Hip-hop was built on the musical foundation of two turntables and a microphone. Deltron 3030 includes some of this instrumentation, with the microphone manned by Del the Funky Homosapien, or just “Del” for short – the rapper with the laid-back but lyrical flow who emerged from Oakland in the early 1990s.
But instead of a mere two turntables, Deltron 3030 adds another one to the mix, with DJ Kid Koala working three turntables at once. And there’s backing from a 16-piece orchestra, conducted by renowned producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura.
That’s just a sample of Deltron 3030’s envelope-pushing lineup, which also includes bassist Juan Alderete of Mars Volta fame. The group performs Saturday at the Center for the Arts Main Stage Theater in Grass Valley, bringing a rare orchestral approach to hip-hop that’s as futuristic as it is funky.
“I feel like what we’ve done is beyond hip-hop,” said Del, in a phone interview, while on the road in the Northwest. “Once you get past a certain point, it’s not hip-hop anymore. Rock encompasses a lot of what we’re doing. It’s free enough to take it that far. We based Deltron off a rock opera.”
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Deltron 3030’s exploration of live symphonic sounds are still fairly rare in hip-hop. dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra has mined the common ground behind string instruments and turntables, and DJ Radar of Arizona debuted his “Concerto for Turntable” at Carnegie Hall. Nas also performed his “Illmatic” album backed by the National Symphony Orchestra in March.
Deltron 3030 arrives in Grass Valley just about a month following its previous Sacramento area performance. The group, albeit with San Francisco’s DJ Quest on the turntables instead of Kid Koala, was featured at West Sacramento’s TBD Fest in early October.
Deltron 3030’s set was easily one of the highlights at that festival, which celebrated progressive forms of rock, hip-hop and electronic musics among local foods and merchants. The fusion of zhigga-zhigga DJ scratching, expansive live instrumentation and Del’s nimble rhyme flow was a sound unlike any other that dusty and danceable weekend.
“Hip-hop is like the blues,” said Del. “Its structure and format is so basic that it can meld with other stuff and give it a new pulse. We’re all from hip-hop, but we have other talents as well.”
Deltron 3030’s activity has been fairly sporadic over the years. The group’s self-titled album debuted in 2000, with a sci-fi-style concept and detailed narrative that was pretty much unlike anything heard in the usual hip-hop or pop universe. Nakamura soon after would tap Del to record raps for the hit song “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz, a supergroup of sorts featuring Damon Albarn of Blur on vocals.
But it would take 13 years to release Deltron 3030’s sophomore effort. Its key members were plenty busy during that time. Del has a successful solo career along with being a noted member of Oakland’s Hieroglyphics hip-hop crew. Nakamura worked on a variety of production projects and collaborations, including his Handsome Boy Modeling School with hip-hop producer Prince Paul.
Deltron 3030’s long-awaited follow-up, “Event 2,” was released in September 2013. The album takes the narrative of its debut to an even spacier and more complex place, with Big Brother-esque themes of commercialization, political discord and technological overkill. To help unspool the storyline, “Event 2” features a litany of cameos, including bits from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, comedian David Cross and a soliloquy about “The Future of Food” from chef David Chang. (Here’s a taste: “Press a button and this machine like “The Jetsons” … and you can get any food you want … beluga caviar … the nicest T-bone steak, whatever.”)
“I felt like I had a responsibility to fans to really sink into it and get deeper in how it was presented,” said Del, about the epic gap between Deltron 3030’s albums. “Me and Koala were kind of throwing ideas around last night as to where to take this next, but it’s a tricky thing. Things are moving so fast, and information is hitting you like it’s an overload. We were talking about maybe it’s time to slow down and give people a chance to digest this.”
It likely won’t be another decade for the next Deltron 3030 album. Del says the group is already sketching out material, but those writing sessions will have to fit into his other solo activities, including a project with Ladybug Mecca, formerly of Digable Planets.
Meanwhile, space is still the place with Deltron 3030.
“We’re not thinking about a specific genre, or making a pop sensation or putting it in some box to sell hella records,” said Del. “We made what we thought was good music and hope people embrace it.”
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.
What: Concert opens with a DJ set by Kid Koala; a 16-piece orchestra will be part of the show
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Center for the Arts Main Stage Theater, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
Cost: $46, $36 for members of the Center for the Arts
Information: (530) 274-8384, ext. 14; thecenterforthearts.org