The Making of No Need For Alarm with Del the Funky Homosapien
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Twenty years ago today on November 23rd, 1993, legendary Oakland MC Del the Funky Homosapien released his sophomore album No Need For Alarm. Though it might not have spawned a hit as big as “Mistadobalina,” the lead single off his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here (the LP was executive produced by his cousin Ice Cube), No Need For Alarm represented a shift in Del’s sound from mostly P-Funk samples to a darker, more jazz sample-based, boom bap, lyric-driven approach, showcasing Del’s superior microphone and production techniques to the fullest.
No Need For Alarm also helped establish Del’s Hieroglyphics crew, who were simultaneously putting themselves on the map in 1993 with stellar releases like Casual’s Fear Itself and Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘til Infinity. Unlike his first album, No Need For Alarm represented the Hieroglyphics aesthetic completely, with the bulk of the production and features handled in-house. It quickly became an album that hip-hop purists held near and dear to their hearts in the Bay Area and beyond, and over the years it was deemed a rap classic.
To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of No Need For Alarm, we caught up with Del during the West coast leg of his current tour supporting Deltron 3030’s Event II to discuss the creation of the album in-depth. And Del turned the clock back two decades to talk about the shift in sound between his first and second LPs, the months he spent living in New York and hanging with Q-Tip, the Beastie Boys, Kurious Jorge, and Dante Ross, collaborating with his Hiero homies, and much more, including a track-by-track breakdown of the entire album, his involvement in the cover art design, and an apology to a now well-known music journalist who he dissed hard on one of the album’s final cuts. This is The Making of No Need For Alarm with Del the Funky Homosapien.
Del the Funky Homosapien: “It definitely was a conscious decision [to make a shift from my first album to the second album]. It’s a trip, because part of it was because my peer group at school, when I came out with my first album, they were kind of dissing me, because that’s not really [the style of rap music I was making before I got my record deal]. So that kind of affected me. I didn’t figure this out until years later down the line. I was all depressed and shit, and then it came to me, like, ‘Oh, that’s why I was trippin’? Why was I trippin’ off them motherfuckers?’
“The were clowning me because of the P-Funk, and from their point of view, only gangsters used that. It was stupid, but since it was my peer group, I wanted them fools to be proud of me, but they were dissing me. So that made me be like, ‘Okay, I’m about to get on this shit, and do it like this. I’ma show y’all.’ Even though the first album is probably the most fun I had doing anything. I had hella fun with [producer DJ] Pooh, and learned hella stuff from Pooh. And a lot of the stuff on that album was stuff that I made. ‘Mistadobalina’ I made, ‘Pissin’ On Your Steps’ I made, ‘Sunny Meadowz’ I made. It wasn’t like I didn’t get my say, but it was definitely directed by Cube.
“He wanted to make sure that the average motherfucker could take my shit in. Because my shit was super duper bugged out. Like, crazy. I had this song called ‘Concrete Trampoline’ before it came out. It was basically like, ‘You don’t bounce off it, you dead.’ He was like, ‘That shit ain’t gonna fly. You’re gonna have to talk a little bit different or something.’ [Laughs.] But I’m glad he did that. But for this album, I wanted to separate myself from that and just get on some MC shit.
“And I think Cube even felt bad about it, because in the press I said some shit. He was like, ‘Man, I thought you liked what we did.’ So I had to explain to him over the years. But he’s proud though, that I stuck to what I do. He’s hella proud of that. I think I probably presented some songs to him at first and he was like, ‘Nah, man.’ So I was like, ‘Fuck it.’ I wasn’t trying to diss or nothing, but I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go to the head with this one.’
“You know who really supported me with that album? Sophia Chang. She actually signed Souls of Mischief and Casual to Jive Records. She liked the sound from them, but also, she did a lot of work in the industry, especially at that time. And she knew what was up with the real shit. I think she was trying to sign Das [EFX], and when Redman’s album was out, she had that. She was hyper over Wu before they came out. She was up on her shit. So she heard what I had, and was like, ‘This is really good, Del. You should go forth with this.’ When other people were like, ‘I don’t know,’ she was like, ‘Nah, fuck that. This shit is hot.’
“A Tribe Called Quest was at Jive [back then]. I actually knew Q-Tip at the time, and Jungle Brothers, too. They were definitely an influence. And De La [Soul] too. But lyrically, I was probably drawing more from Kool G Rap, you know what I’m saying? Some exterminators, on the lyrical tip. The first album was more of my personality, whereas the second album was more technical.”
In The Lab
“It was fun [making the album], but I think I was depressed most of the time. I don’t know, I guess I’m just a dark person in general. I’m still like that to this day. But the way it was produced is kind of like how we would do our demos. We had shit done on 4-tracks before we went to the studio. There’s a few joints where [Casual] came to the studio with a beat, like ‘Catch a Bad One,’ and I just wrote the shit right there. I think [Domino] might have came with a few like that, too. But it was mainly me and [engineer] Matt Kelley in the studio most of the time. I learned a lot from him, too. We’d been head-to-head for so many years that I started picking up how to engineer from him.
“I don’t think I was sober very much. I used to get kind of fucked up, whatever it was. I fucked with a lot of shit, to a certain extent. I wasn’t all heroined out. But definitely mushrooms, tabs, whatever. I was on some shit. I was on my little rock and roll, psychedelic shit. But I don’t feel like any of that had anything to do with what I was doing with my music, because my music always comes first.
“The way I do my shit is I’m usually by myself. I was probably at my mom’s house or whatever. What I normally do to this day is I’m always making shit. I think I ran stuff by Sophia, and she said she liked the songs, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go with them,’ then just went to the studio and dropped them. When [Hieroglyphics] cats came in, whatever they wanted to do, I would let them do.
“My setup was real basic. The SP-1200 and a 4-track, and me writing my shit. Back then, I didn’t know music theory or nothing. It was pretty much all by ear, and [sampling] whatever records I happened to have. The jazz shit was less of a style, and more of a practicality thing. The jazz records were mostly instrumental, so it was just easier to sample shit from those records.
“My father was really into music, so he had a lot of stuff. But I really started getting into digging more when I started hanging out with Dante Ross and with Domino. That, and with the Beastie Boys. When I hung out with the Beastie Boys a couple times, and I saw the crazy funk records they were playing, I was like, ‘Man, these whiteboys got all this!’ It tripped me out, like, ‘Man, I gotta explore.’ This was like right before I started doing No Need For Alarm.
“I was with Q-Tip when I went to [the Beastie Boys’] studio. Matter of fact, I did shrooms with Q-Tip, and it was the first time I did shrooms. I was high as hell in the studio, and I had to go to the bathroom, and I thought there was a monster in the bathroom. Then Mike D came down and was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was like, ‘Man, I went to the bathroom, and I was trippin’.’ He was like, ‘Man, you need to get you something to eat. Let’s go to the store.’ So he took me to 7-Eleven or some shit, and bought me some Fruit Loops and some milk, and was like, ‘Here, just eat this. You’ve just gotta get something in your stomach.’ That’s how I met them fools.”
1. “You’re in Shambles” (Produced by Snupe)
“Snupe added ‘You’re in Shambles’ last. He came up with the beat, and was like, ‘Man, I’ve got this perfect beat for you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, that’s the shit.’ That was the last song I did on the album.
“[I put it first] because it just set the mood off to me. And plus with the Ice Cube sample in there, it pretty much was reintroducing you, and bridging it between the first and the second [album], too. So that was probably why we used it as the first song, too.”
2. “Catch a Bad One” (Produced by Casual)
“Casual is one of my better friends. When I used to do shit in high school, I used to buddy up with him quite a bit. And he was a solo artist like I was, so we had like a friendly competition. We kept each other on our toes. I think we just got along real well, and understood each other. And I think that just translated with the beat. I think he was going for something kind of wild too, like, ‘I bet you Del’s gonna like this.’ We used to always listen to each other’s stuff. We listened to each other’s stuff more than we listened to other people’s stuff. We just thought that we were the tightest.
“I think the singles were kind of left up to the crew and to Dante to choose. I think ultimately I let Dante make the call on that, because I don’t think I was too sure. I think he just felt like that was one of the sicker ones.”
3. “Wack M.C.’s” (Produced by Del)
“That’s more of my typical, default type of song I would do, where I’m just screaming on people. I was living with A-Plus at the time, we were roommates. And we both had a little music station in different parts of the house. He’d be making heat over here, and I’d be somewhere else making some heat. And I remember I was over there in the corner or whatever making that shit, and that was one of the beats I hella liked and wanted to use. A-Plus is one of my best friends. I’ve known him since like second or third grade. So us living together was a real creative thing. We were always coming up with some hot shit.”
4. “No Need For Alarm” (Produced by Domino)
“Domino was our secret weapon. His knowledge of the funk was so extensive. He used to stay out near Groove Merchant, one of the bigger digger spots [in The Bay], even before digging was digging. So, he knows his shit. He was making our hits. I think he just picked what he thought I would sound good over, and I’m not too picky. I roll with whatever as long as it sounds good. So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ To this day, I’m eager to do whatever.
“There probably was a deeper meaning [for naming the album No Need For Alarm]. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I named it that. It might’ve been because that was the title of the song on the album, and I felt like the album title had to be named after a song on the album, so maybe that’s why I did it. Maybe it had a deeper meaning like, ‘[This album] sounds hella different, but it’s still me.’ So maybe it meant that, too.”
5. “Boo Booheads” (Produced by SD50′s)
“A ‘boo boohead’ is like a nicer word for ‘bitch,’ basically. So that’s what that song is about. Most of the girls that I have been out with to this day really, except very recently, have been hoodrats. And that’s just how it is. Hoodrats are some bitches. A lot of times, they want their way, and if they don’t get their way, they’re gonna throw a fucking fit. So that was just my way of letting off some steam about it.
“Kurious Jorge, that’s my dude. I used to hang with him a lot. I used to be Uptown with Jorge a lot of the time. And Doom and Subroc from KMD, they used to be around a lot, too. The whole [Constipated Monkeys] crew. Jorge was with us around that time, and I was like, ‘Man, you gotta do something on here.’ So that’s how he got on it.
“To this day, I get along with Dante [Ross] very well, [who signed me and A&R'd the album and also produced this song]. He gave me the keys to his crib, and let me stay there. It just came together hella good. I was living in New York for a minute, for [a few] months. So I was really getting my MC vibe on, feeling like I’m really doing this shit. And he came with some heat, and that’s how it happened. We did it at Dante’s crib.”
6. “Treats for the Kiddies” (Produced by SD50′s)
“The beat just had that vibe to it. It didn’t strike me with a particular emotion, it just seemed like a battle tune, so that’s how I came with it on that. I think I was trying to impress Dante, too, because I looked up to Dante.”
7. “Worldwide” ft. Unicron (Produced by Casual)
“Unicron was me. It was a joke, like, ‘I got this kid, he’s a badass. I’m just trying to help him out before he gets thrown in jail.’ So the story I came up with when people would ask me about him is, ‘Oh, he got jumped, he went to jail. He’s on lockdown. He ain’t gonna be out for a while.’ [Laughs.] Then after a while I started just telling people, ‘That’s me, dude.’ And they’d be like, ‘What?!’ They couldn’t believe it. I did it just to be able to say the shit I couldn’t really say as Del, and get away with it. You know, talking about hoes and shit. More crime-related shit. Shit I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say as Del.
“I did have one more appearance from Unicron, on a joint I did with Swollen Members [called ‘Left Field’]. That was the last time he got his shine.”
8. “No More Worries” ft. A-Plus, Casual, and Snupe (Produced by Domino)
“That was basically like one of them joints where everyone gets a chance to spit. A lot of times, we’d be making shit, and there’d be hella heads there, and everybody would want to get on it. So we’d make room for everyone to rap on there.
“Anything we were doing on the album was just a translation of what we were really doing, outside of making records. That was just a representation of what we did. We made hella [posse cuts for fun], but that was just one that got out to the public. The job of recording shit is to capture what’s really there. So that’s really what we would be doing. And that wasn’t something we had before. We made that in the studio, even though we made it like we weren’t in the studio. It just happened to be that we were making a record at that time.
“I don’t think that much thought went into it. We were happy that we were making records, but we did it the same way as when we were making demos. We knew it was going to be for the album, but so what? We treated it the same way as if we were making a demo. But it was great that we were getting paid for it now. ‘[You’re gonna pay us] for doing this shit? We do this all the time.’”
9. “Wrongplace” (Produced by Del)
“I won’t say those stories are necessarily true, but those are the type of things that be happening. I took from all types of experiences from where I stay at, and what I’ve been through, and made up a couple of little things for each verse that represented ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ It’s kind of a cautionary tale, but I didn’t really put it out there like that.
“It was only two verses at first. Then, we decided to put it out as a single, and Dante was like, ‘Damn, this is a dope song, I want to do it as a single, but you only got two verses. It needs to be longer.’ Which was a trip, because usually motherfuckers be like, ‘You need to make it shorter.’ But he was like, ‘Nah, this is dope. It needs to be longer. Add another verse.’
“So the third verse was about when I got in trouble coming back from Amsterdam [into the United States], and how I felt about it. Me and my boy Kwame, who used to manage me at the time, were coming back from Amsterdam. He had dreadlocks, right? So right off the bat, they strip search us in the airport. So they take my wallet and look at my I.D., and a little crumb of hash comes rolling out. I guess I forgot about it. So they’re like, ‘Aha!’
“So I’m like 21, laughing at them like, ‘Come on, dude. I can’t even smoke that if I wanted to smoke it. You know, dude. Just throw it away.’ So he’s like, ‘You think this is a joking matter? Trafficking drugs is a serious matter.’ So they detained me in the airport, and I couldn’t leave until I paid a $500 fine. Then I had to fly back to go to court. And the judge was pissed off, like, ‘Why are you wasting my time for this fucking bullshit?’ So he gave me probation, and said, ‘If you finish probation and this little drug class, we’ll wipe it off your record.’ But [leading up to my court appearance], it was a big ass deal in my mind, like, ‘I’m gonna go to jail for this little ass crumb [of hash].’”
10. “In and Out” (Produced by Del)
“That definitely was a song from the original demo that I had for No Need For Alarm. Actually, the [album] was called Problem Child at first, and I changed it to No Need For Alarm later. So when it was still Problem Child, ‘In and Out’ was one of the songs that was on there. And that one stayed. That’s one of the joints that was organically made at the house. Nothing was changed about it. Same shit that was on the demo, that’s what it was. It was just one of those songs I would make, just having fun.
“That was Matt Kelley [who made the chorus pan from one ear to the other]. I learned a lot of little stuff like that from him.”
11. “Don’t Forget” (Produced by Domino)
“[The concept] was pretty self-explanatory, really. But it was basically about cats getting large, and their heads getting swole, forgetting their origins. Which you know, with no foundation, your whole structure will collapse. People don’t seem to get this, so that was my two cents at the time.
“Dante actually introduced Domino to me, knowing he was in the Bay Area. So indirectly, Dante helped Hiero survive, because Dom is the main dude behind preserving this thing really, as far as actual work, business-wise. That’s aside from [the making of the] music, but it’s important to state. He should get that proper. So the No Need LP was the beginning of the working relationship going on with Hiero in general and Dom.”
12. “Miles to Go” (Produced by Jay-Biz)
“Jay-Biz to me was like a musical genius. That was a track he had submitted for my shit that he did on the SP. But for some reason, I felt that he was getting hella more out the SP then I was getting. I was like, ‘Damn, this beat is so tight. I gotta do something with this.’ I don’t even think he appreciated it like I did. But I was like, ‘I’m using this shit.’ It was another one of those songs where I just went in. I could do those type of songs in my sleep. Those are the most fun for me to do, because I can just say anything, and not be stuck to one [concept]. And [Jay-Biz] did the cuts on there. He’s an incredible DJ, too.”
13. “Check it Ooout” (Produced by Del)
“The writer I was dissing [on the third verse] was Danyel Smith. And I want to apologize for that now, because I was young and immature. But I really was hurt by what she did. Basically, she did a review of a Hieroglyphics show, and this was the early days of Hieroglyphics. And she was kind of downplaying everything we were doing, like, ‘I don’t see the big deal. They’re just using these big thesaurus words. They call people ‘fool’ a lot.’ And I’m like, ‘Why is she trying to make it like we’re calling people foolish? That’s just the slang.’ She was trying to make it seem like we were thinking we were better than people. And I’m like, ‘It’s not even like that at all.’ And she was like, ‘What about the old days? When the Too $horts and…’ She was on that tip. It was like, ‘Oh, she’s trying to play us.’
“So ‘Check it Ooout’ was the last song I did for the album. And I did it specifically [to diss her]. That was my focus. So I went in on her. But I was saying some rude shit. I don’t even know what I was saying, but she didn’t deserve all that. So I apologize for that shit, for real. I was immature. But honestly, I was really hurt by what she [wrote] about us.
“I didn’t say her name or nothing [in the third verse]. I wasn’t gonna be like that. I don’t know if she knew or not, but I was putting it out there to where if she heard it, and she felt any kind of way about it, she would know I was talking about her. Nobody else would know, [and no one at the label ever said anything to me about it]. And that [second] verse was about her, too, [where I started off, ‘I love to peep a rhyme/First of all I’m seeing if my man can keep the time.’] I was really trying to put her on, like, ‘This is the way you should be listening to it. Apparently, you’re not listening to us like this, or else you wouldn’t be saying this shit.’ I was trying to educate [her about how to listen to rappers]. But again, not saying her name, so anybody could get what they were going to get out of it, too. But it was specifically for her. I think the whole shit was about her.
“I think I needed like one song [to finish the album], and I was hella pissed, so I was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’ I still do that to this day. I got different chicks or whatever that try to fuck my life up, and I’ll go in on them [on a song].”
14. “Thank Youse” (Produced by A-Plus)
“The concept behind it really helped me as far as growing as a musician. That was really important. I just wanted to thank the public for listening to me, and supporting me, and digging Hiero and our music as a whole. I wanted to put it out there, like, ‘This ain’t for us to be syphoning money from y’all. We need y’all to do this.’ And I guess it’s vice versa, because if they want to hear some dope shit, they need us too.
“But a lot of artists, I feel like they start getting gassed, and they think it’s all about them. But it’s not like that. If anything, it’s all about the public. Without them, we can’t exist. Period. So I feel like as a musician, you should be sympathic to the listener and what they can tolerate. I don’t think you should let them dictate what you do, because you’ll never get a rest. You can’t please everybody, and they’ll be telling you to bend over backwards. But you should be sympathetic to what they can tolerate. That was the early stages of me understanding that.
“That was one of the joints from when me and A-Plus were living together. I wanted to make sure he got on there. And the vibe of that, that’s something that we share. We’re really are like, people people. We feel people, and we appreciate that we can do this shit to the level we do it. We were there from the early days, in the early ‘80s, when it wasn’t even a possibility to be coming out with shit. We were just fans of the culture. So to be able to do it this far, we really appreciate it. So I think he was co-signing that idea, too.”
*BONUS* “The Undisputed Champs” ft. Q-Tip and Pep Love (B-Side on “Wrongplace” 12″) (Produced by Del)
“We did ‘Undisputed Champs’ around the time they did Midnight Marauders. I think they had just finished it, and were on the cusp of it. They were taking photographs for the [album cover, which I’m on]. It might’ve been before that. Q-Tip had a big party, and something was going on. I just remember I was drunk as fuck. I drank like two 40s. We would drink half the 40, and pour gin in the 40 with some orange juice. So I had like two of them. So I was like, gone. And that’s when we did that shit. Busta Rhymes was at the studio, and Ricky Powell was at the studio, too. He took pictures of us [see above]. And Busta really got to see how hard I went with the production that night. He saw my disc box and was like, ‘Damn son, okay.’ He thought the ‘Undisputed Champs’ beat was nice, too.”
“Pretty much, I did do the design for the [cover]. I just didn’t know how to use the equipment to make it. So I just had to relay it to the art department. And Elektra was always really good with helping me do whatever I needed to do to get my ideas out. I’d go to the art department, and they’d make it real, like the way I had it in my head. I think I might’ve even brought in some comic books to give them some examples of how I wanted it to look, with the panels and shit to make it look like a [comic book] cover. And for the photos, I took [the photographer] out to some spot that I surveyed out in Oakland, in Chinatown around where I used to stay at.
“Whoever peeped that out and thought it was tight, that’s why I did it. That was that little pop culture, where I was trying to put it out there like, ‘If you can relate to comic books, I’m one of y’all.’”
20 Years Later
“I don’t listen to it very often, though at the time I did. But that’s because to me, there’s a lot of imperfections. Lyrically, I feel like I could have pushed a little bit harder. I think it’s sort of scatterbrained. But I was a kid. I think a lot of the animosity I had, I let it leak out in the wrong way. Like, I was saying some crazy shit on there. If it came out today, I’d probably be under way more scrutiny. So a lot of things I wasn’t proud of saying, but it is what it is.
“I’m mostly proud of that first album, because it really captured everything. But I do appreciate the second album for being that first raw energy, and letting motherfuckers now that, ‘We ill out here in the Bay Area. Iller than you might have thought. We got our own shit, too.’ And for that reason, a lot of people be like, ‘Man, that’s the fucking shit!’ And I think it’s more that aggressive energy that they were picking up on, more than any particular thing that I was saying, because that might have went under the radar.
“[People come up to me a lot and say that’s their favorite Del album, or say it’s a classic], but one thing that annoys me, and I try not to let it annoy me but I’ll be honest it does, is the fact that a lot of people can’t get past that album. And I’m a futuristic dude. Like, even new cats that come out today, I enjoy them. But a lot of fans of that album, they’re not leaving that album. I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s cool, but check out some of this other shit I got. I feel like it’s way iller than that.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Oh, okay, but man, that’s the shit, though!’ They can’t get off it. But I feel like if they really listened to some of my newer shit, they’d probably be like, ‘Oh my fucking God! Dude is off the hook! He kept going!’
“But it is what it is though. I really appreciate people having that love for it. And I never let on to people like, ‘Okay, that’s kind of annoying me that you’re saying that.’ Because that’s not what they’re trying to tell me. And to myself, I’ve had to say, ‘You know, that’s not what they mean.’ But I do try to tell people to listen to some of my newer shit. And I’m sure some of them listen eventually.”
“Me and Ladybug Mecca [from Digable Planets] got a group together called Beat Intellectual Project, or Beat Intel Pro for short. That’s on some futuristic shit. It’s rhythm-based, and anti-melody, pretty much. That’s the flavor. And me and A-Plus have a project coming called Hypnotize. We’ll probably both be rapping on it, and musically, we’re both producing it as well.”
Purchase No Need For Alarm on iTunes HERE.
Previously: Video Vault: The Top 20 Rap Videos of 1993