Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Following an earnest and energetic opening set from Minneapolis rapper Sean Anonymous, Harvard math grad, NYU adjunct professor and turntable acrobat DJ Shiftee helped prime a Sunday crowd convened at Union Transfer to see Del The Funky Homosapien. Having first cut his chops writing lyrics for cousin Ice Cube’s Da Lench Mob crew in California’s hip hop scene in the early 90’s, Del’s first solo record I Wish My Brother George Was Here was produced by Cube in 1991, and buoyed by the success of hit single “Mistadobalina,” a popular critique of cultural inauthenticity that sampled an obscure Monkees’ track called “Zilch.” Shortly after, and not to be overshadowed by his more famous kinfolk, Del uncoupled himself from the constraints of conventional writing and production, and set out to forge his own self-styled brand of underground rap.
His sophomore effort would introduce his hip hop collective Hieroglyphics, whose critically-acclaimed album No Need For Alarm that would be the dawn of the “Hiero Golden Age.” Now a preeminent icon of the weird, Del is best-known for a rich diversity of fictional concept characters, from drawing on a tradition of Afrofuturism in Deltron 3030’s collaboration with Kid Koala and Dan The Automator, to his brilliant turn as Del The Ghost Rapper, a paranormal element conceived as part of the story of Damon Albarn’s animated supergroup Gorillaz.
Del came through last night with an encore finale of Gorillaz’ hit single “Clint Eastwood,” the first from their eponymous 2001 debut. It marked the end of a short set of highlights featuring chapters throughout the rapper’s 25-year catalogue, backed onstage by longtime producer and Hieroglyphics compatriot Domino, from Deltron’s “Virus” and “Positive Contact,” to 1993’s “Boo Boo Heads,” to stinky-people single, “If You Must,” from his fourth solo album, 2000’s Both Sides Of The Brain. Another cut from Both Sides, “Phoney Phranchise” followed a short assault on the disingenuous, a prologue to a performance of the beloved “Mistadobalina.” Del is kinetic as he performs, loose and nimble as he raps right through middle age, limbs flailing in adroit gesticulation as he acts out his lyrics. And underneath a Bowie-like tapestry of storytelling and fictional protagonists, the characteristic cadences and humor shine through, a hallmark of a 90’s hip hop heyday. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER