Last week, you had me listen to some goofy, epic, over-the-top prog rock. In that spirit, your first assignment is probably the closest thing the hip hop canon has to prog: Deltron 3030.
Deltron 3030 is a supergroup consisting of MC Del the Funky Homosapien, producer Dan the Automator — both hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area — and DJ Kid Koala, from Vancouver. They’re all prolific and celebrated in their own niches, but this record is, in my opinion, the best distillation of everything the three bring to the table. Remember Gorillaz’ first single, ‘Clint Eastwood’? That’s these three guys plus Damon Albarn, a year after Deltron 3030 came out. (As far as I’m concerned, ‘Clint Eastwood’ is a Deltron 3030 song. Hell, they even do it as their encore when they play live.)
Deltron 3030 is a concept album. The year is 3030, and times are tough for Deltron Zero and his sidekick Automator. Hip hop is outlawed, corporations rule the galaxy with an iron fist, and Deltron is on the run from a corrupt military-industrial complex — or at least that’s been my interpretation. Unlike a more classic concept album like Rush’s 2112, Deltron 3030 doesn’t have a clearly defined narrative arc. Instead, it’s more of an exercise in atmosphere and world-building. There are some set pieces here and there, but a lot of it is just Del — an MC renowned for his ability to freestyle — riffing on post-apocalyptic sci-fi imagery and technobabble over Automator’s gritty, stripped-down beats. (It may interest you to note that Dan is a classically trained violinist, and many of the samples on this record come from the music of contemporary classical composer William Sheller.)
The result is utterly captivating. There is no other rapper in the world who sounds like Del. And more than anything, this record really seems to capture this feeling of the ‘used future’ of something like Star Wars or Alien — a future that feels dirty and diseased, run-down and as far from the shiny idealism of Star Trek as it’s possible to get. The universe of Deltron 3030 is in rough shape.
This album is very much a product of its time, of course. The various skits and vocal cameos are a who’s-who of 90s alternative hip hop. Released in the year 2000, it shares a cultural moment with other similar sci-fi classics like The Matrix, The X-Files, and even Final Fantasy VII. It definitely feels like an album that came out in 2000 — but in a good way. It has aged extremely well (how scarily prescient is the track ‘Virus’?), and I think a lot of that has to do with how it just sort of sprung into the world fully formed. Like a lot of cult classics, there wasn’t a lot of hype when it first came out, and it’s only in the following years that it amassed its legion of fans. (In 2013, the band released a long-awaited followup, Event II — which is a good album too, don’t get me wrong. But unless you’re Death From Above 1979, it’s hard to get that sort of lighting to strike twice.)
Obviously, I love Deltron 3030. And I know you have a taste for MF DOOM and Madlib’s Madvillainy, so I think you might too. I am very much looking forward to your thoughts on this album.