Delta’s sophomore effort, “The Second Story,” doesn’t denounce the current sound of hip hopâ€”it flat out disregards it. There’s almost no evidence here that indicates that the album wasn’t created in the mid-90s, and the Aussie MC even adds American rappers Psycho Les (of The Beatnuts) and Milano (of D.I.T.C.) to his line-up of guest appearances to heighten the idea that this is very much recreating a certain time and sound that existed when both of these respective rap groups were popular (or even relevant).
While unbeknown to most American hip hop fans, Delta is perhaps the most revered up-and-coming Australian rapper or as Vibe Magazine bluntly puts it, “the only MC Down Under worth mentioning.” A sort of backhanded compliment, but strong praise nonetheless.
Now I’m not sure how great an authority Vibe Magazine is on Australian hip hop in the first place, but Delta does manage to live up to the statement on “The Second Story,” for the most part. From beginning to end, Delta marks his presence with an oft-angry tone toward his country’s political system and lesser emcees. Opening with a proper dosage of slick boom bap and a scratched chorus, Delta anarchically professes, “why wait ’til opportunity knocks, I pick locks.” Ice Cube seems an important influence on the young rapper, who seems to be speaking directly to his native listeners.
The album’s first half is made up of mostly dark boom bap production, the aforementioned collaboration with Milano being a strangely successful Harlem-Oz connection track, while the upbeat electronic beat on “Fool’s Gold” provides an apt mood for Delta’s politically charged dumb out. The quality that especially separates Delta from the rest of the pack is his superb flow, more polished than any other Australian rapper I’ve heard. Using an intricate rhyme scheme as a blueprint for his flow, he is rarely better than on the anti-hit “Fold ‘Em”:
“This track’s epic, call me the pad menace
Anthrax press kit, abandon the premises
Man is a nemesis, ran it so effortless
Jams is my genesis with plans for my 25th
Back on the block, I’m the President
Without the scams, propaganda and imaginary terrorists
Sixteen bars imprisons my life’s sentences”
The second half of “The Second Story” nearly abandons its early soundscape, however, as the beats become more organic. “Shades of Green” has a Terry Reid sample that sounds as if it were flipped by Kno (very, very high praise from me), and Jigsaw, Rheturik and Delta deliver harsh sociopolitical criticisms. That said, are these criticisms well argued or rather baseless? It’s difficult to say as I’m not particularly familiar with Australia’s political system, but there aren’t specific enough criticisms to fire me up or spark any kind of revolution.
Later, Delta is at his most idiosyncratic in his choice of a cowbell-driven beat (cue Christopher Walken jokes) on “All Over,” which almost works, but wears out its welcome after a couple minutes. Delta’s writing is never better showcased than on the super-short “Death Song,” reminiscent of The Roots’ “Unwritten” in its equally brisk description of a car ride:
“Red light, and we stopped, he turned his radio off
Pulled a lock of blonde hair from a small satin box
Held it to his face and exclaimed his wife’s name
Chemo came and claimed his lioness’s mane
Pressure manifested his lanes upon roads
He said I like you son, I’m just a stranger to most
Back of a head, one time a passenger said
I look evil, tell me how’s that for respect
As we arrived at my door, my head was truly buzzin’
I paid him my fare, and realized that life wasn’t”
To return to Vibe Magazine’s weighty claim, is Delta that much superior than the rest of his country’s emcees? I’d have to decline, as Scott Burns’ earlier release “Day 1” is about as good as “The Second Story,” the only significant advantage Delta having on Burns being his slicker, more accessible flow. The bottom line is that Australia is speedily expanding its hip hop base and improving to the point where they’re being mentioned by many American hip hop staples, even if reductively. Delta’s album maintains an impressive consistency throughout that is lacking in most American hip hop albums today, so I’d advise those frustrated in that respect to check Down Under for a refreshing amount of evenness.