“When all seemed to be lost, a small glimmer of light appeared in the distance. Could it be? Back from the great beyond… It’s the return of Deltron Zero, and Automator…”
The words of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on the Deltron 3030 track ‘Stardate’
So begins ‘Event II’, the (some might say, and rightly so) long overdue second album from the hip-hop collective known as Deltron 3030: producer Dan ‘The Automator’ Nakamura, DJ Kid Koala, and rapper Del The Funky Homosapien in the role of Deltron Zero.
Arriving 13 years after the trio’s celebrated eponymous debut, ‘Event II’ is similar of texture and themes: this is the future, today; tomorrow’s tales told with real-world relevancy and set to production that never misses a beat. It’s neither cutting-edge of contemporary design, nor resolutely retro – it is, simply, the sound of Deltron 3030, back once again.
It’s a sound shaped mainly by the core trio – but, as on their debut set, Deltron 3030 call upon a wealth of contributors for album two. That’s Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha you’re hearing on ‘Melding Of The Minds’, and Damon Albarn (who also featured on the first LP) makes an appearance on ‘What is This Loneliness’. There are spots, too, for actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Faith No More screamer Mike Patton, and comedy rap crew The Lonely Island, among many others.
The setting of ‘Event II’ has changed – “Now it’s 4010,” Del confirms on ‘City Rising From The Ashes’. Deltron Zero, our main narrator and hero, has been away, and the conceptual sci-fi world that Del’s rhymes paint in vivid detail has become corrupt. Technology has gone too far. Humanity is missing a heartbeat. Someone’s gotta clean things up. And guess who’s coming to make your toilet sparkle…
Yup, it’s the return of Deltron Zero, alright. The man behind the character, Del The Funky Homosapien, has been around long enough to know what does and doesn’t comprise a valuable addition to the rap canon. The Oakland MC released his first solo studio LP in 1991, and 2012’s ‘Root Stimulation’ represented the 10th album under his chosen rap name. He’s a member of the Hieroglyphics collective, and appeared on the first Gorillaz LP – an album featuring production from a certain Dan The Automator.
Clash spoke to Del ahead of the release of ‘Event II’…
– – –
Deltron 3030, ‘Stardate’, the opening track of ‘Event II’
– – –
So how does this beginning of a new Deltron 3030 album cycle feel compared to when you were about to promote the first album?
It feels good. We’re just doing our thing. The album’s been done for a while, and got held up by some issues, but now it’s ready for release. We know people have been waiting for a long while, so now they need to get out there and buy it. It’s cost a lot of money to make!
And were there any stages, in this album’s long gestation, where you thought: nah, this just isn’t happening…?
Well, Automator, he might have felt like that for a while. But me, I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, to be honest, at the outset. And right now, I don’t know if there’ll be a third Deltron album. Because we don’t want this to become a commercialised thing, where we are just doing it to make some money, y’know what I mean?
And was it easy to slip back into the shoes of your character, Deltron Zero? From what you’ve just said, I’m guessing maybe not…
Well, Deltron’s a lot of work, man, lyrically and spiritually. He’s not someone who I live as every day – he’s not part of my world, the regular world. So to be able to come up with all of this stuff, all of this stuff that goes really deep, it’s like writing a movie or something. You’ve got to do some research.
Listening to some of the songs on ‘Event II’, there are several topics addressed in this fantasy, sci-fi scenario that are relatable to things happening today – the way the intro talks of a banking crisis, mentions of riots, and even comments on how food is distributed…
That’s right. I mean, I feel that these are the sorts of things that will always happen, as long as you’ve got people – where some have power, and some do not. Not everybody is on the up-and-up, and even those who gain power can’t always handle it. You know, power can transform people, and it can corrupt them. So that’s always going to be there. These songs are stories, but if you know all of the stuff that’s informing them, you can tell these stories for life. But it’s always like that out there, I feel, even if you’re saying things in a different way.
My initial ideas for all of this, my eye-opening moment that got me onto this, comes from Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, and Animal Farm. He’s just such a great thinker, you know what I’m saying. I read those in maybe junior high school, or whatever, and reading those at the time, they introduced me to so many concepts that have affected me.
So is there a cohesive story arc to ‘Event II’, that you’re keen on listeners to pick up on?
Y’know what, I’ll say this. The first album, that was more meant to be a stylistic type of thing. But you’ve always got to have something to say, you can’t just freestyle. Some people picked up on the fact that, okay, I wasn’t really saying an awful lot – some critics just called it techno-babbling. But for a lot of it was just freestyling, but it did have meaning in it, too. So that made me think: okay, I’mma put more meat on the bone the next time.
But you always need to have something to say – and that wasn’t just freestyle. And some people picked up on those messages in the first album, on what I was saying. But it wasn’t really all that. So this time I’m showing you that I’ve got some stuff to say, that I can put in there, that perhaps wasn’t there the first time. That first one, it was just the way it happened.
(Del has explained the story for the album’s press release, thusly: “The Deltron world has gone too far with technology. Everything’s destroyed, and you just see remnants of our technology. The streets are run by criminals, the police are outnumbers and outgunned, and we’re like pirates, running rogue, doing what we do to survive. That’s the scene of it.”)
The first album, and the way it was received, its sort of cult status – did that come as a surprise?
Y’know, I was surprised at first that Dan wanted to take it up like that. I’ve a lot of respect for him. But he was like, “I told you this would happen.” And when that went by, and I saw all the adoration for the album, I wasn’t surprised. I believed in Dan, and it’s the same with this one, too. There’s this range of things on it. He’s such a wide-ranging producer. That impresses me. And with the resources we’ve got here, it’s got to count for something.
And on the topic of resources, there are a lot of outstanding guests on the new album – Zach, Damon, and so on. But was there anyone you couldn’t get this time?
Yeah, I really wanted to get Tame One from Artifacts, I really wanted to get him on there. He had a solo album out called ‘Spazmatic’ where he was rapping about technological stuff. So I wanted him to be on there with me, but we just didn’t click.
Does it bother the main three of you at all that some people coming to a Deltron 3030 album will do so because of the guest artists involved?
That’s definitely a question for Dan, I suppose, because as for who comes in to do vocals, that’s up to him. The way we work is that I just come in and do my vocals, and he doesn’t give me any rules on that. I let him know where I’m coming from, and vice-versa. But I just do my thing. Not that I can speak for anyone else, but I imagine that Dan thinks about this in a fairly pragmatic way.
Even at 16 tracks, ‘Event II’ feels consistently strong. There’s no suggestion of filler in there. I’m wondering what the filtering process was like to reach this point, and what tracks got lost along the way?
I’m not really sure if there was production that didn’t get used, but I know that what you’re hearing on the album, that’s us bringing our A-game. Automator, the way he thinks, he’s always doing the best that he can do. He doesn’t settle for anything else. And it’s the same with me. When I’m writing, I’m only doing it to do the best job that I can.
Like, if I’m cleaning out your toilet, I’m gonna do the best job I can – it’s going to be the best you’ve ever seen. So we have an A-game attitude, without even thinking that – when we go in, we do it right. We want the audience to get the best that they can. We don’t think about this in a product sense, this is nature. You wanna touch this.
It’s like, I don’t even think about ‘Event II’ as a rap album. This works on so many levels. It goes way beyond just a rap album. That’s the way we’re working here. So in terms of a filtering process, I don’t think it’s a case of losing tracks that we don’t think are good enough.
When I went into the studio for the first time, to record, Dan had none of the beats that I had originally written lyrics to. So I had to start all over, brand new. I’d been writing to a different groove, but I didn’t mind coming new – I got that second chance. Automator, his new beats had me like, “Oh God, this is crazy.” It took things to a whole new level from where we were at before.
And then Kid Koala was digging around for stuff to add to it, through crates of records. He got this stuff specifically for Deltron. So everyone brings their very best to it, that’s the way all three of us work, even in our solo projects.
Since that first Deltron 3030 album, how do you feel hip-hop has changed? Is the scene healthier than it was at the turn of the millennium?
Y’know, hip-hop is like the new blues. Blues as an art form is something that you can put into anything else, and make something new as a result. I look at hip-hop like it’s an ‘in’ thing. And from it, you can create so many other things – and I think that’s been the case since it was conceptualised. You can see it getting more electronic today, but hip-hop really started as an electronic genre, one which became really popular. We were using cutting-edge technology back then, like it was futuristic. So in that aspect, I think there’s a lot of incredible music coming out right now. Not necessarily as hip-hop music, but music with that base there, those roots of hip-hop showing.
But the culture’s changed. It’s not there like it used to be. I’m not mad at that. You’ve got lots of new movements happening, like the trap movement, and I enjoy that quite a bit. So musically, there’s a lot of great stuff. So far as rhyming and stuff goes, there are a lot of kids out there who are really dope, and that encourages me to get doper still. Like, the whole Odd Future camp, and what they’re doing over there, that’s special, and then in New York you’ve got Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era. These are kids, but they’re done. They’ve done their homework. And they are taking things that level further. I don’t think hip-hop has to be what it used to be.
It’s just like rock music. Rock is still around, but now there are different faces. Hip-hop, just like rock, has had its super-commercial phases, and at other times the mainstream hasn’t really cared for it. And then it can get so commercial that it’s pop – but then that means that some artists go back to the real hardness. Hip-hop’s culture, the breaking and all that, that’s all still popping, and it’s incredible – but you do have to go overseas to see people really appreciate it.
– – –
Deltron 3030, ‘City Rising From The Ashes’, from ‘Event II’
– – –
‘Event II’ is released on September 30th.
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone – download the app here
Stream tracks by Deltron 3030 via Deezer, below…