Born Teren Delvon Jones in 1973; son of a visual artist (father) and a college-degreed police department employee (mother). Addresses: Record company--Hieroglyphics Imperium, 436 14th St., Ste. 329, Oakland, CA 94612 Phone: (510) 444-5351 Fax: (510) 444-5336.
Telling stories about more innocent misadventures than his hardcore rap counterparts, Del the Funky Homosapien was a precocious 17 year old when he released his first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, in 1991 on Elektra. Produced by his cousin, gangsta archetype Ice Cube, the album introduced to the rap world Del's charismatic, sing-along rap style and everyday lyrics that had served him well for years in the Bay Area underground. From his hometown of Oakland, California, Del had been rhyming with his friends known as the Hieroglyphics crew--Casual, A-Plus, Tajai, and the Souls of Mischief--since grade school, shunning the hard gangsta approach in favor of good-time, off-kilter rhyming. "Del's like the antithesis of the jiggy aesthetic," producer/label executive Dante Ross, who first signed the young rapper to Elektra in 1990 and remained a close friend, told Charles Aaron of Spin. "But as far as skills, he's up there with anybody."
However, because he shied away from the shoot-'em-up spotlight, Del, despite his head-turning talent, family connections, and a major-label record deal, failed to appeal to the rap community at large with his p-funky debut. His goofy narratives fell short of what streetwise thugs wanted, and slick production alienated some underground purists in the rapper's inner circle. "People would just make fun of me," he recalled in an interview with Amanda Morrison of CitySearch. "Like, 'Oh man, that ain't the hard sh**.' I was so young I let it get to me. But now looking back I realize that [the album] was cool, and they were probably just jealous or something. Why should I care what they think? I got a record out."
Nonetheless, Del maintained a low profile throughout the 1990s, becoming one of the most enigmatic artists in hip-hop. During these years, he saw his relationship with Elektra dissolve following two more attempts in the recording studio, and struggled with a substance abuse problem and financial woes. Finally, in 2000, he returned with his first proper album in seven years. With Both Sides of the Brain, released on Hieroglyphics Imperium, the label he co-owns with longtime friends Souls of Mischief, Casual, and others, a 27-year-old Del the Funky Homosapien returned seemingly unscathed by the industry and personal troubles, again carving his own niche in rap rather than following the pack. "He's not trying to make a big spectacle of himself, and that sorta confuses people," said Bay Area producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, who began collaborating in 2000 with Del on 30/30, a supergroup featuring DJ Kid Koala. "These days, rappers are supposed to be having champagne orgies in limos. Meanwhile, Del's walking around talking to people about the last ten books he just read." By no means a rapper decrying the thug life, Del simply realizes that the gangsta theme is not his style.
Growing up in the Oakland area and later residing in nearby Richmond, Del, born Teren Delvon Jones, listened to the popular MCs of the day and soon started rapping himself. In addition to rap, Del also listened to other styles of music--even punk--and continues to develop new interests. "I listen to reggae sometimes," he told RapPages magazine. "I listen to Black Flag or Bad Brains sometimes.... Jazz sometimes. I bought these Indian records the other day [which] sounded kinda weird. I be trying to figure out new sh** that I can do."
By the time Del reached his teens, Compton hardcore legend Ice Cube from Southern California knew that his East Bay cousin had a talent for rhyming, though he never could quite comprehend his younger cousin. After hooking Del up with a record deal, Ice Cube, producer DJ Pooh, and Elektra executives were intent upon making the teen into a sort of Funkadelic stepchild, touring Del with stars like George Clinton, and sending him on a mission to save funk with 1991's I Wish My Brother George Was Here. With his nose piercings and other eccentricities, however, Del felt like the "weird" new kid on the block among the older MCs and producers. Moreover, he was more excited over being part of the game than in making money. "Del felt like an actor playing a role in Cube's little movie just to sell records," Ross said, as quoted by Aaron. "Then when the album didn't sell well as it should've [about 300,000 copies], everybody at Elektra, and Cube, stopped paying attention to him." Besides the hit "Mistadobalina," Del's debut failed to make an impression on mainstream hip-hop fans.
Amid fights with Ice Cube, Del attempted to produce a grittier follow-up on his own. No Need for Alarm, released in 1993, won praise for the young rapper's mic skills, but the songs were patchy. Devastated, Del isolated himself and began drinking heavily and using psychedelic drugs. Other than Ross, who says he stuck by Del because of his "gentle nature," his remaining bosses at Elektra were growing increasingly unforgiving over his lifestyle. After recording another album, which critics claim may be his finest though it was rejected by his record company, Del received a letter via registered mail from Elektra coldly terminating the relationship. The unreleased album, Future Development, featuring the major-label blow "Del's Nightmare," was later made available at the Hieroglyphics website.
All the while, Del had remained active with his friends at Hieroglyphics. In the early 1990s, the crew had gathered at Skyline High School in Oakland, adopting a symbol drawn by Del and an attitude of not reducing themselves to either gangsta or straight-laced styles. By the mid-1990s, financial troubles plagued the label, but the group of friends managed to keep afloat by taking day jobs. Then at the urging of a fan from San Francisco's Mission district named Domino, real name Damian Siguenza, the crew reorganized, setting up a website, selling merchandise, playing live, and incorporating. Eventually, Hieroglyphics would occupy a warehouse in West Oakland, with Domino and Souls of Mischief member Tajai Massey handling business duties.
The crew's perseverance can be largely attributed to their family roots. Most members were raised by two parents who valued music and education. Domino's Salvadoran father played bass for the R&B combo Mink DeVille, while Del's father, Delma, was a visual artist. His mother, a college graduate who worked in a police department, always emphasized her childrens' schoolwork. Del's parents divorced when he was in junior high, and he and younger brother Tyson went through some difficult times. But Del recalled that his mother's support, especially for his passion for hip-hop, enabled the family to adjust.
Although Del has been associated with the hip-hop underground throughout his career, he surprisingly holds a disregard for the debate over integrity, authenticity, and artistry that exists between the indie versus the mainstream music industries. While recognition and support within a tight-knit community such as the East Bay music scene has its rewards, Del realizes that reaching a larger audience may feel even better. With sales of his Both Sides of the Brain album expected to exceed the number of both Elektra albums and his undeniable star qualities, Del could finally find himself in the spotlight.
But despite his desire to sell more records, the rising rap artist feels content with his anonymity. Likewise, friends say that they don't see Del as the celebrity type. "He's a true outcast, even among his friends," Domino told Aaron. "I think if he ever did get famous, he'd be miserable. He needs to do his regular Del stuff, like catch the bus to the office, pick up his check, walk to the bank, deposit his check. He doesn't see himself as anyone extra special. And I think that's why people believe in him so deeply."
by Laura Hightower
Del the Funky Homosapien's Career
Signed to Elektra Records, 1990; released debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here, 1991; released Both Sides of the Brain, 2000; co-owner of Hieroglyphics Imperium record label.
- Selected discography
- I Wish My Brother George Was Here , Elektra, 1991.
- No Need for Alarm , Elektra, 1993.
- Both Sides of the Brain , Hieroglyphics Imperium, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2000.
- RapPages, February 1994.
- Rolling Stone, March 30, 2000.
- Spin, July 2000.
- Village Voice, April 18, 2000.
- CitySearch, http://www.bayarea.citysearch.com (July 31, 2000).
- Hieroglyphics Online, http://www.hieroglyphics.com (July 31, 2000).