I like to picture Del The Funky Homosapien writing his rhymes perched awkwardly atop a rickety desk chair. In my mind he’s hunched over a notebook, blunt smoke clouding the ceiling, scribbling furiously as if every firing synapse is giving precious new birth to a lyric that will, if not immediately committed to paper, burst like a child’s bubble never to be heard from again.
The accomplished Bay Area MC’s madcap output since 1991’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here would suggest such a writing method. I imagine every corner of Del’s living room occupied by stacks upon stacks of notebooks, half-finished rhymes scribbled in the margins of pages partially ripped from the seams. To be sure, these notebooks have given rise to bonafide classic material (George and its follow-up No Need for Alarm), monumental artistic ambition (Deltron 3030), and West Coast underground mainstays (Both Sides of the Brain). But there’s also been a lot of filler. Fortunately, for fans like myself, Del’s filler is generally better than most rappers’ main courses.
That’s not really the case, however, with Attractive Sin, the MC’s recent full length collaboration with New Jersey production duo Parallel Thought. Running a brief (by today’s standards) 11 tracks long, there’s nothing particularly bad about Attractive Sin, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly outstanding either.
PT’s Drum and Knowledge extend their preternatural understanding of Golden Era boom-bap/sample praxis into admirable head-nodding territory, like the expertly looped jazz piano of “Get To Drillin” and the strut funk of “Charlie Brown.” Production-wise there isn’t a weak gazelle in the bunch; each instrumental is able to function as a vehicle for either freestyle or fully fleshed-out rap concept. It’s Del himself that doesn’t hold up the other end of the bargain. He’s content to phone it in lyrically, relying on shit talk and free-associative rhymes that, while multi-syllabic and densely poetic at times, end up going nowhere interesting. I counted exactly one track that featured what could be considered a hook: “Different Guidelines” which is unsurprisingly also the most focused song on the album, with Del summarizing why his hip-hop acumen is held to a higher standard than others.
And there are good reasons why that’s the case. Del has always been the most visible member of the Hieroglyphics Crew which was a strong and necessary counterpoint to California’s equally vital gangsta rap narrative in the early to mid 90s. And at the risk of sounding magnanimous, not every novel written by a great author turns out to be a masterpiece. The track “1520 Sedgewick” references the address of the Birthplace of Hip-Hop, an otherwise nondescript high-rise apartment building in the South Bronx where DJ Kool Herc hosted the movement’s earliest basement parties and invented turntablism in the 1970s. My nitpicking over Attractive Sin aside, it’s hip-hop’s humble origins, paralleled by contemporary efforts of OGs of the game like Del, that keep rap’s engine running smoothly. In other words, Del’s notebook scrawls, while not always resulting in great art, are nonetheless spiritual claim for the past and future of the genre.