Inside 'Gate 13': Del The Funky Homosapien & Amp Live Break Down Their Trippy Joint Album

David Wong
Del the Funky Homosapien and Amp Live

Seasoned artists like Del The Funky Homosapien and producer Amp Live know better than to get lost in hip-hop’s glow, glamour and glitz. In a world where today’s social media stars are speeding their way to the top, the Hieroglyphics founder and the Zion I producer are sonic scientists committed to preserving the sanctity of the art of conscious rap. At this point in their careers, the only way they can concoct records that will resonate in the culture is to venture to a place far beyond where any lyricist has gone before.

Enter Gate 13, an album sprawling with so many genres, unexpected sounds, and aggressive bars that it feels like a universe of its own — like hip-hop's version of Stranger Things' the Upside Down. After collaborating with Del on his Radiohead Raindays Remixes album in 2011, Amp knew he had to team up with him again for another project. But what started out as an EP quickly evolved into a top-notch album that flaunts the extent of their chemistry.  

“We both have unique tastes in music,” Amp says. “That's why we fit so well together. We can talk about all kinds of stuff. We can talk about punk, the real hood and grimy, and even jazz stuff. When you get two people together with eclectic tastes, you can come up with all kinds of stuff, which can either cause problems or make things go phenomenal.”

Their first-ever joint album is probably the opposite of what today’s average millennial rap fan expects. As Amp steers listeners through every clever sample and surprise transition, Del leads the way with the kind of flows and punchlines typically found in battle rap. “I watch battle rap all the time because it’s pretty much the only place that I can get that real street hip-hop feel,” Del says. “Everything else is pretty much diluted for the most part. But through that, I discovered that [a lot of battle rap] is basically comedy or humor writing, and 50 percent of it is wordplay.” 

After a vibrant introduction grabs our attention, Del jumps effortlessly from a hyphy EDM-based loop to an island-inspired melody in Gate 13’s lead single “Wheel Of Fortune” before continuing on through eerie interludes like “Fly Away” and “Funkrolla 3.0.” Although the genre of each instrumental switches up practically every minute, the Gorillaz collaborator overpowers every complex beat he comes across.

“It took a while to really feel like I found the sound that matched the potential of the vocals and the hook to what was going on,” Amp says.

“At first I was kind of mad,” Del replies. “I was like, 'Why did you get rid of the beat?' The rap came from that original beat. The beat was so crazy that I was like 'What the fuck? What's wrong?' But I was just being biased about what it was before and not being more open-minded. After I got over that, I had to step back and be like 'Nah, I see what you're doing."' 

Despite the melting pot of outlandish sounds, Del often comes across as completely in his element. Songs like “Sit Ya Ass Down” and “Gravy Train” allow him to deliver slick bars about fending off haters trying to ride his wave. On the standout “Far Beyond,” Del and Zyme glide over unique drum pattern and funky guitar loop as Goapele blesses the chorus with her angelic voice.  

“Goapele is the homie,” Amp says about the making of “Far Beyond.” “That's a good friend of mine. Of course, her and Del have history through Hiero, but it's really on some Bay Area type of vibes. After we did the production to it and got Zyme on it, the song sounded like it needed that gloss of a really good vocal. I wanted a Bay Area tone, and she's the queen of the Bay. So I hit her up. She heard it and immediately wrote to it.”

As the album nears its end, the songs only get more off-the-wall. Del vents some frustrations on a funky, dubstep-inspired cut “Get Some of Dis,” while closing track “Lateral Thinking” is an abnormal symphony of random synths, saxophone riffs, and trippy trap-like melodies. “I wanted to do things more raw and add the live musician elements because when we do shows and stuff, it would be tight to bring that to life on stage,” Amp says. “I never really seen Del in that type of setting.”

Soon he will: Del and Amp plan to take their eclectic odyssey to major cities across the nation this fall. In the meantime, Del will stay busy by performing songs off Gate 13 and the rest of his iconic catalog. He’s also preparing to reprise his role as “Russ” of the Gorillaz once again. “I’m not always able to do it, but for instance, they just asked me to come out for a minute coming up, and I agreed to go to that,” Del says. “I'm involved to a certain extent. I would like to work on some new shit with Damon [Albarn], though like a project that ain't Gorillaz.”

We’ll see if Del ever ends up pulling Albarn into the otherworldly universe of his new album. But until then, Gate 13 is here to make every stoner’s paradise much more enjoyable. Listen to it below: