Few albums have been as anticipated — or at least caused as much intrigue (mostly fueled by Del the Funky Homosapien’s teases on the album’s progress) — as the followup to the underground hip-hop classic Deltron 3030. Transcending genre, the album blew minds, furthered Dan “The Automator” Nakamura’s ascension as one of the genre’s top producers, and would eventually find itself seated at the table with some of hip-hop and contemporary music’s most important albums. That was in 2000. More than a decade later, as many of us, tired of hype and promises, were about to give up any hope of hearing a sequel, the long-awaited successor to this cult classic debut has finally arrived. True to the final line spoken by the Assman 640 on the group’s debut, “We were always coming back.” Deltron 3030, the supergroup of Del the Funky Homosapien, turntablist Kid Koala, and producer Dan the Automator, has returned.
Cutting to the chase, no, Event II is not on the level of its predecessor. But, that shouldn’t be a surprise, for a couple of reasons. One, sequels, with certain exceptions, rarely surpass or even match the original, and two, Del told us it wouldn’t be. In a 2012 interview, he explained, “It’s not better than the last one… Whoever might be on that tip, like waiting for the next coming or something, you ain’t gonna see it.” From a listener’s perspective, that is only half true. There is plenty within Event II that arcs back to the group’s debut. The general dystopian theme notwithstanding, aurally and lyrically there are a lot of similarities, but the lack of orchestration and symphonic effect that shined on the debut reduces this album’s overall sense of epic-ness. Moreover, there is something within Del’s lyricism that seems restrained, slowed, and lacking that sense of urgency delivered by the Deltron Zero character in earlier efforts.
This album once again begins with a spoken word introduction, only this time, rather than have the gravelly, distorted voice of Damon Albarn shiver down your spine, Event II opens with a very deadpan, straightforward monologue by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (just one of many WTF guest cameos) saying, “Stardate 3040…” before providing the backstory in a blend of bad poetry and noir-esque dialogue. Of course, there’s just enough commentary on the future’s politicians and banks, all too similar to the events of today, but when Gordon-Levitt mentions that “the middle class had faded into irrelevance,” it’s as if the album’s authors forgot that the horrific dystopia laid before us on the first album pretty much set the scene that there was no middle class, just technocrats and the subjugated masses. The need to connect with your audience by mentioning current events is valid, but not when it betrays the source material.
Much like Deltron 3030, Event II is littered with pop-ins (only the album’s first two songs, “The Return” and “Pay the Price”, have no guest appearances) provided by other musicians, actors, and even one chef. Chef David Chang, fresh from his appearance on the music-themed HBO series Treme, speaks appropriately to his strength on “The Future of Food”, while comedian David Cross teams up with actress Amber Tamblyn on each part of the dual “Lawnchair Quarterback”s for a skit that deflates fast. The strongest guest contributions by far come by way of the musicians, but the album’s lowest point also comes by way of a guest. The Lonely Island’s rapping on “Back In the Day” not only falls horribly shy of anything else on Event II, but it also manages to prove that sometimes it’s not the writing but the delivery that matters most. With lyrics that sound very much like something Del would spit, the comedic trio fails to illicit any sense of camaraderie with the album or the emcee.
The biggest hump that Event II has to overcome is that it took over eight years to create, and it sounds like it was overworked, in spite of Dan the Automator’s assurances that any recent tweaking was to the segues between the songs. With the understanding that much of the music (at least a good part of Automator and Koala’s contributions) was completed years ago, and that the album was mostly waiting on Del to get around to writing his parts, it’s understandable that some of the music sounds a bit dated. Automator even admitted to the group having “a couple of false starts.” But, considering Del delivered far more powerful and potent lyrics in a less than two-week period for Deltron 3030 and it took him over 200 weeks to write this album’s lyrics, Event II screams of hesitation, insecurity, and uncertainty about what was flowing out. It’s still engaging in places, but it never comes close to reaching the level of its predecessor. When Automator says, “…this is the record we wanted to make,” we have no choice but to take him at his word. It’s true that if you liked the first, you’ll probably like the second, but don’t expect it to join your rotation.
Essential Tracks: “The Return”, “Pay the Price”, and “City Rising From the Ashes”