By: Daniel Hodgman
Bulk Recordings, 2013
Event II starts off with Justin Gordon Levitt.
“Stardate 3040,” he drones, “the seasons continue to pass. Spring became summer, fall dimmed into the winter’s cold light. Society continued to erode as the people began to collapse under the weight of economic despair. Ten years have elapsed since there had even been a blip of information on the whereabouts of the mythical duo.”
This mythical duo is actually in fact a trio called Deltron 3030, which consists of Del tha Funkee Homosapien, producer Dan the Automator and turntablist Kid Koala.
When their first record came out, Deltron 3030 was a group precipitating change in hip-hop. Their debut was filled with beats that displayed futuristic sounds, such as twinkling chimes (“Virus”) or wooing Koala scratches that fluttered like a UFO in the sky (“Madness”). In the end however, the beats were condensed and strict, leaving most of the room on the record for Del and his off-kilter bars. To this, Del was a breathless genius. On songs like “Mastermind” and “Turbulance (Remix)”, his rhymes reconstructed the ways MC’s could attack telling a story. The opening to “Turbulance (Remix)” not only rattles and rips with slant rhymes and quirky punches, but it also attacks futuristic societal problems that aren’t far off from reality:
“It’s 3030, yo, I get my hands dirty/ They think they the pure breed, medically insured weed/ Fuck the system, non-conformist humans/ Walk around because of their ordinance, just ornaments/ Super-thugs use computer bugs, all ignoramuses/ Reduced to savage half-beasts off a crack piece/ Not me, I’m shit-faced, which way but loose/ In a hovercraft, not no bubble-bath, turbo-boost”
This witty banter on society mixed with Automator’s futuristic production was just as enduring as it was initially hard-hitting. It captivated underground hip-hop to an extreme, and as time passed it surfaced to pull in all of the critics.
Event II comes 13 years later, and what stands is a record with much of Deltron 3030’s redeeming qualities plus a whole bunch of new goodies. Unlike Deltron 3030, Event II is loaded with guest spots. From Justin Gordon Levitt to Zach De La Rocha (“Melding of the Minds”), to Black Rob (“Talent Supersedes”) and David Cross and Amber Tamblyn (“Lawnchair Quarterback Parts 1 and 2”), Event II throws in contributors from all angles.
On “What Is This Loneliness”, the group teams up with Casual and Damon Albarn to construct one of the album’s highlights. The hook features Albarn, and in this he channels his Gorillaz project and croons like 2-D. “I’m gliding through the atoms/ What is this loneliness I’m feeling/ It’s all in your head/ This loneliness I’m feeling.”
The verses weld Del and Casual’s bars into a spacey frantic, and they’re entertaining without going into too much detail (“Aquatic space vessels flow like a wet dream/ Conductor of the thought train, I authored a jet stream”).
This in and of itself might be what most represents the change in Deltron 3030. Whereas their debut was packed tight with continuing words against futuristic governmental oppression and survival, Event II simply re-enacts this, almost to a pulp, without divulging into as much detail (“Ok, now we in a cobra clutch/ Once the planet fold up, and blow up/ You know what?” –“City Rising From the Ashes”). If this is the record’s one flaw, then let it be so.
The thickness of detail in the lyrics isn’t as constraining as it might seem. Del still fuses incredible rhymes of description, and the amount of content he packs in each breath is still stunning. If anything, the guest spots help mold Del’s surrounding lyrics. Zach De La Rocha delivers a Rage Against the Machine-like hook on “Melding of the Minds” which keeps the song’s intensity throughout; experimental violinist Emily Wells dishes out an in-your-face soul-pulsing hook, and the best chorus this record has to offer (“My Only Love”); and “Do You Remember” features English singer Jamie Cullum, who provides a simmering harmony that flows like a lullaby and comes off as a slow punk cut.
Again, this is a nod to Event II’s ability to call out numerous guest spots. These artists help fill the song to an extent, but their most important feature is that of complimenting Del’s verses.
The biggest change on this sophomore album is the production. The first full-length track, “The Return”, channels “3030” from the first record, but it’s more massive. No longer is Del the main feature during verses, and in fact, the music might be more interesting than the words themselves. Here, there’s “ooh-ing” and ringing percussion bells. Adding more to this, Automator incorporates blaring background horns, twangy guitar riffs and percussion that’s bolder than anything on the first record. “Nobody Can” is another glaring example of the change in sound. The hook resonates with Black Keys-like distortion, and the second verse sways with a backing chorus and laser-synths. “Talent Supercedes” plays like a space western, with a trodding guitar that picks your brain the same way Clint Eastwood (the actor, not the song) would, and the chorus makes you realize how much more fulfilling the production on Event II actually is.
At the base of all this is Dan the Automator’s ability to incorporate an orchestral sound into a hip-hop album. Even more so, he should be credited for mashing various genres such as jazz, soul, western, rock and classical into this futuristic adventure. Beyond the “beat”, each song on Event II reverberates with a plethora of melding sound. Automator takes the boom bap style simply as his metronome, and what he layers on top of this shows his true genius.
By providing these live instrumentals and orchestras, Dan the Automator isn’t inventing a new sound (think Erykah Badu and the Brooklyn Philharmonic and The Dakah Hip-Hop Orchestra), but he is reinforcing the fact that hip-hop has evolved into a force that can combine worldly sounds and cross genres. In fact, if you can look at Event II from a philosophical standpoint, it’s easy to say that this record represents how hip-hop has become a worldwide culture.
With that being said, Deltron 3030 and Event II are an example of how hip-hop’s sound isn’t a one-track adventure. By installing orchestras, sounds from various musical genres and a variance in guest vocals, these guys remind us that live instrumentation can be the perfect addition to any hip-hop act. In fact, Deltron 3030’s U.S. tour will feature a full-backing orchestra. Here is where hip-hop’s ability to expand truly shines, and even if Deltron 3030 isn’t the first group to showcase this, they’re certainly part of the rare breed that does it right.
Event II comes 13 years after Deltron 3030, and although it may not be as packed with mind-melting bars and content, it makes up for this with a supersonic record of sound. Newcomers to Deltron 3030 will enjoy the moments and energy on Event II, and veterans to the group will take-in the new sound and continuing Deltron legacy. One thing everyone can get out of this record is its exemplification of change. Hip-hop as we know it is going off on all of these vectors, and while some are farfetched and ill fated for the culture, what Deltron 3030’s doing is promising and positive for everyone involved.