Del The Funky Homosapien, Domino & Dante Ross Detail The Making Of No Need For Alarm
The cornerstone of Del The Funky Homosapien’s career and artistic identity belongs to his second album, No Need For Alarm. Released 25 years ago last month, the Elektra Records LP may not be remembered as a commercial triumph. However, the record increased the profiles of Del’s Hieroglyphics cohorts, establishing a brand and a bond that remains intact a quarter-century later.
“If Del didn’t make that record with Hiero in general, his career would’ve been different,” the group’s producer Domino asserts. “It could’ve been over.”
Del, whose career launched under the guidance (and production team) of his cousin, Ice Cube, changed the direction of his sound. From its title on down, I Wish My Brother George Was Here is an album drenched in P-Funk, a year before Dr. Dre sealed his joint of Chronic. The 21-year-old Oakland native looked less to George Clinton’s spaceship and more to his skateboard on album number two. He went on his own and created lanes for an eager and talented team waiting in the wings. The treatment marked a transformation achieved with the help of Domino as well as one of Hip-Hop’s most revered coaches, A&R Dante Ross.
Del, Dom’, and Dante remember No Need For Alarm during an illuminating oral history. The discussion traces the changes Del made, and some interesting history about Ice Cube, Deltron 3030, and one of the most colorful periods in Hip-Hop.
Dante Ross: I signed him because I was friends with Ice Cube. He brought him to me because he said I was on that weirdo sh*t and Del would fit in with the stuff I like. He’s like my version of Digital Underground. I met with Cube, [producer] Sir Jinx, and I met Del for the first time and we did the deal [in Los Angeles]. When I first signed him, I thought Jinx was gonna be the musical mastermind behind it. Somewhere along the way, Jinx and Cube fell out, and [DJ] Pooh ended up doing the first record [I Wish My Brother George Was Here] with Del.
Del The Funky Homosapien: The sh*t that I did on my first album was what I really wanted to do. This is really what happened: I had friends and associates in high school that were Hip-Hop elitists. When I put my first album out, they were clowning me. “Ahh, you’re rapping over gangster beats; you’re rapping over P-Funk.” It made me feel hella bad. I like P-Funk. What’s wrong with that? From that, I didn’t realize it until later when I was in Europe in a hotel room reflecting like, “Wow, that’s why they were tripping all that time?” They’re hating actually because I got a record out.” Dudes must have been just jealous or something because my sh*t was poppin’.
Dante: On the I Wish My Brother George Was Here album, Pooh was kind of doing what Cube orchestrated. I think the case was that Ice Cube wanted a P-Funk/Digital Underground type of thing going on, so that’s kind of how that record came to be. The music was by Pooh and Del together, production-wise, with Cube interjecting ideas kind of acting as the A&R guy. He had a vision for sure. Cube picked the first single “Sleeping On My Couch.” That wasn’t a great choice of a first single, but Cube wanted it. He was the boss, more or less. Songs like “Sunny Meadows” and “Same Ol’ Thing” musically were constructed by Del and [production team] The Boogiemen. Del was a very underrated producer. He knew his way around the [Emu] SP-1200.
Del: Ni**as in the Bay were already listening to our sh*t. This was just a chance to finally get it out. I had told my pot’nas that when I get a deal, I’m gonna put y’all on. “Burnt” was my way for everybody in the world to hear them for the first time. After that, they started getting offers and stuff like that. [No Need For Alarm] came out around the same time that Casual’s [Fear Itself] and Souls Of Mischief’s [’93 ’til Infinity] came out.
Dante: There are certain songs on Del’s first album that are more Del than Pooh or Cube, and those songs are “Sunny Meadows,” which was a precursor of what was to come. But to show was really was to come is “Eye Examination,” the B-side to his single “Dr. Bombay.” That was [the Hieroglyphics style] and it showed everyone what was going to change. People loved that record with the [George Benson] “White Rabbit” sample. That sh*t was crazy. And the other one was “Burnt,” the B-side of “Mistadobolina.” That was a big underground record with all of Hiero. The thing with all that stuff, too, was that “Burnt” is in the Plan B “Questionable” skate video. That’s what started their huge association with the world of skateboarding and snowboarding.
Del: I’m from Oakland, California, the Bay Area; motherf*ckers skateboard out there. It’s just part of the counterculture. Those are the type of kids who I hung around with, to the point where my fashion was informed with skater culture and fashion just being around it all the time. If I saw something that was fresh, I just added to what was me, even though I didn’t skate at the time.
Domino: [The Hieroglyphics] sound was way more jazzy and funky. Of course, we had a lot more Funk. Different people in Hiero had different influences. I was really into the wah-wah Funk records, but we also sampled a lot of Jazz stuff probably because Del looked to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and groups of that nature, Chill Rob G, DJ Mark The 45 King and a lot of influencers. I never thought of the Hiero production style as funky like Confunkshun or P-Funk, except for the fact that Del’s first album was based around that. Those sampled records I found for No Need For Alarm were because I was digging a lot at Groove Merchant’s record shop in San Francisco at the time. I don’t recall the creation of those beats, but Del would come in and be like, “Yeah, I like that one and that one.” They were so bassline-heavy.
Del: I just knew that Funk was tight. I was always looking for Funk, and any record that had it, I was looking for it. Then when Hip-Hop came out, and rappers were talking about it, I started checking for that. Lord Finesse used to call himself “The Funkyman,” that type of sh*t would make me want to buy your record. Biz Markie would talk about Funk, so I would check for his sh*t.
Dante: No Need For Alarm was a big shift. Del wanted it to be more akin to Hiero, and less relatable to Cube. He and Cube had kind of grown apart. And Del wasn’t happy with …My Brother George…. He didn’t want to be Cube’s version of Digital Underground anymore. It had more to do with what the Souls Of Mischief were doing than what he had done on the last record. When the (N.N.F.A.) album first got delivered, Cube basically walked away from it. He was like, “This isn’t for me. I can’t f*ck with this.” It was very, very Rap-centric. Verse-verse-verse, very little choruses.
Del: I knew that beat (for “Catch A Bad One”) was crazy when I heard it. Casual made it just for me. He popped it out of the studio and said, “Listen to this.” (imitates cello sample of “Catch A Bad One”) dun-nun-nun NUN-NUN-nun-nun nun-nun-NUN-NUN nun-nun, I think I started writing to it right then and there. It didn’t take long to come up with sh*t. Casual is a dope producer; I don’t know why he doesn’t [do it] more nowadays. Maybe he just thought that beat was dope enough for me. We hung together like every day so maybe he felt that beat fit my personality. I didn’t know it was going to turn out to be what it turned out to be.
Domino: When Del was about to start No Need For Alarm, Casual and Souls were finishing up [signing] their deals with Jive [Records]. They were just waiting for the finishing touches on their contracts. To start his album, Del booked a 24-hour lockout, which means you rent out a studio for 24 hours. It’s yours and no one messes with your time. So, Del starts the process and we start with most of his songs. He does about 10 songs, and it was fast, probably over a couple of days. We got these rough [mixes] and one of them was sent down to Ice Cube and the management. Word gets to us that Cube doesn’t like it, and he wants to address the way that this album is being made. They were like “Until we work this out, let’s stop recording.” And we have this prepaid lockout on our bill.
What happened was that Souls, Casual and I figure we should just use the time, even though the contract wasn’t done, it was “Let’s just use this time to record ’93 ‘til Infinity and Fear Itself.” We didn’t know the album names at that point, but we just started recording their albums all at the same time. And I wasn’t involved in this, but Del talks to Cube and Cube’s like, “Dp what you want to do.” Then we get back at it. The thing is before I got to the studio, Del erases the reels and goes over them with new songs. And the only song that was saved and made the cut was “In and Out.”
Dante: I had to go back in and make that (N.N.F.A) record. So, I literally sat in with Del and Domino, who was super helpful in making this record happen. I had very detailed notes, and this is one of the few times I’ve done this in my whole career when I said like, “These songs need choruses. These have to be 16-bar verses.” I mapped out the changes that needed to happen in the record so it would be more palatable. So, I did as best I could and it still was not particularly radio-friendly, but was a marked improvement. And Del, to his credit, went in and reformatted the entire record and we finished it. He followed my lead extremely well, and Domino helped him listen.
Del: All my songs are pretty much Battle Rap songs. The whole album is basically focused on Battle Rap. Sparring is what they call it now. Just sharpening your sh*t. It was more like ciphering back then because it was more like we were displaying our skills without trying to hurt somebody. When I went to the studio, I wasn’t making sh*t up. I already had sh*t ready, just laying the sh*t. Feel me? I don’t remember what the songs were, or what was erased. Maybe it was somewhat technical or some sh*t got f*cked up, and I just said, “F*ck it, just erase it.” I made sh*t so much, that I didn’t care. I produced “In And Out,” “Check It Out,” and “Wrong Place.” I guess it was freestyling because I really didn’t think about what I was writing. Whatever was the first thing that came to my head, I wrote it down.
Domino: It was important on No Need For Alarm for Del to show that he was a lyrical dude. From the “Sleepin’ On My Couch” and “Mistadobolina” song, Del knew that people weren’t taking him seriously but he was into lyrics. That was Del’s chance to show that Del was a real MC. That was already happening behind the scenes and he felt that he wasn’t marketed correctly. Because No Need For Alarm came out with the other [Hieroglyphics-affiliated albums], that was the true Hiero sound that came out around that time. It was like an explosion of that sound, those lyrics, that attitude.
Dante: Where the record started and where it ended were very far apart. It wasn’t singles-driven. It wasn’t an overwhelming success. But that record has grown and influenced so much to Rap purists. It was a moderate success but grew in stature over time. I think it sold 250,000 to 300,000 [copies)] and …My Brother George sold 400,000. His first album was kitschy, funny, light, palatable. This was album was darker, rhyme-driven, more lyrical, and really showed his skill as a rapper. The level of rapping on that record was far beyond …My Brother George Was Here. He was really spitting. “Catch A Bad One” was just phenomenal. He rapped his f*cking ass off on that record.
Del: I got better [Laughs]. In Hip-Hop, that’s what [rappers] did. That was the display of how dope you were. It’s different now, and even better if you dial it back so people can understand what the f*ck you’re saying. It’s more about content now, but back then, rhyming [multi-syllabic words together] was the ultimate. It was dazzling upon hearing it. All the greats were doing that. Anybody who was hella dope. Definitely Kool G Rap, one of the top dudes still to this day, made me want to rap. As soon as I heard “Poison,” I was amazed, like, “This dude is really saying this sh*t!” Ultramagnetic MC’s’ Kool Keith, he’s another one. Just-Ice…anyone who was standing out. I didn’t want to listen to nothing else.
Domino: That’s kind of the whole Hiero thing. Those dudes are in constant competition with each other. On songs like “No More Worries,” it’s like “Oh, he came tight, so I gotta come tight.” It was that way in production, too. Iron sharpens iron. That was just how they operated. All these guys in their primes with all their creative abilities, they all influencing each other on the [lyrical] aspect.
Del: [The Hieroglyphics] all went to the same high school and I was a couple years older than them. But with fashion sh*t, we were so influential. It was really more with Souls because I had already graduated at that point, so I was like a weirdo to people in high school. But when I came out, people were all like “OK, I knew it because he was already rapping.” By the next year, they were getting jocked because everybody knew they were down with Hieroglyphics. The people started saying the slang we were saying and dressing the way we were dressing. It was just fun, something for kids to do.
Dante: It was always good with me and Del. I think that was more directed at Ice Cube and them because Cube, I think, ate a lot off his plate. I don’t think that was directed at us. I never had one bad, adverse moment with Del, period. The only thing that was adverse was at the end of the cycle of I Wish My Brother George Was Here when he openly expressed how he kind of hated that record and where it took his career. He was not happy with the place he was artistically. He made it clear to me.
Del: At the time, I probably told him that because at the time, I was probably influenced by peer pressure. Put it this way, I got every single P-Funk-related record that I could find (for I Wish My Brother George Was Here). George Clinton was on my first album. Brides Of Funkenstein was on my first album. So, Cube was like “Hey man, if I could get George Clinton on the album, would that be cool?” I was like “You could get George Clinton?! For real?” He was like, “You like the Brides of Funkenstein?” I said, “Yeah, if you can!” Next thing I know George Clinton is in the f*cking studio taking pictures and everything, but I can’t talk to him because I’m [starstruck].
Dante: Let’s be real, Del also did the beat for “Alive On Arrival” (from Ice Cube’s album Death Certificate) and he never got credited. And “Jackin’ For Beats” was his idea, too, and he never got credited. He wrote for Yo-Yo, too. A lot for her first record, and never got any publishing. He definitely did a lot of stuff that people don’t know he did. I think he felt undervalued.
Del: I had been running my mouth in interviews and Cube got wind of it. It basically hurt his feelings. He was like “Man, Del, I thought you liked it? I thought that’s what you wanted to do.” Which it was, until I got back home and fools started clowning me. In my mind, things had changed. [That was not really the case], but that’s how I was feeling, so I was expressing my displeasure through the press with Cube. I still feel bad about that sh*t now even though he says he ain’t trippin’ off it, but I am. I feel like because it’s like [imitating Ice Cube], “Dude, I got you George Clinton and pulled all these miraculous feats and you don’t like it? It was no resistance, though, so it was like, “If you want to do your own thing, do your own thing, man.” Today, he actually is proud of No Need For Alarm because he’s like, “You did it your way, you still doing it, and you still got a loyal fan base, and you did it the way you wanted to do it.”
Dante: I left (Elektra Records) and went to work at Def Jam. I had my label deal there, and a guy by the name of Rick Posada, who was my assistant, ended up being an A&R there at Elektra. He unceremoniously at [former Elektra Records President] Sylvia Rhone’s behest dropped [Del]. They dropped him, I believe, via registered mailed letter. Not even on the phone, which was kind of bullsh*t. And I knew it was gonna happen because, I was in the room when he sat down with Sylvia Rhone and she suggested that he work with Jermaine Dupri. Del was like “Hell no.” And I know that Domino said shortly thereafter, they knew they were gonna get dropped in 1996.
Del: When I got dropped, I had so much other issues going on with me that I wasn’t even trippin’ really. If I had a drum machine to make beats with and video games, I really didn’t give a f*ck. I just kept on going as usual. In my mind, I thought I could get another deal. People were trying to holla at me. I think Beastie Boys hollered at me for a minute, Lyor [Cohen] had hit me because he was kind of contemplating f*cking with me at Def Jam, so we kind of juggled that idea around for a second. I was thinking of coming up with a cool demo to work with. It came to a point where we [Hieroglyphics] all banded together and thought if we move together, we all could be out promoting each other’s sh*t all at the same time. I think that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get dropped because I kept doing the same sh*t I was doing before. That didn’t affect me.
Domino: Dan [The Automator] was always a fan of No Need For Alarm. “Catch A Bad One” was always one of Dan’s favorite songs. It’s probably safe to say that Dan’s view of Del was established on that record. If Del was still doing I Wish My Brother George Was Here Funk-type records, Dan probably wouldn’t have been as interested. That’s why Dan was a fan and why he wanted to work with Del to make their Deltron 3030 project.
Dante: Because [Hieroglyphics] were all friends with all the skaters in the Bay Area like Jovontae Turner and Mike Carroll, those kids from EMB in the early 90s, they all listened to Rap music. That was like one of the first examples other than the Beastie Boys were that skateboarders actively used Rap music as the soundtrack to what they did making it an acknowledged part of their lifestyle. It’s been a really important part in their career with that audience. With that second Del record, it appealed to underground backpack fans as a classic and really solidified that part of his career. And that’s probably where his career resides to this day.
Domino: With No Need For Alarm, I think in terms of legacy and what his aim was for that second record, it didn’t do as well as the first record. But if Del didn’t make that record with Hiero in general, his career would’ve been different. It could’ve been over. Not to say he didn’t like the first record, but that wasn’t truly who he wanted to be. He was established as a unique lyricist and that’s why he’s had such a long career and it allowed for his longevity.
There are Making The Music episodes by DJ Premier, Joell Ortiz, Rapsody, and Ras Kass available at AFH TV.
Dana Scott is a writer based in Arizona. He has been covering Hip-Hop since 2008 for multiple websites including Ambrosia For Heads, HipHopDX, and Complex. He also covers sports, pop culture and fitness full-time.