Del Tha Funkee Homosapien Shares His Freestyle Secrets
If you hear Del tha Funkee Homosapien utter the phrase “I get on the microphone” during a freestyle, chances are he’s buying time.
“I’ve got little connectors that I always use to help me get to the next line,” Del tells The BoomBox. “Like ‘I get on the microphone.’ It’s just a connector that gives me time to think of something else.” Del, known for his seemingly effortless freestyles, admits it’s not always easy coming up with something off the cuff. “You’re going to stumble,” says Del, who had his first success working with cousin Ice Cube as a teen. “You’re going to f— up. Once you understand that, then you can loosen up and do whatever you do.”
The Oakland-born rapper, whose humorous singles were seen as an alternative to gangsta rap in the early 90s, shared some of his tricks with the BoomBox. “The thing about freestyling is: You freestyling,” he says. “It’s not about anything in particular, so you just start going, basically. Like if you rhyme and stuff like that, you’ve probably got a Rolodex of rhymes in your head just from writing so many rhymes and having an affinity for rhymes in general, so you just go off of that. You can take things in front of you, you can take things that’s happened to you during the day, you can take how you feel and whatever it is that’s on your mind.”
Known for his chameleon abilities, Del has collaborated all over the hip-hop board. His rap on the track ‘Clint Eastwood’ off of the Gorillaz‘s 2001 eponymous debut, provided the group with their first hit. He’s released two albums with his underground hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics. And, after being signed to a major label in the ’90s and an eight-year solo release hiatus in the ’00s, Del finally returned in 2008, releasing his fifth studio album ‘Eleventh Hour’ on the indie label Definitive Jux. Two more releases — ‘Funk Man (The Stimulus Package)’ and ‘Automatik Statik’ — followed in 2009. Through it all, Del has never lost his freestyle finesse, building upon it like a jazz improvisation. “What jazz musicians do, they’re not making this stuff off their heads — they have standards that they know,” he says. “And then they agree on a standard that they’re going to use as a base to start improvising on. But you’ve got to be skilled to do that.”
But even a skilled freestyler, he says, isn’t always on it. “Some nights, I’m just explosive and ridiculous,” he says. “Other nights, I might not be too into it, so it’s harder for me to come up with stuff off the head. You’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to have that energy and that want to say something.”
Even if Del’s not in the mood and a radio station asks him to freestyle, he’ll deliver. “I feel like as a professional, I should be able to on-call freestyle whenever somebody asks me to freestyle,” he says. “That’s what I get paid for. Just the fact that you coming off the head amazes people. It’s just like, ‘Oh my God — he’s making this up right now — off the head!” And those listening are always left impressed.