Sidelined by sickness, a rapid rewriting session and the death of his younger brother last year, Del the Funky Homosapien says the on-again, off-again dark sequel to 2000's Deltron 3030 will finally see the light of day this fall.
Deltron 3030: Event II picks up a decade later in a more desperate and dystopian society, where "there's no government, criminals run the streets, people battle just to eat," Del tells Rolling Stone, on the phone from Oakland. "That's the world we're living in right now."
This much-anticipated soundtrack for the year 3040 – "bigger and more grandiose" than its predecessor, says Del – was delayed in part when the emcee came down with Legionnaires' disease while touring. The bacteria associated with the infection has been known to fester in air-conditioning units.
"I wasn't in the mindstate to write, that had a lot to do with it," admits Del, who returns in the sequel to the post-apocalyptic "rock opera" as protagonist Deltron Zero. "But I had been needling at it for years, know what I mean? I wanted to write and I wanted to have some kind of substance to it with the approach, as opposed to the first time, where I was freestyling. It was more like a hobby. I wasn't really thinking about it that much – I wasn't thinking it was going to turn into what it turned into."
Deltron 3030, which also featured producer Dan the Automator and turntablist Kid Koala, cracked the Billboard 200 at a time when more mainstream artists like Ja Rule, Nelly and Ludacris topped the charts. With its densely sampled backdrop of swelling orchestral crescendos, the pre-9/11 concept album foreshadowed an ominous era. It attained a cult following, fueled by Del's early Nineties singles and Dan's reputation with fellow underground acts Handsome Boy Modeling School and Kool Keith.
"I'm a huge, huge fan," says actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who flew from a film premiere in Korea to join Deltron 3030 for its performance at Rock the Bells in San Bernardino earlier this month. After befriending Dan the Automator during filming for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Winstead was invited to the producer's San Francisco studio in January to sing on a track called "Look Across the Sky."
"I never really expected it to end up on the album," she says. "It shows the kind of crossover appeal that it has, that it sparks something in me as someone who doesn't even really listen to that kind of music, necessarily."
Though Dan the Automator and Kid Koala finished their parts long ago, Del hit another snag earlier this year when he spent a frenzied week rewriting raps after his lyrics went missing from his computer. "I just sat there at Automator's house and started writing from scratch to every beat that he played," he said. "I see it as good, almost. Because I get to just write it over and do it better."
Dan the Automator says the sequel's "fairly long genesis" began in 2006. "Ultimately, I would have preferred to put it out sooner . . . But beyond that part of it, I've learned more things, I've worked with more bands, I've gotten more ideas. Basically, I think this record is a lot better than the last one."
Samples are nowhere to be found on Event II, which will feature original orchestral compositions on songs like "Do You Remember" and "Nobody Can." Kid Koala scratches bits of keyboard and guitar he recorded and pressed onto vinyl. "For Deltron recordings, I always get in the mindstate of what turntables would sound like in the Blade Runner era," he says. Del "is like the Orson Welles of rhyme."
The album, due "October-ish," says Dan the Automator, is "more of a commentary about where we're heading," with undertones of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the banking bailout and the economy.
As for a potential Deltron trilogy, Del warns fans not to wait for a third installment. The avid comic book collector said he would rather pursue scoring a digital comic, and he is in talks with a Pixar artist about multimedia opportunities.
"I want something that got music with it, but I also want dope artwork, too. Something you can follow," he says. "I try not to get too political."