The West Coast was a pretty uniform place when Teren Delvon Jones arrived in ’91. Although N.W.A had already called it quits, West Coast rap was synonymous with their unabashed hardcore gangsta shit, carried on by the group’s individual members and disciples of the lean street reporting such as MC Eiht and Compton’s Most Wanted. Their East Coast counterparts had already seen their share of alternative movements, most notably the friendly social consciousness of the Native Tongues posse which fought the tides of hip hop’s early machismo and sought to inject humor, artistry, musicality, and intellect into the late-80s’ rigid street-oriented sound. Still, despite years as a viable hip hop hotbed, the Westside had yet to find an answer to the De La Souls and A Tribe Called Quests, clearly awaiting a game-changer to push their coast into the new decade. Del tha Funkee Homosapien surely seemed an unlikely man for the job at the time, but twenty years later it’s clear that his self-deprecation and honest humor were exactly the catalyst California needed to push their music to the next level.
Being eighteen and from Oakland would on their own make him a dubious candidate to kick-start a West Coast renaissance, but Del had a foot in the door via his first cousin, a certain Ice Cube. Cousin O’Shea is credited as executive producer of “I Wish My Brother George Was Here,” and although his vocals appear sparingly throughout his cousin’s debut, his fingerprints are all over the product. As the album’s title subtly implicating George Clinton hints, “Brother George” is chock-full of rich, zany P-Funk samples, in many instances not unlike those found on Ice Cube’s sophomore classic “Death Certificate.” The thick, delicious grooves are arranged by “Death Certificate” architects DJ Pooh and the Boogiemen as well as Del and Cube, keeping the funk in steady supply over the course of “Brother George”‘s fourteen tracks. Still, even if it’s sonically similar, the effect is quite distinct from “Death Certificate,” providing a poignant counter to his cousin’s concurrent album. On “Death Certificate,” there was a steady dose of irony in the raucous P-Funk samples as Cube detailed a dark, unjust world with a stone face. On “Brother George,” Del makes clear that he’s strictly here for the party, and in such is a spirit much more akin to Clinton. “What Is a Booty” sets the stage with a vibrant sample drawn from “Pumpin’ It Up,” and Del flexes a flawless verbal technique through his infectiously laidback and conversational yet commanding delivery:
“I’ve returned from the meadow with a fellow named X
Two turntables and a spark upon the set
Wet behind the ears from the tears of my peers
Rap is outta control, that’s what we feared
So we collapse any actual threats
With the new batch of catchy little quirks
And it works like a charm as I bomb and alarm
Any listeners, coming through crisper
On your transistors
So we can eliminate the frauds
Filled with pride as the audience applauds
Might sound odd to the average Joe Schmoe
The new school passed ya ass like Flo Jo
Dodo, me and CM-PX both construct
Like Kid Creole and the Coconuts
As we drop the bomb with a blast
And now all the natives ask…”
Del uses the P-Funk blueprint to cleverly deliver commentary as he gets busy. On the hit single “Mistadobalina,” the titular character becomes the scapegoat for Del’s issues with sucker MCs, shape-shifters, and “fraudulent foes”â€”in a sense, the same offenders Ice Cube addressed on “True to the Game.” Another single, the heavy-swinging “Dr. Bombay,” further establishes Del as Mr. Clinton’s heir apparent.
In ’91, Del was the anti-gangsta rapper, not in a De La Soul flower power sense but simply in that his perspective and outlook were worlds apart from the grim menace of N.W.A. Sarcastic, humorously bitter, and brutally honest, he’s easy to relate to and could just as easily be your neighbor or classmate as a successful rap performer. If you rub Del the wrong way, he won’t deluge your residence with AK spray, but he will douse your front steps with “golden showers.” When the neighborhood hoodlums roll onto the bus to wreak havoc, Del maintains a steady distance next to the driver. Perhaps most novel in a world of N.W.A disciples, he actually likes women. “The Wacky World of Rapid Transit” is a glorious day in the life of a public transportation passenger, with our hero encountering more than his share of problems including a stick-up kid played by Ice Cube. The Donald Byrd-sampling backing track brilliantly conveys the headache-inducing franticness of his situation. “Pissin’ on Your Steps” names the culprits who deserve Del’s urine on their homesteads, namely MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. “Sleepin’ on My Couch” is hilarious, calling out the “so-called friends” who use his house as an abode for extended periods:
“Maybe this was just my upbringing perhaps
But I was taught that I shouldn’t take seven-day naps
At other brothers’ cribs like I don’t have a home
Brothers on my couch so much there’s like foam
Comin’ out the seams, and a pair of jeans is missing from my closet
I wonder why I even bother bein’ friendly
They’re runnin’ my ass like the Indy Five-Thousand
They went and wrinkled my mother’s blouse
When they snuck downstairs for a midnight snack
And ate the last slice of bread and a box of Apple Jacks
Then they hit the sack with the stereo blastin’
And even little Tyson is fed up, so I’m askin’
You all to jet before I get upset
And throw each and every one of you bums out on your back
My house is a mess, so step, you little pest
Who was sleepin’ on my couch ’cause I’m tired of that”
The contagiously twangy “Dark Skin Girls” is perhaps the most pertinent track on “Brother George,” as Del voices his preference for ebony sisters and in the process calls out African-American men who undermine their own race by seeking light-skinned women. Here Ice Cube supplies further laughs, again playing a stereotypical gangsta telling Del, “You need to get away from them Aunt Jemima black tar babies, G”:
“As simple as it sounds is as simple as it oughta be
Light skin girls lack the dark skin quality
You don’t understand? You want an explanation?
Well let D-E-L release the frustration
As I see it, every single day
Light skin girls ain’t satisfied unless they get their way
Always, plus they act stuck-up
They all add up to one great big fuck-up
They try to play suck-up when they want somethin’
Then always leave a brother with nothin’
You think you look better cause your skin’s a little bit lighter?
You’re thinkin’ you’re my type like I was a typewriter?
No, you think you’re all o’ that and all o’ this
But you ain’t really shit without a makeup kit
See, you might be light but you’re ugly to me
Black is beautiful, to me that’s beauty”
The ripe “Money for Sex” is similarly substantial, condemning payment for sex not only in the prostitution sense but in the sense of women seeking to attain wealth and status by throwing themselves at men rather than building healthy relationships. Then there’s the deliciously blunted “Sunny Meadowz,” which flips a smorgasbord of funk licks for a loping, laidback treat.
Del has led a long and fruitfully prolific career as the funkiest Homosapien you know, cutting two decades worth of gems with Hieroglyphics and taking listeners on rides into the next millennium with Gorillaz and “Deltron 3030.” “Brother George” was a commercial success, yet despite its sales as well as its stylistic and musical brilliance, it was also a departure for Del. Although Ice Cube was his liaison into the record industry and pokes fun at himself throughout the record by playing simple-minded hoodrats while outfitting the record with some of the freshest beats ’91 had to offer, Del cut him off from future collaboration. In his place, Del established the hugely influential Hieroglyphics crew, a collective that continues to dominate the West Coast’s alternative scene. Del has seen his share of Hiero-related glory since ’91, building an abstract, spacey, jazzy sound that has been the stuff of countless solo and collaborative jewels over two decades, yet “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” remains his most engaging and downright appealing performance. Del may have endeared listeners as hip hop’s everyman, but “Brother George” established him as anything but. Musically brilliant and legitimately hilarious, it laid the foundation for a generation of California backpack rap and remains an outrageously dope debut from one of hip hop’s great characters.