An Expos ballcap in a sea of monochrome White Sox hats, Del tha Funkee Homosapien's agenda of playing the skill-doubting dozens established him as a catalyst for the burgeoning West Coast underground hip-hop movement in the early '90s. Like his predecessor, fellow Cali brainiac Divine Styler, Del's lyrical emphasis on both the smarts and the ass made him a coastal fixture poised for crossover appeal, though his success was gradually stifled by label shenanigans. The formative yet turbulent major label phase of his career is comprehensively summarized in Rhino's The B-Boy Handbook, that rare "best of" that functions even better as a rarities compendium.
The key singles from 1991's Ice Cube-produced I Wish My Brother George Was Here and '94's blunted No Need For Alarm are well-represented: Debut single "Mistadobalina" remains one of the catchiest party jams of the g-funk era, and Del's sing-song nyeah-nyeah voice on "Wack M.C.s" gives his cadence-shifting flow a comedic intimidation that amateur backpackers have tried biting for years. But the elusive b-sides make this comp essential. "Burnt" debuts Del's Hieroglyphics crew, and it stands as one of the most cohesive posse cuts ever: The constant break is accompanied by a different rare-groove loop for each MC, fused seamlessly into a constant whole even as each lyricist gets his own time to shine. "The Undisputed Champs" plays like Pep Love and Del striving to beat A Tribe Called Quest at their own game. They even bring in a sleepy-sounding Q-Tip to spit some nothing-special rhymes over a molasses jazz loop before Del steals the track cold: "I'm on track/I lap yours/Collapse yours/Elapse forever/You're never gonna get better bitin', my friend."
A sense of redundancy bogs down the tail end of the album: Three Brother George-era singles show up twice (in original and "raw" remixes), and a collaboration with Dinosaur Jr. from the Judgement Night soundtrack proves that certain things--such as "grunge-funk"--should never be hyphenated. But though Del's most creative period came after his work on Elektra, The B-Boy Handbook is a valuable document of one vital MC's early years--and a vital scene's early years as well.
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