Even if you don’t recognize the name Del the Funky Homosapien, you may have heard the voice.
The Oakland, Calif.-born rapper, who headlines a show at Madison’s Majestic Theatre on Wednesday, June 22, has collaborated with everyone from Dan the Automator (on the futuristic excursions of “Deltron 3030”) to Damon Albarn’s cartoon crew Gorillaz. Indeed, it’s Del’s voice that can be heard roaring to life on that group’s ubiquitous 2001 hit “Clint Eastwood,” bellowing “Finally someone let me out of my cage!”
Yet for the better part of a decade, the MC may as well have been confined behind bars. While most artists would have attempted to capitalize on the success of Gorillaz, Del instead took an extended break between solo records, finally releasing “Eleventh Hour” in 2008, a full eight years after its predecessor, “Both Sides of the Brain.”
“I’m never gonna let anything stop me completely, but I was put on pause a little bit,” said Del, 38, in a recent phone interview. “I was dealing with personal issues — just negative people and influences in my life — and I had to wash it all out.”
Though hesitant to go into further detail, the rapper clearly returned to the music industry rejuvenated, as evidenced by the creative tear he’s been on since. In just a few short years Del has already released five albums of new material, including his latest, “Golden Era” (The Council), a triple-disc collection that includes two records — “Funk Man (The Stimulus Package)” and “Automatik Statik” — that were previously available as digital-only downloads.
Said Del of the outburst: “I had all that exercise working against forces, so once that was gone I felt like Superman. Things were just way easier.”
Del, born Teren Delvon Jones, got his start in the music industry writing for his cousin, gangster-rapper-turned-family-film-star Ice Cube. Back in 1990, this family connection ignited a label bidding war eventually won by Elektra Records, and just a year later Del released his debut album, “I Wish My Brother George Was Here.”
It was clear from the onset that Del’s playful, imaginative style differed greatly from his cousin’s. Displaying a feel for absurdist wordplay, he packed his debut with witty songs about riding the bus (“The Wacky World of Rapid Transit”) and lazy, shiftless friends content to drift through life (“Sleepin’ on My Couch”).
“(Ice Cube’s music) is more based in street reality. That would have to do with him living in a gang territory,” said Del. “I didn’t, so I was able to use my imagination more. I think his imagination was focused on not getting killed and finishing school before his dad beat his (behind).”
The ability to embrace flights of fancy is a large part of what makes Del such an appealing co-conspirator for artists like Dan the Automator. In 2000 the pair collaborated on the much-loved “Deltron 3030,” a sci-fi concept album set in the year 3030. Whispers about a follow-up with the working title “Deltron: Event II” started as far back as 2006. As it turns out, many of the personal demons that prevented Del from releasing solo material also inhibited his ability to re-enter “Deltron’s” more fantastical landscape.
“The first time around the concept was a hobby for me, like I was hella into comic books, anime, sci-fi,” he said. “I been playing for a long time, but now I’m not in the same space and I couldn’t imagine no fairyland (stuff). All my mind has been focused on is reality, so getting back there was a burden.”
As he rhymes on the outset of “Golden Era’s” “One Out of a Million”: “I deal with the real situations.”
Still, in recent months Del has begun revisiting the project, gradually worming his way into that head space, and he believes the public should hear the results within the year — even though he’s already convinced nobody will like it as much as the first “Deltron” album.
“‘You shoulda listened to the first one.’ ‘It don’t compare to the first one,’” he said, mimicking the stream of voices he expects to hear upon its release. “‘The first one was tight! Hella tight!’ ‘You wasn’t born then? Too bad, you missed it.’ ‘Golden era, man. Golden era.’”