Let’s get this out of the way early: Deltron 3030 was great. It was a conceptual sci-fi hip-hop epic that remains to many a classic, the perfect distillation of Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s taunting, gleefully goofy yet high-minded lyrical duck-and-weave and Dan the Automator’s modernist boom-bap production sensibilities, (and Kid Koala’s cuts). But that was 13 years ago, and things have changed; not only in the imaginary dystopian world that the Deltron character is hoping to save, but in the real world too, and in both cases it isn’t for the better.
Event II is birthed in to a very different world to its predecessor. Despite the reverence with which that album is treated, the sequel has been worked on, teased and promised for so long that its arrival feels disconcertingly like a non-event, despite its title. Dan the Automator has lost a great deal of profile and cultural currency, remaining busy but with no high profile production credits since the mid-00s. Del, meanwhile, has remained dependable but low-key, finally retreating into the smoked out g-funk den that he always threatened to, releasing solid but unremarkable albums to the small core of fans still left all those years after Deltron 3030 and the more low-stakes but no less remarkable Both Sides of the Brain faded further into the rearview. Really, it’s been so long that it’s hard to get too excited about, but now that it is finally seeing the light of day, it’s a safe bet that there are many former naysayers still hopeful that the second helping of Orwellian hip-hopera will be at least nearly as satisfying as the first.
Short answer, it isn’t, but it is by no means a disaster. Musically, things are still pretty swell even if they don’t touch the peaks of their predecessor. Sonically it is pretty similar, the most noticeable change perhaps being a slightly bigger rock influence; “Nobody Can” to great effect welds fuzz guitar on to a bass led bounce that wouldn’t have been out of place on Del’s debut two decades ago, while “Melding of the Minds” ropes in Zach De La Rocha for the chorus and employs angular, overdriven riffs.
Largely, though, the Automator sticks to the lane that produced such great results last time. There isn’t anything as hauntingly beautiful as those glacial guitars that ushered in “3030”, nothing quite as immediately infectious as “Things You Can Do”, but he retains something of his old Midas touch. Musically, everything here feels like it should sound dated, but it doesn’t; it’s too slick, too dedicated to coloring the beats with flourishes that reflect the album’s lofty, futuristic concepts. Everything here is at least serviceable; when it really clicks, as on late-game highlight “City Rising from the Ashes”, you could almost feel like things are as good as they’ve ever been.
One of the reasons that “City Rising from the Ashes” is such an obvious highlight of Event II is because Del sounds so engaged riding the propulsive knock of the beat; elsewhere, unfortunately, he doesn’t sound nearly as strident. It isn’t that he sounds lazy, (clearly the guy has put his work in here), but more that he sounds tired; at times it almost sounds like he spat these bars because he felt had to rather than because of any real passion for the final product. He still has a sharp eye for detail, as on the opener “The Return” and its descriptions of blistering sand dunes, rats and rickety shacks, but it doesn’t really sound like he’s having fun. He doesn’t sound quite as nimble as he usually does, and there is nary a classic Del punch line or put down to be found.
This reflects the overall tone of the album, which is certainly more morose than the last. There are attempts to brighten things up with the truly bizarre lineup of guests, including David Cross, the Lonely Island, chef David Chang, and Jamie Cullem, (Jamie fucking Cullem), but they generally feel a little forced in, even if they do raise fleeting smiles. The story feels undercooked and is more downbeat, while Del is no longer the cheeky subversive that grabbed everyone by the shoulders on “Virus” all those years ago, but a somber crusader for justice. It’s a persona that is inherently less interesting; if there was more effort and imagination lyrically, it could be more so, but it’s generally just vague and downbeat, even amongst the Automator’s more booming productions.
Del retains his skills and charisma, as ever, and an album that has him doing anything over production as solid as this will never be a truly bad thing. Nonetheless, even if it is solid, there lingers a sense that this just could have been more exciting. Cliché as it is, Event II suffers from sequel syndrome; it’s satisfying, with flashes of real strength, and comforting in its familiarity; despite this, though, it feels a little worn, at its best a fleetingly invigorated retread, at its worst little more a reminder of the incredible heights its predecessor scaled.
3 out of 5
You can buy Event II on Amazon.