Teren Delvon Jones grew up in 1970s Oakland surrounded by his parents’ record collection.
“My father was up on musical styles like reggae and jazz,” says the artist better known as Del the Funky Homosapien. “He was into the deeper stuff while my mom listened to pop hits and Motown.”
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A self-proclaimed nerd, Del found the hip-hop lifestyle at a tender age. He started out writing poetry before discovering rap on the black comedy of party records by Richard Pryor and other comedians. The 1979 “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang was a historical jumping-off point.
“I heard that and I liked it, but I knew that wasn’t, like, the real,” he says. “I heard how people really talk.”
Along came RUN-DMC in 1983.
“Anything tight to us was ‘the beat.’ The harder it was, the more it was ‘the beat’ to us. There were other records out like Prince and Michael Jackson, but that was crap to me. “Sucker M.C.’s” was just hard rhymes and a beat. It was the hardest I’d ever heard. To my young mind, that was the hardest out there.”
This was in a time before rap music went mainstream. Del listened to KZSU Stanford University and KPOO San Francisco on the weekends and visited mom-and-pop shop Leopold Records whenever he could to peep the newest jams. He subscribed to The Source when it was only a newsletter.
“There wasn’t too many people that were into rap,” he says. “It was strange to people. It was hella new. If you’d been from New York, it was nothing to you, but on the West Coast we got shit hella late. People used to think I was from New York because I was always up on the styles. I was a fiend for it. I wanted anything I could get my hands on. As the culture started growing, stuff like that started to appear and everybody just grew together.”
“I felt like hip hop lost a lot of its audience because it was overwhelming them. For the average person it was doing too much. I wanted to pull back a little.”
-Del the Funky Homosapien
Del’s first foray into public performance came in the form of talent shows and unsanctioned rap battles at King Estates Junior High School in Oakland.
“It was something we did for a reaction or for fooling around,” he says. “Maybe I was cutting class and with my homies. Eventually it would get to the point where there was a crowd and the whole school was gathered around. The principal had to break it up a few times.”
A family trip to Los Angeles took his music career to the next level when he met Sir Jinx, a DJ in the early rap group C.I.A. with Del’s cousin, O’Shea Jackson, aka Ice Cube. In fact, it was Jinx who introduced Jackson to his own cousin, Dr. Dre, to form the ground-breaking rap group N.W.A.
“[Ice Cube] was slightly older than me,” says Del. “Previous to that he would be around, but at this point he was out looking for girls. So I went next door. Dre’s aunt lives next to my aunt. Jinx was playing with remote-control cars or some shit. He was as old as my cousin, but outside doing the same thing I probably would’ve been doing. I learned everything about production and how to make songs from him.”
Del signed with Street Knowledge Productions and released his debut record “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” in 1991 before founding legendary hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics back in Oakland. After innovative collaborations with Kid Koala and Gorillaz, his most recent album “Gate 13” was created with alternative hip-hop producer Amp Live.
“We wanted things to be fundamentally sound,” says Del. “I felt like hip hop lost a lot of its audience because it was overwhelming them. For the average person it was doing too much. I wanted to pull back a little.”
The album is full of witty wordplay over simple drum and bass that recalls the golden era of hip hop Del helped to create.
“I’m older so I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but I feel like we had more to say or we were allowed to say more back then than we are now,” he says. “For a lot of the artists today their end game is to be famous or get money or whatever. After Puff Daddy and all that shit, you’re thinking, ‘I’m about to have millions.’ I didn’t grow up that like. It was was like ‘Are you out your mind?’ It just so happened that hip hop actually changed the world like it did in the end.” | jubjubsthirstparlor.com, montbleuresort.com