With Jay-Z turning 40, many have speculated about how hip-hop — and rappers themselves — will age. Parallel Uni-Verses, the collaboration between Del the Funky Homosapien and Tame One (of the Weathermen), demonstrates how underground rappers can age outside of the limelight, offering a study of how age affects credibility, not celebrity. Instead of clinging to their youth, these two strut their age and experience. In doing so, they send a message about their music and themselves: We’re not old, we’re classic.
According to Tame, the project grew out of a need to “showcase how things used to be done, without the politics of the day, greed and egos corrupting the hip-hop art form.” And so age and experience become the dominant themes. The artists address that most overtly in the nostalgic “Flashback” and in “We Taking Over,” which largely consists of Tame One and Del listing trends and emcees from their younger days. Reinforcing it all are Parallel Thought’s classic funk-influenced backtracks, complete with gliding funk bass lines, sax and jazz guitars.
At times the theme adds gravitas to the rhymes (“The late ’70s I’m reading books by Malcolm X/ Yeah, his speeches took a hold of my brain stem”); at other times the theme stoops to a “kids these days” rant (“These days, with so-called DJs that can’t cut shit/ It might as well be Hammer ‘Can’t Touch This’”). It’s not idle complaining, though; Del’s and Tame’s skills buttress their claims of dominance over the new regime. Accordingly, what could come off as an old man’s sour grapes translates instead as a sophisticate’s fine wine.
Whether literary or curmudgeonly, the seasoned artists always display expertise with interesting wordplay and varied rhyme schemes, as on “Gaining Ground,” in which Del spits, “I got my own procedure/ A set of rules used for my interpretation of settling the elements/ Get to wailing like a theremin on the arrogant.” The sound isn’t youthful, nor does it try to be. To Del, the quintessential alternative hip-hop artist, and Tame, underground hip-hop mainstay, the panacea to the apparent predicament of age is craftsmanship.