This year’s biggest hip-hop releases—from Drake’s Nothing Was The Same to Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail—were driven by a desire to capitalize on today’s social media-centered zeitgeist. This is a necessary tactic when you’re trying to make a case as a central voice in media and pop culture, and both those albums succeeded in their goals to varying degrees. What makes the quietly anticipated Event II from alternative hip-hop group Deltron 3030 interesting is that it doesn’t have even the slightest desire to follow suit.
The trio which consists of Del Tha Funky Homosapien (Deltron Osiris/Deltron Zero), Dan The Automator, and Kid Koala has an out there, operatic style that would be described as psychedelic if they based their work on earthbound concepts. But instead, they base their songs far into the future, which helps explain why their debut sounded so cohesive. Deltron 3030 centers its act around a fictional alternate universe, with Del going beyond his playful boast of “I remake my universe every time I use a verse,” from the group’s debut. The trio explores the complexities of that universe through form, transforming what could be seen as hokey shtick into a fully fleshed-out concept. Dan The Automator’s constant left-field samples and hints of jazz help build an expansive and very pleasing-to-the-ear backdrop while Del’s words tumble, contort, twist, and circulate to create a reality that’s absurd, but believable.
The control exhibited on the group’s 2000 debut was so complete it sounded like they were manipulating space and time. When something sounds that good, people wait an over a decade in Earth years for the follow-up, but when over a decade pasts, the expectations become really high. So the question is this: How do you reintroduce Deltron 3030? Curtail it to hip-hop expectations or continue building that persona and present it? Doing the former would be more absurd than the world Deltron 3030 describes, so the trio decides to go with the latter. Event II increases the operatic tendencies and the drama tenfold. Del relates that the year is now 3040 on the album’s first song, the orchestral and epic “The Return,” and things are in dire straits: “Cutthroat, corrupt folks/Pressure to much to cope/We see a woman get jumped by young punks.”
The album is then pushed along by production that often crosses into alternate rock territory (“Nobody Can,” “Melding of the Minds”), while managing to sprinkle some R&B guitar stabs (“Look Across The Sky”) and spaghetti western riffs (“What Is This Loneliness,” the album-closing “Do You Remember?”). Del keeps up well with the sprawling production, and therein lies the problem. Del rarely ever had to “keep up,” whether he’s busy forming concepts or just playing around with words like he does in early-career “Mistadobalina.” He doesn’t take many chances from a technical standpoint on Event II, which is unfortunate because the concept is given life by the rhyme’s form almost as much as the lyrics themselves. The throbbing riffs nearly completely overpower Del’s efforts on “Nobody Can.” He sounds woefully lacking in energy during his performances on “Look Across The Sky” and “The Agony.” He sounds like Del the Narrator more than Deltron Osiris the character far too many times.
Another flaw is the features, which provide more of a reprieve instead of actually pushing the songs forward. Damon Albarn’s Brit-emo hooks often suck the energy out of his songs, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s choruses merely serve to allow Del to catch his breath. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and rap comedy trio The Lonely Island also make appearances, but the only real notable aspect about their presence is the strange fact that Gordon-Levitt and The Lonely Island are actually on a Deltron 3030 album.
It’s frustrating because there are glimmers of circa-2000 perfection here. Del effervescently glides on and off beat and into double time while nonchalantly flipping sci-fi slang on “Talent Supercedes.” It’s the same deal in “City Rising From the Ashes,” where he raps, “Deltron Zero, you’re a bit squeamish/Cause I’m rumored to brandish thermolasers in a fit of fiendish.” There’s just too much ambition and not enough energy to support Event II fully. Planet Deltron used to be more fun. –Brian Josephs