When he ambled onto the rap scene with 1991’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here,
Del the Funky Homosapien presented somewhat of an anomaly. He was a West Coast
MC who eschewed the N.W.A. gangsta rap ethos, even though he was none other than Ice Cube’s cousin. Instead of hard-hitting tracks about inner city poverty and crime, or even the more positive Afrocentrism of the East Coast’s Native Tongues movement, Del’s songs dealt with riding the bus, wandering around the Bay Area and friends crashing on his couch. Over the following two decades, even more so than his inimitable NorCal drawl, Del’s hallmark would be a continued eclecticism: He’s penned songs using video game sound effects, spit over the din of industrial clanging and been backed by operatic choruses. The wildly diverse oeuvre Del has produced makes him an indie rap legend, but lately his multifarious approach has worked against him. Del’s last proper release, 2011’s sprawling Golden Era, demonstrated this in full: Though it gathered 20 years’ worth of Del’s sounds and found the rapper at his most inventive, the record lacked an aural center and suffered as a result.
Fortunately, on his new album, Del has narrowed his focus. Attractive Sin was created in tandem with two members of the New Jersey hip-hop group and production team Parallel Thought, with whom he last collaborated on Parallel Uni-Verses in 2009, and their contribution is unmistakable. Drum and Knowledge mine the tropes of soul, jazz and R&B for the majority of the record, creating a lush and refreshing backdrop for Del’s almost obsessive insistence on maintaining basically the same flow on every track. “Ownership” glides along on a butter smooth saxophone sample slashed by blues guitar licks and accented by discreet “bow-chicka-wow”s seemingly cribbed from low-budget porn flick. The lurking bass line and snappy snares that propel “Charlie Brown” belong more in a smoky jazz club than on a hip-hop record, but when combined with Del’s nonsensical yet brazen lyrics (“Time for that gut bucket that y’all suckas finna be stuck with / I’m a mess, you wanna get blessed? / Put your boots on and be my guest”), they make for an appealing blend of refinement and zaniness.
As always, Del’s delivery is pristine, and it’s easy for a listener to be picked up by his first syllables and then deposited at the end of a track unaware that four minutes have passed in between. He switches between end rhymes with abandon and is just as likely to cap a stanza with a bonkers non-sequitur as with a matching verbal flourish. This unpredictability necessitates a close listen to Del’s trippy yet incomparable boasts about his skills as an MC, such as when he declares “Rappers is rapper beef / Happily I activate a masterpiece / Make ‘em ashamed to go on after me,” on the track “Activated Sludge.” Unlike the rest of Attractive Sin, that particular song features a more down-tempo Del, and as his velvety intonations combine with a laidback R&B beat and tinkles of piano, the effect is hypnotic.
Parallel Uni-Verses saw Del trading verses with fellow alt-rap veteran Tame One, but on Attractive Sin it’s all DLZ all the time, probably because there’s no room for anyone else. Opener “On Momma’s House” features him holding court for almost five straight minutes, no choruses or breaks necessary. It’s an exuberant exercise in braggadocio and carefree Bay Area shout-outs, accented by boisterous, looping disco-era horns, stray harp strings and early-’90s drum hits. Del changes cadence briefly once or twice, but mostly it’s just his breathless stream-of-conscious flow that propels the track along. All in all, there’s not much variation in Del’s rapping style across Attractive Sin, but that’s beside the point. Parallel Thought’s creative throwback sampling makes each song a fresh palette for Del to grace with his lyrical contortions, and the tracks stand out from one another in a way they might not under the supervision of a less imaginative production team.
For all of its merits, Attractive Sin is definitely not a perfect album (And some Del fans will also inevitably be disappointed no matter what the content, if only because it’s not Deltron II). Late cuts “Show’s Over” and “Front Like Ya Know” are tiresome compared to what comes before them, and Del’s propensity for branching off into odd soliloquies and adding wacky character voices—all himself, of course—can be grating. Still, Attractive Sin is a welcome throwback to an earlier era of underground rap. Bypassing the horrorcore histrionics of Odd Future or the calculated vulgarity of Danny Brown, Parallel Thought and Del have crafted an album that stands out not for its shock value but for the dexterity evident in both the beats and lyrical delivery. “I want you to blow your mind again / I mean really clean the cobwebs out that bitch,” Del repeatedly implores on “Blow Your Mind,” which features a squealing church organ and the crackle of a dusty 12-inch. It’s sage advice, because when his flow gets going and that muscular piano sample kicks in, there’s nothing else you’d really want in your head anyway.