Damn near twenty years in the game and Del is still a breath of fresh air in a hip-hop culture that at times has appeared stagnant and some (read: one) have even declared dead. First dropping I Wish My Brother George Was Here in 1991, and then founding Bay-area crew Hieroglyphics and releasing Third Eye Vision in 1998, Del has given listeners passion, creativity, and a certain level of uniqueness for the last fifteen years. TSS crew member Ian M. got on the phone with Del while he was on tour in Canada for a discussion on his new album, a Deltron sequel, the Nintendo Wii, and getting harassed at the border.
TSS: What’s going on Del?
Del: What’s happenin?
TSS: Good to finally connect. You don’t have a cell phone?
Del: Nahâ€¦I don’t talk on the phone. I got a Sidekick, but I ain’t paid the bills so it’s cut off.
TSS: Ha. OK. I’m with Smoking Section, I don’t know if you know us but weâ€¦
Del: No I heard of y’all. I seen y’all online for sure doing your thing.
TSS: Yeah, thanks. I think we have the freshest content out there, but you know a lot of our draw is musical download. What do you think about that?
Del: How I feel about it? I feel like this man: It’s cool because a lot of shit you can’t get no more or you might have on cassette, know what I’m saying, or you might have the CD and can’t find it. It’s just that much easier to download it at that moment, or if you want to check something out, know what I mean, before you get it, to see if it is worth your merit or whatever. I don’t mind it on that level, but there’s a lot of cheapos out there who think they can just download shit and never buy a fucking record.
TSS: I have to agree. The way I see a lot of artists reacting is people are starting to put a lot of records, mixtapes out there for exclusive download on the internet. Have you ever thought about doing something like that?
Del: I was going to do an album called Achilles Heel and I was going to give the motherfucker away online for free. This is before this downloading shit even happened like now, this was like five or six years ago.
TSS: What happened to it?
Del: Nothing. I still got the songs. Shit man, I got to focus and finish my fucking album. I just stopped thinking about the motherfucker basically.
TSS: Where are you right now? How is the tour going? What is the structure of this tour?
Del: I’m basically trying to hit up shit I ain’t hit in a while. Canada, um, Alaska is basically where I’m at. Just came out of Alaskaâ€¦we in Canada now.
TSS: Does all of your sound â€“ an American sound or a Bay sound â€“ translate into the context of the Canadian experience?
Del: I would imagine everyone experiences hip hop in their own way. They [Canadians] feel it for sure. I was out there, they was hyped, they was hyphy, they loved it. I ain’t got no complaints about how they received me. I don’t know how they receive everyone else, but while I was out there they showed me hella love. Which is good because it was a pain in the ass to get out there. Both Canada and fucking Alaska especially because flight after flight after flight, I was a madman when I got out there. In Canada, you can’t cross the fucking border without them looking up your bootyhole. When you do get out here they show you a lot of love because they know what it takes to get out here.
TSS: Yeah, I heard you got hassled crossing the border.
Del: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, they got to do that. They got to be some dicks about it. They don’t like us. They want their shit to be theirs. They don’t want us assholes for the US coming up here, they’re like don’t come. Feel me? That’s them at the border feel me? They always going to be like that. I don’t like it at all. I want a motherfucker to kiss my ass.
TSS: You listening to any Canadian hip hop right now?
Del: A little bit.
TSS: I was listening to the new Kardinal mixtape which is fire.
Del: We were listening to that on the road. Swollen Members is my people. Sauks [Saukrates] you know what I’m saying. You hear Sauks now and then because he is down with Redman.
TSS: You’re a big gamer. I don’t know if you have much time on the bus to mess with the new gaming systems out there.
Del: Not really man. I’m pretty much in production mode all the time. I got video games. I buy ’em all. I don’t get a chance to play ’em though. I got 360. I got fucking the Nintendo Wii. I got the main shit that’s clean. I buy the games, but I never get a chance to get on them and play them because I’m always trying to make some music, get new sounds or whatever. I’m a grown man now. Still LOVE video games though.
TSS: My roommate just got that Wii.
Del: It’s lightweight for the little kiddies. But you know Nintendo is hyped. None of this shit wouldn’t even be out if it wasn’t for Nintendo you know. They brought the whole shit back. It’s a workout though.
TSS: I feel like it’s a workout for kids who don’t go outside anymore.
Del: You could definitely say that. But kids be going outside, it seems like it ain’t like that though. There is just way more shit to keep you inside now like if you ain’t athletic you know what I’m saying.
TSS: Speak on 11th Hour, the new one.
Del: 11th Hour about to come out, know what I’m saying. Looks like I’m possibly fucking with El-P you know for the release of this through Def Jux. I’ve known El-P for a long time. That’s my boy man. Looks like it’s going down like that.
TSS: I didn’t know that.
Del: I didn’t know that neither. We just came to that conclusion.
TSS: The new El-P is crazy.
Del: Of course. That motherfucker is crazy. But 11th Hour is my best work to date. It’s a Del album so don’t expect to be listening to no crazy space shit or none of that shit. If you want that you got to listen to Deltron. This is strictly about me, how I get down, my real world shit and I how I get through it. I don’t just leave it as ‘this is what’s affecting me, I hate it,’ you know, I got solutions to get through shit. I don’t just sit there and complain about shit, I try and figure out a way to move through it whether it’s the right way or not. Sometimes it might not be the right way, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes I got to fuck someone up. That’s just too bad for whoever is in my way. Its survival, if I got to survive I don’t think about nobody else. But I try to be cool. I try to be approachable. I ain’t trying to fuck nothing or nobody up for no real, real, real, good reason. Someone’s got to be a major roadblock for me to start wilin’ out, it’s got to be going on for a minute. That’s basically what you got on the album. I tried to keep it at that. I tried to keep it on what is Del really about, what type of music do I really be feeling. Instead of trying to squeeze in everything Del is interested in on one album which is what I feel I have done a lot of times. I think that isn’t fair to the listeners. It’s too much, you don’t get a chance to see what Del is about. Ima do it like this, I’m going to centralize what Del is really about, and that other shit I am going to save for other projects I got.
I got another project I finished with A-Plus from Souls of Mischief and AAGEE. Both of ’em got a production company called Compound7. They just did an EP for me called LED that’s Del spelled backwards. That one is finished.
Deltron, hmm…I started writing a little bit of it. The album is done basically musically. I got to take the time to write it. I got to be in a certain state of mind to write that shit. When I wrote the first Deltron, all I did was play video games all day, watch cartoons all day, read comic books all day, and explore shit all day. At this point I’m grown, I don’t have time to do that no more. I got family I got to take care of. Got to take care of myself. Got a lot of shit to do. Some of it is catching up, playing all the damn time. Sometimes I am like ‘damn if I had only been working a little bit instead of goofing off all the time, maybe I wouldn’t have to work so hard now.’ So Deltron is going to take me getting into the mindstate to finish it. I have already figured it out though. I’ve got it ready to spin out into action figures or cartoons or comic books or whatever. I left it open-ended like that.
TSS: A lot of our readers I know like to produce. I know you keep a heavy hand in all your production. What are you working on now and what are the tips you like to pass to others?
Del: One thing is that I never think I am so dope that I can’t read nothing about sampling or something about hip hop production or something that say “hip hop” on it. Some people are like “that’s wack. I ain’t even trying to read it. This ain’t real hip hop” [mocking voice]. I think sometimes people get fooled into thinking that if it is a guide that says “hip hop” on it, like it’s like damn near “Electric Breakdance, get the record here now by so and so” [in a funny telemarketers voice, ha].
TSS: People think they know too much to read a how-to book about hip hop.
Del: Exactly. You know that book Flocabulary?
Del: It’s basically a book that breaks down all this shit that motherfuckers have been talking about for years and decades about freestyle and rapping. Somebody finally put it in a comprehensive format in a book. All the shit we used to talk about flows and how many syllables niggas be rhyming and shit. Somebody finally put all that in a book, you feel me? So if you look at it on the cover, you look at it and you like “Oh Flocabulary, hehehe, what’s this? They think they know?” [mocking voice again]. But really they do know. Somebody sat back and said ‘fuck it’ and made it understandable so people could pick it up and learn the deeper aspects of flowing.
That’s off the subject, that’s not what you asking me about, but I wanted to say something about that because it’s important because somebody see something like that and say “fuck that shit. They think they know how to rap, I’m a real rapper. They don’t know nothing – they writing a book. I’m living it.” But it’s actually hella important to keep your ears and mind open. It’s the same for making beats man. I be online looking for shit, looking for blogs that actually talk about making beats and try to learn what I can from it. I probably know most the shit because I have been doing it since the early 80’s, but I don’t think I’m so grown and know so much shit I cant learn nothing, and its fun to me. So I’m always looking for new sounds, new sound libraries, new sample libraries, little shit I can fuck with.
TSS: I think that’s insightful. Coming from someone who has been in the game so long, to hear that they still read a book like that or read blogs, some would think you already know all this.
Del: Any master know you don’t never master this shit. You got to constantly be looking at shit or otherwise you just fall off. Like “he was tight. He used to be dope, but he’s wack now, he don’t even matter to us.” You feel me? You might know a lot of information, but to the youngsters that shit don’t mean shit. You got to constantly figure out how to present information you think is important to the youngsters in a way that they will be able to use it and appreciate it. You got to know what’s going on basically. George Clinton was good at that. He still is. He is one of the only motherfuckers as far as sampling that wasn’t tripping hella hard. He was like “oh that’s the Clones. The Clones is here. I’ve been telling you about the Clones and Funkenstein. They really the Clones. They really sampling our shit, didn’t I tell you?” That’s all George Clinton was on you feel me? I learned a lot from him man because he is one of the hippest cats out there.
TSS: You talked about access to hip hop and right before I jumped on this call I was reading an interview online at XXL with 50 Cent and he said something I thought was pretty provocative. When asked: What percentage of MCs in hip-hop do you think are actually intelligent? he said:
“You have different kinds of people. You have people that are extremely book smart that lack common sense so they don’t know what’s going to affect their audience. They have more information than me based on reading. For instance, Nas is a really smart guy. He reads books constantly. We were around him on the Nastradamus tour. He was almost weirder than me ’cause we would go to breakfast and he’d be there reading a book. Conceptually, I think that’s what made him drift away from what his initial audience enjoys from him and why he’s not hot right now.”
It sounds like people in hip hop are thinking they need to be conscious about coming off too “smart” or too “weird”
Del: I don’t think that’s the case. When it comes to an artform like songwriting, it takes a different type of skill then writing a book or writing a movie. You only got three minutes to say whatever you going to say and to make it entertaining and palatable to someone’s ear. I don’t think it has anything to do with how smart or intelligent someone is. You only got so long to grab someone and make ’em be like ‘ooh that’s tight, I want to listen to it again.’ Its kind of different in hip hop because as far as songwriting we have made it possible to say hella more, to the point where it damn near could be a movie on wax or a book on wax. We stretched the limit of what you could do.
I think a lot of people ain’t used to that still. Like my mama will probably never like hip hop. She looks at it like motherfuckers talking over the fucking music. Like ‘why do they have to talk over the whole goddamn record?’ She just don’t even get it, like ‘why they talking?’ I mean, it depends on how much success you want. If you want success outside of just hardcore hip hoppers that actually understand what the hell going on with it, you have to make it more palatable. I wouldn’t even say it’s dumbing down or nothing like that cause it aint’ about that. I think that when people do dumb down they insulting people’s intelligence, I don’t think people are dumb, maybe I just don’t want to listen to your shit. I ain’t a dummy, I just don’t like your shit. As an artist you just got to keep other people in mind other than yourself when you make it, and that is hard for some artists. You can’t be overly concerned with what other people care about neither, it’s a balancing act.
TSS: I wanted to just talk for a second about the internet. I was reading this interview from 2006 with Casual and he said, talking about Heiro: “We were one of the first groups to gain venue from the Internet. Period. Not first, but we were one of the first three, definitely. Hieroglyphics â€“ it’s all in history, it’s all in the timeline. There’s not any other album you could’ve bought online in 1995 besides Chuck D, this one rock dude, and us.”
I wanted to ask you about how you guys have used the internet as a powerful tool and how you have had the foresight to be ahead of the curve.
Del: I can’t tell you half the ways it has been useful to me. Just the ability to be able to reach people and let them know what you about. Either one on one through MySpace â€“ which is tremendous â€“ or get shit completed easier. I do a lot of work on the internet, passing files back and forth. Before I would actually physically be in the studio with the motherfucker. Like if you lived in Long Island, I would have to fly out to fucking Long Island just to do the shit. I don’t like traveling at all. AT ALL. Never did, never will. For me, to be able to do shit at my house and get it to someone else and its all gravy, that’s like damn near teleporting.
The internet has been a tremendous tool. That connection or being able to get information. Like if I am stuck on something, no longer do I have to get up and go to the fucking library and make it an all day or all week event you know what I’m saying? A lot of people don’t do that though. I find my girl sometimes being like ‘do you know this, or, do you know what this means?’ and I’m like ‘you got a computer sitting right in front of you, why don’t you Google that shit and figure out what the hell it means?’
As far as making money too. You can sell hella shit on the internet. You also got motherfuckers downloading their ass off. I don’t feel so strongly, like it is the bain of hip hop’s existence like some people do. As far as I know, if you wanted that record and you didn’t have no money, you were going to get that record, you feel me? I always found a way to get some shit even if it wasn’t poppin’ on the computer. If someone had a tape deck it was on. Or even borrowing someone else’s record like ‘ooh let me borrow that record,’ now I got it. I didn’t buy it physically from the store, but now I got it. And if I like that artist, I’m going to buy every thing that motherfucker do. Like A-Plus’ sister bought Public Enemy’s first shit, like the single with “Don’t Believe the Hype” on it, right before It Takes a Nation of Millionsâ€¦ came out. And I was like “oh my god, as soon as the album come out I’m buying that shit.’ There was no doubt, I was buying that motherfucker.
But I think the ease of being able to get online and download that shit has made it too easy. It can be bad and good, just like everything else. Some people is always going to focus on the negative qualities because they don’t have any other way to explain shit they don’t like. I look at it as good too. I got damn near every hip hop album that has ever come out, I’m not even bullshitting. I’m talking about old cassettes and sometimes I don’t feel like digging through my old shit and finding a cassette player that’ll play this shit. If I see Kings of Pressure online somewhereâ€¦first of all I am going to be flabbergasted that anyone know enough about Kings of Pressure to have that up on the first place, of course I am going to download that shit, I already got the motherfucker. Probably ain’t no one else got it or care about it. Let it be up there so motherfuckers can peep it and be like ‘what the fuck is this?â€¦oh damn this is clean actually.’ You might not know and then get to know. That internet is huge man I can’t even tell you.
TSS: Thank you Del. Really good talking with you for the first time.
Del: No doubt. One love.
Still need more Del?