"Time is too expensive," says Del the Funky Homosapien at the start of "Both Sides of the Brain." The
statement, twisted over a meaty bass line and some looped and layered synths, is
probably self-referential. In 1991, Del hit with the offbeat "Mistadobolina," a track off his debut record, "I Wish My Brother George Was Here." At the time, he had a major-label record deal, connections (his cousin is Ice Cube) and only 18 years behind him. But the rise of harsher, less playful G-funk rap that contradicted Del's goofy comic style helped bury his '94 follow-up, "No Need for Alarm." The record flopped. Elektra dissolved his deal before he had a chance to release "Future Development" when it was finished in 1996.
Del retreated to LSD and video games, nesting away in his home in Oakland, Calif. "Both Sides of the Brain" is his first full-length release in four years. Across 17 tracks, Del -- with a standard spelling on "the Funky" now -- raps about phony gangstas, smelly old men, drunken drivers and a list of other characters he's stumbled upon in the Bay Area. He fortifies his rhymes with inventive beats and trims them with pop culture references from "Star Wars" to Sega Dreamcast and Amsterdam hash.
Del is still sharp, in part, because he never left hip-hop. His years out of the spotlight were spent building an independent hip-hop regime with the Hieroglyphics crew (Souls of Mischief and Casual). Those friends support "Both Sides": A-Plus from Souls produces "Stay on Your Toes," and Casual trades rhymes with Del on the lyrical workout "Jaw Gymnastics." There's also help from Company Flow producer El-P, who twists the knobs on "Offspring," and Prince Paul, who backs "Signature Slogan."
Del himself produced more than half the album, adding tension to the
battle-oriented rhymes with insistent, looped strings. He accentuates lighter songs, like the three-track suite "Pet Peeves," with chimes and warbled horns. But Del's elastic vocals and sense of humor remain at the center of the record. His off-key phrasing can elevate a few seemingly innocuous syllables into domino rhymes. "His coat had the sniff of crustaceans/Of bathrooms in the bus station," he raps of a dirty old man in "If You Must." "He had a can of Old E and some raisins/Amazin'."
There are some clunkers on "Both Sides," and some of the disses are a little too
redundant the third or fourth time around. But more often, Del is an oratorical bully who doesn't need to be vulgar or harsh. He can walk -- prance, strut, do the funky chicken -- on that thin line between hardcore rapper and quirky comic relief, never losing his edge or sight of the fact that his music is supposed to be entertaining. As he raps on the opening track, he's "treacherous like Mussolini, but cooler than Fonzerelli eating fusilli."