Happiness is a hard thing to achieve. If you believed every schmaltzy Hollywood ending, you'd think it was a formality. You may even, quite foolishly, start to expect it - to count on it as predetermined. But you, Reader, you're too smart for that. You know that you can plan something to go one way, when life decides to throw you a curveball. You have probably even got what you want occasionally - be it a Nintendo Wii or that gorgeous brunette cheerleader you've always had your eye on - only to find that getting it doesn't truly make you happy. Sure, for a while. But then a new desire pops up. I went through a period of confusion in my life where I didn't know what career path to choose. Or more specifically, I wanted music; my family wanted anything but music. Eventually, I sat them down and explained it in the only terms I knew how: I asked them if they had ever had a dream job. "No." Really? "Well, actually, I had a flair for acting/art. But my parents wouldn't let me try." And you want to do the same thing to me? "I never thought of it like that." Well I have found my dream job. "OK, go for it." Of course, being parents, they never truly supported me until I (deliberately) left a sterling silver money clip, packed with cash, on the kitchen table. Now they love what I do.
One man that has his dream job is Del the Funky Homosapien, but dreams can morph into nightmares in a flash. It is closing in on eight years since the last full-length solo album from the Funky one, Del. A lot has happened since then, and, as ever, the scales of fate lilt in their ever-uncontrollable way. It is the pendulum of hip hop. One day you are voicing an international mega-hit ("Clint Eastwood"), only to find your label subsequently releasing a half-hearted "Best Of..." compilation, that you yourself tell fans not to buy. Then you are dropped by Elektra, only to land a deal with one of the coolest record labels on the planet, Def Jux. Most artists couldn't pack that much drama into a whole career, let alone half a decade. Come to think of it, most rappers nowadays would have quit within five years anyway. Not Del.
He has come back after a lengthy absence from his solo recording career to produce and deliver "11th Hour" - a succinct thirteen-track offering that, for the most part, helps to welcome back a talented lyricist (and producer) back from the cold. It is also worth mentioning that the cousin of Ice Cube has been recording since 1990 (that may well outdate certain readers) and he is still here, alive and well in an industry that is more ageist that the stock market. A naturally smooth delivery, coupled with generally excellent lyrics, always has a shot at finding an audience - we are natural drawn to attractive voices that happen to be clever. The music isn't actually as "funky" as you might naturally assume - obviously it sits dominant, but Del experiments with futuristic electronica, 1980's throwbacks and bell-rocking samples. This should come as no surprise owing to his lengthy list of diverse and talented collaborators amassed over the past couple of decades.
More than anything, Del sounds comfortable: he's having fun again. The lyrically impressive opener "Raw Sewage" serves as a warning shot (don't underestimate him as a lyricist); "Bubble Pop" finds in a castigating mood, which contrasts with his playful chorus and corpsed outro (that is "corpsed" in the live TV sense). The new funk of "Back in the Chamber" - complete with a semi-Garageband sound - rolls wonderfully, and leads into the equally impressive stabbed 80's synths of "Slam Dunk." It is an impressive opening sequence, and one can instantly see that Del hasn't lost his ability. This is perhaps when the album starts to veer into "solid album" territory - you start to find that there isn't anything that immediately grabs you as amazing or awful. From "Situations" onwards, it is all impressive but not particularly stretching. He kills it MC-wise on "Hold Your Hand" - perhaps the standout lyrics of the album - but stalls to an extent (by his own lofty standards) on "Foot Down." It doesn't help that the sonic template gets progressively darker, and doesn't aid the mood of the album - more attractive sounds suit Del's pleasing vocal tone, and there is a definite mismatch between the dark and the smooth.
The LP ends strongly, with a three-song run in that leaves the album on a high (in particular, the closer "I Got You") - it is the middle core that doesn't entirely work. Though that usually proves crucial, Del (to his credit) manages to craft a mature and intelligent mood from the beginning and end of "11th Hour." And that is what this album is: mood music. Although Del demands respect as a lyricist, this album isn't a "headphones" album to dissect and analyse up close. It is more of a background listen: to drive to, work to, game to. All in all, the best artists know how to create a mood or atmosphere - even if not every single part works perfectly, the sum is more than enough to suffice. And it is certainly a satisfying listen, worthy of a sensible level of recommendation. "11th Hour" will not set the world alight, it might not even sell millions, but it proves that talent doesn't necessarily just shrivel up and die with "old age." It also shines a light on that best of things: happiness. This time, in the old form of artists in their dream job having fun being themselves, experimenting and rapping with a smile adorning their face. Let us pray that never dies, for we all need a reminder of how to be happy sometimes.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 11, 2008