Happy 25th Anniversary to Del the Funky Homosapien’s debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here, originally released October 22, 1991.
For the last five years, the city of Oakland has celebrated Hiero Day. The concert takes place in Downtown Oakland on Labor Day, with the city closing down a few city blocks. The event has grown so much that it has necessitated as many as three stages to accommodate all of the performers. Hip-Hop, R&B, and jazz artists, along with DJs of all musical stripes, show up to showcase their skills in front of crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. But the stars of the show are, of course, the Hieroglyphics crew.
Hieroglyphics is comprised of many artists, including Souls of Mischief, Casual, Del the Funky Homosapien, Pep Love, and Domino. Souls of Mischief are arguably the most recognizable off-shoots and most public-facing members of the group. The inaugural Hiero Day was held on September 3, 2012, or 9/3, as in 93 ’til Infinity, the title of the first Souls of Mischief album. And in fact, the second Hiero Day in 2013 was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of their debut LP.
However, before there was Souls of Mischief, there was Teren Delvon Jones, more affectionately known as Del the Funky Homosapien (formerly stylized as Del tha Funkee Homosapien). And it’s safe to say that without Del, there would be no Hieroglyphics. Without his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here, which was released 25 years ago this week, there would be no 93 ‘til Infinity or the dozens of other albums that members of the Hiero crew have released over the years. And without Del, there certainly wouldn’t be Hiero Day.
When he first debuted, Del was a different type of Bay Area bred emcee. All rappers from the Bay Area are ostensibly the children of the original Oakland hip-hop legend Todd “Too $hort” Shaw. He was the first rapper to put the Bay Area on the hip-hop map and has influenced the sound of every Bay Area rapper that came after him. Through the ’80s and the early ’90s, many Bay Area rappers sounded like a combination of Too $hort and N.W.A (due to the Bay’s proximity to Los Angeles), releasing music steeped in the gangsta rap tradition.
Del certainly has the gangsta rap pedigree, given that O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson is his cousin, but his music career has evolved from a decidedly different mold. I Wish My Brother George Was Here functions as the diary of an outsider in the world of Bay Area hip-hop: a quirky “weirdo” in a city tragically known for violence, much more interested in playing video games and reading comic books than doing anything “gangsta.”
Del sounded nothing like Ice Cube, but his cousin helped shepherd his career while this album was being made. Del was one of the O.G. members of Cube’s Da Lench Mob camp, and signed to Elektra Records through Cube’s Street Knowledge management. His first appearance on record was calling in to say “Fuck the Radio!” on Cube’s “Turn Off the Radio” from his debut solo LP AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990). He also wrote lyrics for Yo-Yo’s first album Make Way for the Motherlode (1991) and helped Cube write a verse on his classic “Jackin’ For Beats.” Cube executive-produced I Wish My Brother George Was Here and provides ad-libs and vocals on at least four tracks.
It’s never been clear if it was Ice Cube’s influence or Elektra Records’ push alone that gave I Wish My Brother… its somewhat split personality. Part of the time, Del is positioned as a teenage Dr. Funkenstein, transmitting live from the Mothership to save hip-hop and the funk from the dastardly Sir Noses running amok in the industry, unaware that their time has come to pass. But for an equal-sized chunk of the album, Del plays the role of the everyman, a recent high school graduate “fresh from the meadow with a mellow attitude,” caught up in daily headaches that we all face. Both halves work extremely well, and manage to come together to make a coherent and outstanding album.
I Wish My Brother George Was Here is boosted on the production side, with Ice Cube, the Boogie Men (DJ Pooh, Bobcat, and Rashad), and Del working behind the boards. The soundscapes for the album rely heavily on funk, particularly P-Funk, as the beats frequently sample artists like Funkadelic, Parlet, P-Funk All-Stars, and even James Brown and The Meters. Some tracks occasionally edge towards a jazzier feel, but there’s always the backbone of the funk. It also provided the blueprint that the Boogie Men would follow while producing Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album, which would be released a week later.