How do you emerge from the early '90s West Coast hip-hop scene at the height of gangsta rap as a rapper with a pierced nose and lip, no Jheri curl or perm, an album called I Wish My Brother George Was Here and a song called "MistaDobalina"?
Not possible, you say?
Well somewhere at your parent's house, in the bedroom of your older brother who still lives with them, under his stinky twin bed that his funky feet hang off the edge of, are probably some tapes done by an artist named Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. And if you try to swipe them your older brother will bust his signified size-13 hi-top Fila slam in your chest.
Bay Area rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien helped usher in an era of creativity that surf-boarded above and betwixt the early beefs of DJ Quik and MC Eiht over who was the most gangsta, post-N.W.A. and pre-Death Row Records. He was supported by other rap progressive collectives like The Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, his own Hieroglyphics Crew and other bands of brothers banned from spelling bees throughout California high schools.
This period is encapsulated in The Best of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (The Elektra Years): B-Boy Handbook, a collection that would make his Native Tongue compadres on the East Coast proud. Del was introduced in 1991 -- an ingenious hip-hop year, the one in which De La Soul dropped De La Soul is Dead and A Tribe Called Quest cropped Low End Theory, arguably the two greatest rap albums ever. While Tommy Boy Records had De La and other Native Tongue family members, and Jive Records had ATCQ, Elektra Records was building its own arsenal of clever wordsmiths unconcerned with gang life like Del, such as Leaders of the New School and, later, Brand Nubian.
Much of the ground Del covers runs counter to the dominant culture of West Coast rap, as in "Ahonetwo, Ahonetwo" where he spits, "No, I'm not a nigga and I never had an attitude." Could be a jab at N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitudes), but it must be pointed out that one of Del's cousins is none other than N.W.A. co-founder Ice Cube. Del wrote rhymes for Cube and was a fringe member of Cube's group Da Lenchmob.
Clearly, if not for Cube, Del probably would not have gotten the exposure he needed to bust through the Kevlar Ceiling of Compton-life rap that ruled Cali. Del was to Cube what the Black Eyed Peas were to Eazy-E, and what Eminem was, at one time, to Dr. Dre. Cube, Dre and Eazy, as fathers of N.W.A. and architects of the don't-givah-fuck-style that holds sovereignty in sales even today, all probably figuring they had milked all they could out of the Boyz in the Hood theater. So each turned toward what the Grammys today would call "urban/alternative performance" artists.
Enter Del, whose songs about loafers wearing out their welcome on his couch, the poor quality of public transportation (yes, it's not just Pittsburgh!), and what he calls the "plain being of everydayness" serves as precursor to modern rap artists like Kanye West.
Kids today will recognize Del's voice in music from the animated "Gorillaz" band. Best of ... will give those kids a lesson on how the West was won -- without gun-slinging lyrics. The only flaw is that "Catch a Bad One," Del's best example of aggressive lyrical skill, exists only in remix -- an extremely pale form when compared with the original.