust behind Yo-Yo in Da Lench Mob pecking order.
"I remember that I couldn’t come out because [former Lench Mob member] Yo-Yo was coming out first," Del said of the period between AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and his debut album. "So to put some bread in my pocket, Cube enlisted me to write some shit. He wrote [my second hit] “Dr. Bombay” actually. But it was like that, though because everybody was around." While getting his feet wet and his pockets thick on the writing tip, Del would begin cultivating his own body of work to present to the public, ultimately recording I Wish My Brother George Was Here, which would be released on October 22, 1991, on Elektra Records.
The album, its title inspired by Del's admiration for George Clinton, as well as a nod to the legendary pianist Liberace, who in his shows was known to pine for his brother George, often exclaimed featured production by the likes of the Boogiemen (DJ Pooh & Rashad Coes), Ice Cube, and Del himself, powered by a plethora of funk and vocal samples. Making for a musical hodgepodge, it can be argued that I Wish My Brother George Was Here was the apotheosis of west coast production during that era. "What Is A Booty," the album's opening selection, sees Ice Cube pondering "The fuck is a funky homosapien?" while Del explains "It’s a human being fool, a funky human being," which embodies the stark contrast between Cube's gangster and Del's eclecticism.
Del Tha Funky Homosapien locks in step on "Mistadobalina," the lively lead-single released from I Wish My Brother George Was Here that helped reveal Del's off-kilter flows to the masses. Rapping "Mista Dobalina, Mista Bob Dobalina/Mista Bob Dobalina, won't you quit?/You really make me sick with ya fraudulent behavior/You're gonna make me flip and then an army couldn't save ya," Del maneuvers over the frantic kicks and snares in all of his splendor, displaying a loose, albeit precise, rhyme-style. Painting Mista Dobalina as nothing short of a shady "culture vulture," Del Tha Funky Homosapien blasts him as "a serpent," pegging him as "The little two-timer" who "resembles Aunt Jemima/With jeans and a dirty white hoodie, ultimately surmising "Seems like he wouldn't be a snake or would he?/Disguises come in all sizes and shapes/Notice the facade of the snakes."
Del gets a little rugged on "Pissin' On Your Steps," which sees him desecrating the reputation of all of the rappers he deems as sell-outs and fakes, specifically Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, both of whom were topping the charts with crossover pop rap in 1990-91. First taking aim at his fellow Cali rep with the lines "Let's have a vote and try to register our ballots/And realize a Hammer's just a mallet/Toss him like a salad cause he ain't truly gifted," he then proceeds to throw a few blatant jabs in the "Ice Ice Baby" rapper's direction. Rapping "Golly-wolly, not another Elvis and Priscilla/Ice is cool, but I can't stand Vanilla," before essentially writing him off as a swagger jacker and biter. Another victim in Del Tha Funky Homosapien's warpath is De La Soul, who catch a stray shot with the barbs "Me and myself and I ain't with the daisies/Cause I'm no goddamn flower/And every single dancer in circumference receives a golden shower."
"Pissin' on Your Steps" is a provocative moment in its own right, but Del Tha Funky Homosapien truly pushes the envelope with the abrasive cut, "Dark Skin Girls," which sees him praising the Nubian queens while discrediting what he perceives as snooty girls with fairer skin. Lyrics like "As I see it, every single day/Light skin girls ain't satisfied unless they get their way/Always plus they act stuck up/They all add up to one great big fuck up" are bluntly delivered and spares no feelings and pulls no punches. Chanting the refrain "Dark skin girls are better than light skin/Light skin girls ain't better than dark skin," Del continues spew invective's like "Ya think ya look better cause ya skin's a little bit lighter?/You're thinkin' you're my type like I was a typewriter?/No, ya think ya all of that and all of this/But you ain't really shit without a makeup kit."
Although Del takes the time to lay out a disclaimer, with "This don't apply to all the girls with light skin/Just the ones with their heads up their rear end" and explains that "Dark Skin Girls" are just what he prefers, this song would clearly be called out for misogyny and colorism today. Controversial lyrics are also spat on "Money for Sex," a jam shaming sex workers and promiscuous women. Barking "Thinkin' they can play me like a field trip/That's why I slugged my honey dip/Cause that's more than I can stand and I'm the man who sets it right again/Bust they in the lip and the bitch will never bite again." Yet another example that misogyny in hip-hop isn't limited to artists of the "gangster" variety.
Other standouts from I Wish My Brother George Was Here include the funky up-tempo offering "Dr. Bombay," which recalls the sort of P-Funk inspired hits of Digital Underground and "Sleepin' On My Couch," a playful ode chiding his friends for crashing at his pad and turning his home into a madhouse. Rhyming "they're in my mother's room watching television/I feel like giving 'em the boot and say the hell with 'em/But if I give 'em the boot I'm not a friend though/Even though my room smells like dime bags of indo," Del's dilemna is one that has plagued the young, black male with a cast of misfits for friends since the beginning of time.
Upon its release, I Wish My Brother George Was Here was a commercial success, with tracks like "Mistadobalina" and "Dr. Bombay" gaining traction on radio and the Billboard charts, and would prove to be the most high-profile album of his career. However, Del Tha Funky Homosapien wasn't completely satisfied with the album's content. This would cause for him to unceremoniously cut ties with his cousin Ice Cube, as well as Da Lench Mob as a whole. “I wouldn’t say I split up with him,” Del explained in a 2010 interview with The Boombox. “I just wanted to do more of the production and stuff myself. I didn’t just want to be under his wing the whole time,” he continues. “Some people, they just like to ride the coattails of whoever they getting in on. I didn’t want to do that.”
He also says that the way Ice Cube received the news may have put a strain on their relationship. “It came out in magazines and stuff — the interviews,” Del says. “I was young, so I didn’t have no sense. When [Ice Cube] read it, and it didn’t come out of my mouth, he was hurt. He was like, ‘Man, you didn’t like what we did? I thought you liked it.’ And I did like it. It was just that I wanted to do something else.” Although Del and Cube would eventually make amends and remain cordial, Del would move forward with his own career, spearheading the Hieroglyphics Crew, which he referenced multiple times on I Wish My Brother George Was Here, a full two years prior to Hiero making their debut on Del's sophomore album, Need For Alarm. Consisting of Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Casual, Souls of Mischief, Pep Love, and Domino, the Hieroglyphics Crew would help popularize alternative rap on the west coast throughout the '90s and the aughts and remain active today.
I Wish My Brother George Was Here is ultimately a funky, unsung (and still problematic) classic that helped break down barriers on the west coast and remains as sonically intriguing as the day it was released.