Credit: Ben Liebenberg
A sense of urgency should characterize Del the Funky Homosapien's Definitive Jux debut, 11th Hour, based on what he called the record. Or maybe a sloppy, partially inebriated laziness would suit tracks called “Slam Dunk” or “Last Hurrah,” merely because of what the album's title implies. On the contrary, with his self-produced follow-up to Both Sides of the Brain (Hieroglyphics, 2000), Del flaunts an anti-procrastinator's sense of organization, grounded in his oft-expressed affection for software. Following ethereal Def Jux releases from Aesop Rock and El-P in 2007, Del's effort sits as cozily in his own circle on the label as he does with his MacBook.
“I know El-P from back in the day, from about seven years ago,” Del says of the Def Jux boss. “That made it all good. Also, I'm extremely proud of what he's accomplished; I think it's great. El-P was open to releasing this project; he felt me, so it rolled like that. Pretty easy.”
Del's résumé tells of his membership in the Oakland, Calif. group Hieroglyphics, an impressive solo career, vocals on the Gorillaz debut and sci-fi hip-hop with Deltron 3030 (featuring Dan the Automator and Kid Koala). While he's nowadays conspiring with a herd of other musicians — Prince Paul among them — as well as participating in a new Deltron effort, it was 11th Hour that caused him the most blood, sweat and tears and had to be restarted several times. A deceptively effortless flow of quirks in 11th's verses are welcome and complement any Del release, and though he loves to create his own sounds, there's an occasional foray into sampling. “Bubble Pop,” for example, will ensure a party-rockin' slot. For that track, Del used FXpansion's GURU to mash classic hip-hop standbys (a Bob James piano loop and brass bursts) with ascending keyboard blurts and a memorable, overtly deadpan chorus.
“I used to dig strictly to sample,” Del says. “I still have that ‘DJ’ ear. Over time, I felt like I should know more. I sometimes employ royalty-free samples. Chopping something up into what I need takes a whole lot of time — playing my own licks and phrases is a lot quicker. I do use the REX format a lot for things like rhythm guitar, which is very hard or nearly impossible for me to emulate on a keyboard. The REX files allow for a lot more room to play. Pieces of the loop can be played separately, with the pitches changed for individual chops of the loop; rhythmically, you can play the loop differently. Also, you don't get the background noise that you would from sampling a whole band and trying to isolate the part in the loop that you actually are trying to use. You can have loops that are nothing but rhythm guitar, for example, not a whole band playing with rhythm guitar included. This makes my overall production a lot cleaner-sounding and less crowded.”
Although Del has spent a great deal of time studying keyboards, bass and guitar and gathering various hardware, he's usually “relaxing somewhere with a full studio” on his MacBook. He employs Ableton Live with a variety of VST plug-ins and builds all of his beats in applications. For 11th Hour's “Foot Down,” cuts from friend/turntablist Zac Hendrix and jabs of minimal, rubbery rolls spike the slowly bubbling toms that Del put together in FL Studio. And the glitzy tones on “Hold Your Hand” weren't tapped out on Del's Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, which he affectionately calls a “huge, enormous monster.” Instead, the producer/MC found solace in his laptop and crafted the track's retro feel in Native Instruments Komplete 4, using the FM7 synth plug-in.
“Comfort and ease of access would be the reason I prefer DAWs and plug-ins over the actual physical units,” Del contends. “I can be in the bed working on music, and it allows me to do so literally all day and night.”
In terms of sound quality, Del's argument for plug-ins versus plugging in an oversize synth is just as casual and easily explained: “Some would argue that it doesn't have the same resonance that an actual unit has, but I don't care. Sounds good enough to me.”