Underground Report: The Grouch and Del
Even prior to his beginnings with the Heiroglyphics, Del has had a notable solo career, which began at the release of his first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, at the youthful age of 18. At the time highly noted for his familial ties with rapper Ice Cube (Del and Ice are cousins), it wasnt much before the Oakland-born rapper paved his artistic path, leading him toward some of the most notable group, solo and collaboration albums, including No Need for Alarm and Deltron 3030. We caught up with the Funky Homosapien to discuss his hiatus before the 11th Hour [click here to read], the rumors claiming jeopardized health, and the decision to take his music back to basics.
HipHopDX: Its been seven years since your last solo album prior to the 11th Hour. What were you doing in the meantime?
Del the Funky Homosapien: Umm [laughing]. Lets see - how can I explain it? I was trying to get myself out of a twist, and at the same time I was studying music theory. So I was trying to study music theory and finish the album, but at the same time, I had a lot of toxic people around me that were trying to keep me doing from what I was trying to do. And it was pretty serious so I had to spend most of my focus on that - but that didnt stop me from focusing on what I had to do.
DX: Music theorywhat did you learn?
D: Really, I wanted to study more about Funk and groove cause I wanted to get my funk motor revved up; I felt like I could be more funkier. I wanted to work on my all-around funk-ness, but to do that and to understand what dudes like James Brown and the Jungle Brothers or James Browns band, The J.B.s or FunkadelicI had to learn music theory because they were speaking in musicians terms. So I learned what I needed to learn so I can have a basic foundation of how music works. And I still study now but I have a workable amount of knowledge in my head it helps.
DX: Some would say that Funk died in the early '80s; thoughts?
D: In a wayit came out in different types of form. It wasnt the traditional type of Funk. We had more electronics and stuff like that. The Hip Hop generation, we was playing them records and sampling them records and rapping over them breaks and stuff like that. We took the rawest part of Funk the funkiest part of Funk, we took and rapped over it basically.
DX: Jazz is another one of your influences. Please explain its connection to Hip Hop.
D: Jazz and Funk to me are interwoven but Jazz is more technical. I look at jazz as being the link to Hip Hop as far as rhyming, for example. The way dudes freestyle and rhyme, when they really do it, its like a Jazz musician improvising. You might have a certain structure that you work around. You got your few words or your subject youre gonna rap about and you just go. And its the same type of art form, that spontaneous combustion that you get
DX: One of the best known Jazz singers of our time Nina Simone (who by the way doesnt use the word Jazz, instead, she labels it Black Classical Music) didnt consider rap to be a musical art form, let alone an art-form rooted in Jazz.
D: Thats interesting. Just the fact that black people are doing it is the first link its definitely connected. She [was] probably looking at rap [when she was alive]; she cant be talking about somebody like Rakim. There are rappers out there that exemplify what Im talking about and then there are rappers out there that dont.  I think its the same with Jazz too.
DX: You produced just about every track on the 11th Hour?
D: There are three that I didnt produce.
DX: Some of the criticism for the beats is that they are not memorable; that they are great while the track plays but forgetful afterward; thoughts?
D: I guess people are gonna have their opinion on whatever. Most of the comments that Ive gotten back are good.
DX: Why do you think some refer to the beats as unmemorable?
D: Cause they dont like it. [Laughs] Theres some people that do and some people that dont. I cant really argue with that, cause thats their opinion. What I tried to do with the beats, some of them, I tried to make [them] with a more minimalist approach. So maybe thats what they mean when they say Some of them are not memorable. Maybe theyre just not doing that much for them.
DX: Do you feel that youre underrated as a producer?
D: I just dontYou know what? Mmmmmm. I wouldnt say underrated because I think that just now people are starting to see that this is something that I do. And since Ive already blabbed my mouth off about learning music theory, I know theres gonna be people out there saying, Okay, let me see what music theory did for you, let me see your music theory. Basically, all ready to hate on me. Its a work in progress though. I do listen to constructive criticism; if you dont like it, you dont like it; if you do, you do. Theres nothing I can really do about it. But Ill say that Im constantly working on my craft. The stuff you hear on 11th Hour, Ive already surpassed.
DX: Bubble Pop. Is it directed at anyone specifically or just at Hip Hops general braggadocios?
D: The concept of the song is basically somebody who gets too big for their bridges or their head gets too inflated; somebody just too souped up, you just burst their bubble basically. My raps are usually not directed at anybody specifically - of course Ive dealt with specific people in my life that I can draw inspiration from but I try to keep it generalized so that anybody thats been through those types of situations can feel me.
DX: Do you have a general beef with females? There were some nasty attacks on women on the album?
D: Nah, of course not; and anybody that knows me knows that I respect women to the fullest. Thats one thing. On the other hand, Ive dealt with particular types of women and men who are opportunists. Ill diss anybody. But Ive dealt with certain types of women you cant talk to.
DX: So why bother?
D: Cause sometimes youre caught in a situation when youre forced to talk to somebody. You have no choice.
DX: You wanted to simplify things with this album. What does that mean and how did you go about doing so?
D: I just wanted to get back to the fundamentals of things. For one, I felt like a lot of people just dont know what Hip Hop is about. I wanted to go back to the raw essence, beats and rhymes. Part of it was that; another part was that I felt I was going way too out on my Del projects. I got to a point where I figured that basically, I have other avenues I can express these things [with]. With Del the Funky Homosapian, I wanted that to be more about me. I wanted it to be more funkier, more on thee Hip Hop tip, less about anything [else].
DX: Your father, who is a visual artist, designed the cover for the 11th Hour. Did you pick up some of his talents?
D: I grew up drawing. I consider myself a pretty cool cartoonist. I can still draw, I just found that music was easier. It was easier for me to get a finished product that I liked versus sitting hours and hours drawing something. Now, I might spend days working on a song so I guess its kind of the same now, but its more fluent for me; its more natural for me.
DX: Whats your favorite piece that youve done?
D: Oh man. I guess the Hieroglyphics logo probably is the greatest thing to the public that Ive done. A lot of people respect that logo, they think its dope
DX: Its been reported that your health is suffering from drug use; comments?
D: Whos telling you that? [laughing]
DX: Cant reveal my sources.
D: Hell nah. You know what my health was suffering from? Touring all the time and filthy ventilation. Basically, if youre anywhere in the public, youll be exposed to filthy ventilation. I have a complication since a kid of dust and stuff like that. I used to have bad asthma. Im cool now, but on the road Ive been around so much ventilation, dirty air ducts, people always want to turn air conditioning on, and after years and years of just breathing it in, I just started getting hella sick.
DX: Ah. What trends, if any, influence Hip Hops underground scene right now?
D: Man, what underground scene? [Laughing] Nah, right now, one major trend I see is J Dillas production. Thats a pretty big trend; a lot of people are getting up on that swing that he got. It always happens. Somebody is a great beat-maker or a great producer for a moment, on the underground scene, and everybody kind of learns from thembut J Dilla is that dude right now.
DX: Whats in your plans?
D: Im trying to do more production; Im trying to get into producing music for soundtracks and commercials outside of just producing records. I got various projects Im working on, I got instrumental albums, I make dance stuff stuff you can boogie to. But Im also working on rap projects with other dudes too.
DX: Wanna drop names?
D: A+ is one dude Im working with. Were working on an album called Hypnotize. I started working on some stuff with Pumpkinhead a while ago I need to holla back at him, I didnt holla at him in a minute. Tame One, Im fooling with, Im still fooling with Tame pretty tough. Hollering at Planet Asia about some stuff; start working on some stuff with DestroyLadybug Mecca. Dave from De La Soul, Im working on some stuff with him
Far from living up to his name defined by bad temperament and everlasting grudge holding (refer to Sesame Streets Oscar the Grouch), the Bay-Area-born rapper seems an acute optimist and easily one of the most promising talents in Hip Hop today. Aside from his attractive west coast swag, his straight-forward approach and his ability to relate to listeners everywhere from the dirty south to the stuck-up north, The Grouch retains his loyal fans while adding new ones to his roster and no better time like the present as his solo album, Show You the World [click to read], releases on the same day as the Living Legends' LP, The Gathering. He is innovative, he is confident and he is part of the new wave of rappers who are leading away from the braggadocio bullshit and using the mic to actually say something. HipHopDX gets anything-but-cranky with Californias promise to discuss his latest album, his admiration for his wife and daughter, and how he ended up running his truck on soybean oil.
HipHopDX: Are you satisfied with the feedback of Show You the World?
The Grouch: Oh yeah, Im getting some good feedback; I feel good about it.
DX: Whats the best response youve heard so far?
TG: I dont know if theres one best thing. A lot of people are saying that its my best album. I dont know, I just seen the number of comments, theyve all been positive; theres only a couple of negative commentsI know people really like the artwork too.
DX: Tell em "Simple is the new cool (young fool)/Sober is the new drunk/Pregnants the new skinny." What did you want to get across with Breath?
TG: Its just saying, Come on now, grow up a little bit. All the silly stuff is, and I dont mean you cant have fun and be young; and Im not saying Im an old man or anything like that but Im just saying theres a time and I feel the time is right now to look at life and be a little more serious about whats going on around us. And partying and getting drunk and all that stuff is something that Ive gone through and I feel like its not the best route to take. And I dont mean that selfishly because Ive done it and Im not trying to tell anybody that they shouldnt take that route, but in my opinion, its just not the best route. Having a daughter and that whole Pregnants the new skinny one too just opens my eyes to what life is really about.
DX: Much of your confidence came through on Show You the World confidence as a human being and a man as also. You refer to your wife proudly, as well as your daughter (who is also on the album cover). Generally, rappers depict a very negative picture of women and children are at the same time left out of rhymes. Why do you think that is?
TG: All the braggadocio in Hip Hop and just rapping about how cool you are, I think that that was cool for the first ten years or fifteen years of Hip Hop, and now personally I think its time to move on to something else - some more important issues. And the way the women are treated in Hip Hop and other forms of music, is not really cool. I dont see the sense in it. So, its like, people are too cool to acknowledge their children. I think that stuff is stupid.
DX: Positive lyrics have a similar impact on the listener. Do your fans approach you and tell you how your music affects them?
TG: Definitely. I get a lot of stories from fans about, I was going through hard times, I was slipping into drugsOne of my relatives passed away and somebody brought your CD to me and it pulled me out of a depressedand I felt like there was reason to study music or there was some hope out there. I get that kind of stuff a lot. And it makes me very proud. And its one of the most accomplishing feelings that I have as an artist. Also, I cant lie theres been songs that weve made that I feel are irresponsible songs that are more leaning toward partying and having fun and drinking alcohol and I saw adverse reactions of the crowd that was listening to our music. I noticed there were a lot more people drinking in the crowd. Im not saying you cant drink responsibly or you cant ever mention alcohol in a rap I just wanted to tighten up what I was rapping about and make sure that Im sending a positive message, cause theres no reason for me to be sending anything else but that and I feel that Im back on track as far as everything goes.
DX: Living Legends released The Gathering LP this month, which is receiving great reviews. Two success stories for you this year and its only April. Where does the inspiration come from?
TG: Weve been making independent Hip Hop music for like 10-plus years now, and when we started it was like a lot of people used to make demos and tried to get signed to major labels. And we were taking our demos and calling them albums and selling them as finished albums on the street. We had a lot of material and thats how I learned: being a creative person who is always working on new material and constantly putting it out. We got a lot of criticism for putting out stuff that wasnt studio finished in the beginning; and we built a big fan base off of it also. I always felt like its very good to stay busy with your art, stay focused on what youre doing as an artist and make sure youre always releasing things. And there was a while there that I felt like I wasnt releasing enough stuff so I just wanted to bring it back to kind of where we started with frequent releases. The two projects coming out on the same day was a statement of that. We still make a lot of music and heres proof that were still being creative with this.
DX: Where did you get the idea to put soybean oil in your gas tank?
TG: I was at an Earth Day festival in San Diego and I saw these guys who were running these old Mercedes on vegetable oil. I was pretty amazed and I started talking to them about it. They told me they recycle waste oil from restaurants and that they run their cars on it and I just thought it was the coolest idea. And I was like I really want to do that but I dont want an old Mercedes. I actually had an SUV at the time and I wanted to get a new car but I used it [the SUV] so much; I would always fill it up with gear and merchandise and everythingso I couldnt get anything smaller. I did some research and found out that you can convert any diesel vehicle. So I ended up getting this big truck cause it was a diesel and I did conversion on it at a place called Lovecraft Biofuels in Los Angeles. Ive done a couple tours around the country, I did one full tour on vegetable oil all the way around the country, even as far as New York. Eventually Id like to get an electrical car because now they say that even some of the biofuels are making them chop down the rainforest and plant soy and stuff like that. So its like nothing is perfect at this point as far as running a vehicle except maybe electric. But theres so much stuff that people should concentrate on, its not just the cars.
DX: What else?
TG: On my next release Im gonna do more eco-friendly packaging and recycle plastic CDs I guess. Eventually CDs will get phased out and that will be a good thing hopefully. Just as far as not trying to buy too much plastic over and over again; for instance, plastic water bottles. Try to just either use one water bottle if youre gonna use plastic bottles or buy a metal bottle  I think I bought my daughter a plastic sandbox today and I should have bought a wooden one...
DX: [Laughing] is she interested in music?
TG: Oh she loves music.
DX: Does she have any instruments?
TG: I bought her some small Conga drums. And she has likeI dont know, she plays my instruments to tell you the truth. Shell just go on the piano and everything and she hits the big drums. She just loves listening to music also. Im gonna put her in piano lessons pretty soon. As for now, shes just listening to a lot of music and playing around on the instruments that we have around here.
DX: Have you been following the election campaign?
TG: I did for a minute. We went to an Obama rally and we watched a lot of the early stuff where they were competing for the democratic candidate on TV and stuff, but to tell you the truth, I kind of lost track because I feel that its just taking so long and theyre going back and forth and just insulting each other at this point. To me, it doesnt look that great. You still gotta remember that there are republicans waiting in the wings to battle at the next stage of the game. I wish they would figure something out with whos gonna be the democratic candidate and make it so theyre not tearing each other apart as the rest of the sees their weaknesses.
DX: Any predictions?
TG: I couldnt tell you. I hope Obama wins, but I dont know. How can you make a prediction when the president thats in office now got there by cheating?