Del Before Dre (Themes And Trends With Dante Ross)

Del the Funky Homosapien’s first album is called I Wish My Brother George Was Here. The George in the title is (at least indirectly) a reference to George Clinton.* The album itself  is brimming with Parliament samples, and if you figured it came after Dr. Dre’s The Chronic because of it’s sonic similarities, I’d understand why. 

Ain’t nothin’ but a G-funk adjacent sound baby. But, Del’s album came out a year before Dre’s. This is the kind of weirdness that happens when you start digging into themes and trends.  

When Ice Cube was figuring out life around/after N.W.A., he started working with other artists. His cousin, Del, impressed him. Del had lyrics for days. And he was super-cerebral. Full of all sorts of in-his-head nerd stuff. 

Dante Ross was working at Elektra at the time and looking to break new artists. Cube served up the idea of a solo Del album. Dante heard it as a crossover between the west coast hardcore of N.W.A. and the east coast conscientiousness being embraced by Native Tongues. 

I Wish My Brother George Was Here is a funny album in hindsight. Not ha-ha funny. Peculiar. Partly because it pre-dates Dre. Partly because of how Dante heard it (and how “right” his perspective both was and has held up). 

The sampling and lyric work is a perfect blend. Still, nobody was ready for it. The album didn’t flop, but it didn’t produce any hits. 

A year later when Dre put out his spin on G-funk, it took over the charts. The nerd lyrics were absent. But the blend of vibes Dante heard, now they were inescapable.

That’s the funny thing about themes and trends. 

Something just was in the air. Ideas were changing, technology was changing, and change leads to experiments. Experiments lead to results. Results lead to feedback. Feedback leads to new experiments. 

Del’s take on Parliament wasn’t the hit, but it was a beat in a broader pattern. 

The theme shows up. 

Then the trend emerges. 

And when it’s good, the tail is long. 

Consider that last point extra. Because it speaks to the influence of dominant themes and trends. It speaks to the importance of having a feel for spotting them, even if we slightly misinterpret them in the moment.** 

Dante says in his book, Son of the City, “Kendrick Lamar is the bastard child of Native Tongues and N.W.A.” He would know. He was close to the beginning of the trend.*** 

When we’re working on a theme – creating something (anything really, social media posts to conversations with friends) – we don’t have to make a hit. It’s ok just to be working on or within a theme. Time will take care of the patterns. 

To the degree you want, you can pay attention to the feedback and find the trend too.  

And it’s ok if right now the trend isn’t your thing. Del’s follow-up saw him take a new course. The Parliament-infused sound wasn’t unique, not like his lyrics. 

His flavor of poetic weirdness didn’t hit it’s stride until a decade later when Deltron 3030 came out. And even then, no hits. Just a new level of nerd-rap backpacker fame, putting him at the crest of another theme and trend.  

It’s the same with our work. The themes and trends are forever progressing. We get to choose what we shape and what we ride. 

All we have to do is notice. All we have to do is pay attention. All we have to do is swing down, sweet chariot, stop, and let me ride… 

Below, I’ll link to Del doing George, Dre doing George, and Kendrick doing George – with the bookends on leadoff title cuts, which I think is a curious detail here:

*Del has said “I wish my brother George was here” is in reference to Bugs Bunny imitating Liberace, which he would joking say to/perform for his cousin Ice Cube. That’s extra funny in this context, because it means…

**….Del’s nerd-references got interpolated by Cube’s musical sensibilities. George Clinton AND Bugs Bunny are both “right” because of this, and both are in the theme-soup of two different emerging trends, crossing over at the same point in history. 

***The idea that Kendrick closes a Bugs Bunny meets George Clinton loop opened in the early 90s, pretty cool. Don’t even get me started on Kendrick putting his own cousin (Baby Keem) on in the same way too. Themes and patterns, everywhere.

it’s right about at the 34 second mark…

Bonus!

Del saying “George” is a “sideways” reference – which I discovered after writing this post…