Teren Delvin Jones, aka Del the Funky Homosapien, is happy about where a lot of young rappers are heading at the moment.
"Things I like about hip-hop and rap are hella popular again," he enthuses. "Battling is through the roof. These dudes is raw as hell. I'm watching Queen of the Ring right now. It's been on loop since I went to sleep. I woke up this morning, it's still playing."
At 43, the iconic Oakland rapper is feeling revitalized, even if younger emcees don't always know enough to show him respect. "If you're 21, even 30 is old as hell to you," he says. "For me, first thing I think when I hear that is, 'You're going to be old too. You think it's funny now; you're going to be where I am in a minute.'"
They should be so lucky. Del has been hustling since his teens, and it's paid off. He wrote lyrics for Ice Cube, and scored an international hit with the idiosyncratic "Mistadobalina" off his '91 debut, I Wish My Brother George Were Here. A decade later, he registered another iconoclastic smash as lyricist/vocalist on the Gorillaz track, "Clint Eastwood."
The Hieroglyphics collective cofounder has never been a mainstream icon, and was probably never meant to be. His palette's a bit too broad and colorful. Since returning from an eight-year hiatus in 2008, Del's been cranking it out — seven solo albums, as well as discs with the Hieroglyphics crew and Dan the Automator.
His latest, last year's Iller Than Most, uses a noisy kind of grimy backdrop, not far removed in spirit from what Hank Shocklee accomplished with his Bomb Squad on early Public Enemy albums.
"I want it to be raw, but I also want it to have some appeal to a lot of people," he says. "I'm not going to say I want it to be pop or anything like that. I want some kind of melody in it, but I want it to be rough still, too. I'm trying to fuse the two together."
Del just finished cutting an album with Ninth Wonder, which he describes as a sort of love-gone-wrong album.
"It's basically R&B, but it's subverted, so it's like all the shit that can go wrong in a relationship," he says. "It's not the love shit. It is about love, but it's the other side — some hood shit, basically, like your chick trying to stab you or call the police on you."
He's currently in the process of sequencing and editing the new album, which will be out next year.
"I want to make sure the right songs are on there. Make sure the story is told in a way women don't get offended."
In the meantime, Del stays young by always looking forward and trying new things. And for the last couple years, that's been skateboarding.
"I almost got an ollie down now," he says. "It don't really matter how old you are. It's whether you can keep up or not."