On a clear afternoon in February, Scarub and I pulled up to an unassuming house in Richmond, California – a neighborhood 12 miles Northwest of downtown Oakland. Armed with a few cameras, rolls of film, and a composition notebook containing interview questions, I knocked on Del The Funky Homosapien’s peep-hole-free front door. He opened the door, quickly stepped down onto his driveway, confirmed who I was and what I was there to do, and excitedly greeted Scarub — an old familiar face.
Del’s house was tidy and quiet – he led us down a long hallway to a living room filled with steam from a blasting humidifier and music equipment – his home was centered around the machinery that turns his ideas into art. Tall glass curio cabinets filled with instruments and trinkets inhabited the room’s corners and a large desk with monitors, machines, and speakers sat in the center of the room. As I set my bag down on his kitchen island and unpacked its contents, Del pulled up two chairs made out of bungee cord material and took a seat, bouncing back a bit, and Scarub sat at the dining room table beside us, threw headphones on, and began working on his own art.
Del and I spoke of his traumatic fall from the stage during his performance with The Gorillaz at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival and how his physical and mental recovery is going ten months later, what effect the forced down-time of recovery has had on him, how his lines in Jonah Hill’s Mid 90’s movie were inspired by real life events, and what the art he’s currently creating sounds like.
EMILY BERKEY: First I wanna talk about last July, you were on tour and you were pretty severely injured. How are you healing from that mentally, physically?
DEL THE FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN: Physically, I’m alright. Mentally, I’m working on that. The accident — I broke seven ribs and fucking punctured a lung.
Traumatic. You fell what, six feet?
Six feet. Yeah. Now I’m discovering from looking at the photos and shit, I actually fell in a camera pit. So I must’ve fell on cameras and shit. So that explains to me how my lungs got punctured. You know what I’m sayin? Because how can all that happen just from hitting the ground?
I was listening to the Wax Poetics podcast you did in December and you said that mentally healing’s taking some time and you really don’t trust anyone (because you weren’t informed of that severe drop-off). How is that going for you now? What are you doing to heal?
That’s a good question. Let me see how I could phrase it…
Well, I went to see a therapist. That accident brought up hella other shit from my childhood that I must’ve blocked out. It just had me thinking about shit like hella hard. Along with relationships that I’ve had, too… Most of them were extremely traumatic – crazy ass shit happening left and right. Just crazy. So I’m just thinking about all of this shit. I can’t really perform or nothing because I don’t trust nobody, not like that. It’s just hard for me to even get the courage to step on stage. So yeah, I went to go talk to a therapist. Got some medication. I got Prozac for that. So that’s helped hella. That’s helped allow me to be able to think without just having a black cloud over my head all of the time. Then I started realizing, ‘okay I’ve been dealing with this shit for hella long.’
This just shook it up to the surface.
Yeah, to the point where I couldn’t even do shit no more. But before that, I’d be touring and shit would be hard cause I’d be having’ anxiety all the time.
But you were just ignoring it and pushing through?
Yeah just trying to deal with it you know what I’m sayin.
Yeah that’s something else I wanted to ask you. You’re known for being hyper productive and always out there doing something, working on something new. It seems that this event created forced downtime for you. You literally just had to sit with yourself. What have you learned and how have those quiet times benefitted you?
I’m usually looking for quiet times like that but I’ve been on the road just going at it constantly, kind of just in a whirlwind with that shit and so caught up in that. I just became apathetic about everything. I wouldn’t even be here [home] long enough for me to wash my clothes, to even cook a meal. It’s like I’m not even human no more, you know what I’m sayin? Like regular shit, I’m not even used to doing no more. So in that regard, being on timeout was good. Like I probably would’ve just kept on going if the accident didn’t happen. So it’s good that it did happen because it forced me to sit down somewhere. Once that happened, I started really thinking about everything that’s going on through the road. Even with that, I could be manipulated because if I’m apathetic about everything somebody’s like, “Oh you wanna do this show?” [I’d say] “Yeah, fuck it.” It’s just easy for me to say yes to a lot of shit that if I was clear minded, I probably wouldn’t be saying yes to. As far as relationships and shit, a lot of that would be buggin’ me. Already just kind of thinking about things and trying to work shit out. I just started discovering. I started reading shit about narcissism and that just answered hella questions for me.
About the people you were working with or about yourself?
About relationships that I would have. Even going back to my mom and shit. I wasn’t realizing I kind of just excused everything she was doing but she used to say and do some fucked up shit, you know what I’m saying?
Do you identify as an empath? Narcissists feed off empaths.
Yeah definitely. Definitely.
I’m sure that’s lent itself nicely to your art? Your… empathness?... is that a word? Your empathy.
Kind of, I guess. Kind of sort of. Over the years, I built more and more of a wall around myself and with my art, too. So I’ve been working on, I guess at the core, trying to get back to making shit that’s just fun to listen to. I don’t want to be deep. I don’t want to be saying no fucking message or no shit like that. I just want to make some shit that’s fun to listen to. If it ain’t fun to listen to, nobody — I wouldn’t even want to listen to it. If you sayin’ stuff and it hit me, it’s got some meaning, then I’ll get to that. But initially it’s got to be fun to listen to. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on. I’ve been chiseling away at this shit then the accident happened and then that just put me in a situation. I didn’t have to go to a therapist, but since I was going to check out my physical situation anyway, I thought I might as well go see a therapist, too. At that part I started thinking about narcissism and shit and figuring that out. I used to trip like, “Okay why are all these broads acting the same way, doing the same shit?” That shit would be the same scenario.
Over and over, like “what’s the lesson here?”
Or like it must be a certain type of person you know what I’m saying? But I didn’t know about — I thought narcissism was something else. Then I started reading about it and now I get it. Then once I hit the therapist, I kind of had some shit going on. I had something to give them to work with so they can help me. Since then I go every now and then. I need to make another appointment pretty soon. Naturally, I work on myself all of the time anyway so that’s not anything new. But this is a new level of that I guess.
Is it more intentional self-work now?
It was intentional before but when I was in fucking third grade or something, I got mad and threw a desk at my teacher, so they sent me to a therapist. Dude was like, “Why did you throw the desk at the teacher?” I was like, “because I was angry.” He was like, “You can’t do that. You can’t throw a desk at somebody just because you’re angry.” That’s all I needed for me to change. That made sense. I was like yeah, that’s stupid. Ever since then, I’ve [been able to check myself]. I started there. That’s why I am the way I am. Now it just makes sense. Everything just makes sense the way it’s come back around.
And here you are. You were writing lyrics when you were in the hospital in Denmark. What, if anything, is going to come of those writings?
Probably nothing. I write a lot anyway, just to tighten the bolts. But I’m still working. I want a hip-hop model that I could put out that the general populous could appreciate.
What does a project like that look like to you?
Well, let me try to put it in other terms, although I’m not really saying it would necessarily be like this. Back maybe late 80s, like Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Biz Markie, Slick Rick. Where their lyrics were at was pretty much the pinnacle of where motherfuckers could go to, where the average person could appreciate the shit. I’m not saying I’ll rap just like that, but I would have to be more pithy, I guess you could say. Think of it like humor – you want to be witty, you gotta be quick. Say what you gotta say, nothing else. Lyrically that’s what I’m looking at. Musically minimal. So I’ve been working toward that for hella long. So a lot of writing. I write all of the time. I’m constantly trying shit out. Producing, trying shit out constantly, to the point where I now feel satisfied using less because I think that was the main problem – I wouldn’t be satisfied being minimal with it, I would have to add something else. It was my insecurity.
Adding layers to kind of mask what’s at the core.
But really like shooting myself in the foot because the more I add, the less people are going to want to fucking listen to it because it’s too much.
Yeah that’s the way to put it. Yeah.
In this downtime, have you been doing any visual art? I know you’ve art directed your albums in the past. So is that something you’ve been working on?
Not really, but I want to. Everything comes slow with my focus mainly on production and the writing. Mainly the writing. Production, secondary. But I’m trying to get these things to a place where it just flows and it could be like a machine basically. Everything’s just a formula.
Are you working on any projects right now?
Yeah. I’m working on a couple of projects. But I haven’t worked out what they’ll be called or what it is yet.
Is that how you normally create – make it and figure the rest out later?
No. Before, I would just do it and whatever I did, it was done. I didn’t even worry about it. At this point, I have think about it – I can’t just say anything I want to. Well, I feel like I can’t because some things are not age appropriate. Some shit ain’t gonna look good. I’m not a kid no more.
Do you feel some pressure to be a good role model?
Not really but like, I don’t want to misrepresent myself either. I do think about the backlash out there because everybody is just so, “You’re cancelled.” You know what I’m saying?
Yeah. Do you feel like you’ve misrepresented yourself in the past?
Not really but it’s a different era now. I’m fully aware of how motherfuckers would just jump on Twitter or whatever and just—
Yeah, you know what I’m saying? Everybody’s just so sensitive about everything. Everybody’s super sensitive and tip-toeing around everything.
As someone who makes a living out of words, it puts you in an interesting position.
Especially since the words could be offensive at any point because that’s just how hip-hop is.
Yeah, where’s that line?
Well, I guess everything’s extreme right now. You could either be just totally poppin’ clean over here or if you wanna be any bit ratchet you just gotta go all the way ratchet and just say fuck it.
Twenty five years ago, you dropped No Need For Alarm. You said that album kind of ushered you into skate culture. The title track was featured in a Plan B video, skaters were listening to you.
Speaking of Plan B, Danny just hit me right before y’all came here.
I’ve collaborated with him before but he said he got something cooking. I gotta talk to him and see what it’s about. I always fuck with Plan B anyway. That’s one of my co-conspirators so you could just keep that in mind, Plan B might pop up somewhere.
We’ll keep an eye out. You’ve stayed close to skate culture, you were just in the movie Mid 90s. How did that come about?
They asked for me.
Were you always slated to play that character?
Did you have any freedom as to what you said and did while the cameras were rolling?
What happened was he [Jonah Hill] had a script – a small part for me already. I was with Chad Muska and he was doing the part and I was playing secondary to that. He was like teasing some kids or something. I was getting on his helmet telling him [not to fuck with the kids]. But I was being serious. I wasn’t acting. I was being serious. So they liked it and wanted me to stay an extra day, we gon’ make up something new just for you based on that.
So your role was based on you being you.
The next day, he [Jonah Hill] kind of just let it go. He wanted me to talk with the kids and just chat about [my character] being homeless, ask them what they doing, just kind of talk. So that’s what we did. Again, I wasn’t trying to act with them. I really was just chopping it up with them.
It came across as really genuine, warm, and sweet. A tender moment.
I’m good with kids, though. I feel like I could relate to kids directly.
Do you have any kids?
No. But I mean, now that I know more about my childhood and shit that’s been going on, my growth has probably stunted. A lot of things I haven’t let go. I kinda missed out on a childhood in a lot of ways cause of what my mom was saying and doing to me.
Do you feel like you live a perpetual childhood though? Like someone who’s on the run, living their dreams and doing all of this wild shit?
I feel more like… I don’t even be thinking about shit like that. But that’s my job, doing that.
So what is going on in the Bay Area scene and nationally that you’re excited about? What artists are you excited about?
You know what? Okay. Battling is pretty much what I’m into and been into for the past ten or so years. I just talked to Quantum Physics. He’s from out here. His influence in the battle rap community is hella great. I was just talking to him before y’all came here. I’m kinda interested in that because I would like to see that hip-hop come back to music and shit. A lot of people trying to say like, “Battlers can’t write songs” and shit like that, which I think is fucking ridiculous but that’s the bullshit that they just perpetuate.
Do you foresee yourself battle rapping?
Nah. I mean there’s no reason for me to battle. I got too much to lose. I already got a career and shit. A motherfucker could say some shit about me and come up and be the man but it ain’t the same way with me. Not saying I couldn’t, cause that’s how I started out, I was battling. That’s how everybody, well that used to be, how every rapper started out. It’s just a something to do. I was a young motherfucker out on the street. It just grew to be its own form of entertainment now. It’s like hella more theatrical now. It’s really a lot like stand-up comedy but rhyming. A lot more humor is involved in what they’re doing.
It’s like Wild n Out with Nick Cannon.
Yeah. Matter of fact, some of the battle rappers that are most popular in the culture is actually on Wild n Out. So that’s a good look for them. It’s like a come up for them.
Anything else you’re excited about coming up?
I’m working on a funk project with my boy Bas One. He’s from out here. Lady Chi too. She sings with P-FUNK from time to time. I’m trying to work on a funk project with those two primarily. Other people are coming into the fold to work on that as well.
That’s exciting. A new sound.
Yeah it’s something that’s less rapping. More like a regular song I guess you could say. But more focused on a vibe musically. I think something like that would be good to tour with because then I wouldn’t have to be worried about remembering lyrics all the fucking time and shit. That’s another reason why my rap shit, I’m trying to get this shit more pithy, because I can’t even remember my own shit. So I don’t understand why other people would. I don’t wanna say they’re not memorable lyrics, but in general, they’re not memorable. It’s too much going on. I think I started out like that cause I was younger and I had less to operate with. So it’s damn near like the weaker I was, so to speak, the better I was.
You, your lyrics were more raw.
Now you’re going back to that. It sounds like you’re stripped down to your raw state after the incident and here you are, recalibrating and asking yourself, “What am I really putting out here?”
Sort of. I already was on my way there anyway. But that accident really just woke me up basically. I had already been working towards that for years and years…
That’s all I have to ask you. Do you have anything you want to add before we stop recording?
Nah that’s it. Just be on the lookout for my shit. Thanks to everybody.
After our interview in Del’s music-equipment filled living room, I asked if I could photograph him anywhere else in his home, then followed him to his bedroom where battle rap videos were playing on the TV. His bedroom walls were adorned with multi-media art pieces – When asked about them, Del explained that his father Delma was the artist and the pieces on his wall were made from US Army and Viet Cong uniforms, inspired by his time in the Vietnam war. As I photographed him, Del seemed to go back to what he’d probably been doing before we arrived – He sat on his bed, moved an open book on comedy writing aside, picked up his MPC and pecked at the machine as I photographed him.
After the quick photoshoot, Scarub and Del nerded out over music equipment for a bit, Del grabbed the skateboard that had been laying on his bed, then we all headed out. Like a scene out of a movie, we said our goodbyes, Del flashed a smile and a peace sign and skated off into the horizon, kick pushing his way to wherever he was headed next.
Photos courtesy of author