Thank you for starting me off with hip hop, rather than Black Flag or some other thing that’s going to alienate me. You are a kinder blogmate than I.
You were right in predicting that I would love this album. It has all of the properties that I love in music, nowadays. It is deeply idiosyncratic. It is full of ostentatious displays of craftsmanship. It contains a reference to Armorines. ARMORINES, dammit!
And, it’s a concept album. At the risk of starting a turf war: concept albums are my domain. I’ve always felt that you can trace them back to classical genres like opera and the program symphony, which were amalgamated into jazz by people like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, and found their way into pop music through psychedelia and its twin offspring, prog and glam. This is territory I’m comfortable in.
But, I’m the first to admit that there’s something distinctly adolescent about most classic concept albums. Tommy. Ziggy Stardust. The Wall. Dear god, 2112. (Even I can only stomach about seven minutes of that album.)
And, I don’t think that Deltron 3030 entirely escapes from that legacy. Any science fiction epic about dismantling a totalitarian state with rap is at risk of lapsing into that same earnestness you detect in Godbluff, Fight Club and Japanese RPGs. And, for the first few tracks on the album, I thought that’s more or less what I was dealing with.
But that was before I realized that Deltron 3030 is a magical incantation.
Allow me to indulge in a little light conspiracy theorizing.
One of the central tenets of magic (and I do mean magic — not illusion) is that you can manipulate reality by manipulating symbols. (Allow my current hero to explain more fully.) So, the practice of drawing a picture, telling a story, or spitting a verse can have a profound impact on the material world.
On ‘Time Keeps On Slipping,’ Del gets straight to the heart of this by noting how he can “convert energy into matter instantly with a pen and a pad,” and puts a finer point on it with the bold claim “I remake my universe every time I use a verse.”
This clearly positions the whole of Deltron 3030 as a spell. Naturally, Del doesn’t frame it this way, because it wouldn’t fit the SF aesthetic he’s going for. Instead, in ‘Virus,’ he equates his verses with computer code — a language with a long history of being equated with magic. As game scholar Jeff Howard writes: “Simply put, programmers and magicians both master a grammar to make things happen.”
With the cyber-magic of his lyrical talents, Del’s character Deltron Zero wins rap battles, which are portrayed as causing actual physical damage to his opponents (remember: manipulate the symbol, manipulate reality) and structural damage to the status quo of his oppressive universe.
So, this album is no mere adolescent anti-authoritarian fantasy. It is the most profound kind of subversive creation: it is an act of magic in practice. Del’s sci-fi incantation may have failed in its aim to bring down the government, but as you note, the album’s popularity has grown substantially since its release. Give it time.
Wow. This blog got weird way faster than I expected.