On Attractive Sin standout “Different Guidelines”, Del the Funky Homosapien blusters through the chorus, asserting again and again that “hey, I do it different.” This is, of course, both obvious and an understatement. The stubbornness with which Del has gone his own way throughout his career borders on obsessive and yet it has worked for him. His last great classic was Deltron 3030, and it came out 12 years ago. And now everyone is all fired up for the upcoming sequel to that record. But it’s not like Del has been dormant over the past decade-plus, and in fact one of his finer moments came in 2009, when he recorded Parallel Uni-Verses with Tame One. The record was a great old-school hip-hop affair, and pitted Del’s (and Tame’s) rhymes against the production of duo Parallel Thought. The album was funky and strange, and yet had a defiant groove. It was the kind of hip-hop album that was like no other and yet had a classic feel to it, like any hip-hop fan could latch on and find something to love. Well, now the sequel is out, but not to Deltron, not yet. Instead, we get a second collaborative album from Del and Parallel Thought, and once again they work well together.
Like Ice Cube, Del’s mentor in the early ‘90s, the Funky One has reached across the country for his beats on this record. Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was a brilliant collaboration between him and East Coast beatmakers the Bomb Squad. Here, Oakland’s Del is in the hands of East Coasters Drum and Knowledge, and they give him plenty to work with. The beats here are deeply rooted in soul and funk music once again. Horns and big soul strings roll over all of these, from the spacious thump of opener “On Momma’s House” to the wistful saxophones on “Different Guidelines” to the warm horn section sampled into “1520 Sedgewick”. The beats can get lean, on street stompers like “Charlie Brown” and the shadowy “Apply It & See”, but mostly Parallel Thought crafts big, booming and funky as hell beats for Del to run wild on. They’re far less oddball than Del’s early experiments with Funkadelic styles, but the beats are just as striking.
The beats work mostly because they feel nostalgic for music and its history in the same way Del does on Attractive Sin. His flow is, as usual, labyrinthine and twisted and compelling, and rather than flitting off to some sci-fi world he uses it here to stay on terra firma, specifically his hometown of Oakland. It’s unusual for Del to be this deeply rooted in the real world, but this personal turn works, especially when Del seems deeply lost in the past. “On Momma’s House” is one long, unruly verse, but he reveals some interesting details of childhood. He recalls living in Oakland projects where “strays may blaze you, you might not live” and yet claims he’ll never leave because he’s “from this shit.” He’s aware of not just his history, but the history of black people – “slavery, Jim Crow, that there’s my kin folk” – as well as the history of hip-hop music.
This second focus, on music’s history and Del’s personal relationship to it, is another big part of Attractive Sin. When Del recalls Ice Cube saying “he’ll fuck with me if I stick with it” on “Different Guidelines”, you hear a true reverence in his voice, an appreciation for where he’s come from. Because of his love for hip-hop, he spends a lot of time letting us know he’s not willing to suffer fools or fakes or haters. Later in that same song, he leaves nostalgia behind for vitriol, claiming he’s ready to “spew feces on BGs, easy.” On “Ghetto Drillin” he lets the lames know that they “played [themselves] like an 8-track, and they from way back” and so on.
Del’s penchant for calling out lesser emcees, itself a deep tradition in hip-hop, slips into a bragging sameness a bit too often on Attractive Sin. He spends large swaths of many songs here, from “On Momma’s House” to “Charlie Brown” to “Show’s Over”, cutting down haters, all those “turkeys” who have “been in the game too long.” There’s an implication here that he is, still, misunderstood – as is his hometown Oakland, apparently – and after awhile it starts to feel not just repetitive but defensive. Del’s flow is as good as it’s ever been here, and he seems genuinely charged when he revisits his youth and his love of hip-hop. When that all turns sour, though, his targets feel soft and vague, stand-ins set up to present some sort of one-sided rap battle.
That’s not to say that Del can’t toss out plenty of cutting punchlines here, but at some point the hater attacks feel too much like hate itself, which is what ends up holding Attractive Sin back. You’re not likely to tire of the intricate rhymes that fill up these beats – though the beats themselves are so catchy they seem worthy of more genuine hooks than we’re given here – but for a guy that’s spent much of his career blowing our minds with meaningful nonsense, you might find yourself wishing he was saying a bit more this time around.