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Looking Back on My Album ‘No Need for Alarm,’ 30 Years Later

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a record cover cycles in and out of the background where its original cover photo was shot, showing a pagoda and victorian houses
Released Nov. 23, 1993, Del the Funky Homosapien’s ‘No Need for Alarm’ is shown at the original location of its cover photo, in Chinese Garden Park at Alice and 7th Streets in Oakland. (Photos by Beth LaBerge/KQED; animation by Bryan Bindloss/KQED)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history, with new content dropping all throughout 2023.

Del the Funky Homosapien’s sophomore album No Need For Alarm is a Bay Area classic that proved his uncompromising skill and helped establish the Hieroglyphics collective nationally as a creative force. Here, from an interview condensed for length and clarity, Del, a.k.a. Teren Delvon Jones, recalls the circumstances of the album’s recording, artwork and reception.

As told to: Gabe Meline

When I was making No Need for Alarm, I was in a dark space. I had a lot of issues growing up. I don’t think I was aware of it then, but looking back, I was in an angsty space. I was dealing with issues of abuse, being different from everybody, pretty much being a loner except for people that was into the culture I was, which was not that many. I appreciated the camaraderie that I had, too, don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I had an attitude.

I had come out with my first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, which I made with Ice Cube — he’s my cousin. And the response from a lot of heads was not at all what I expected. It wasn’t celebratory. It was more like, “OK, you’re selling out. Why’re you rappin’ over P-Funk shit?” So, that caused me to be, like, “All right, I’m just going all in this time, just to show motherfuckers what I really be on.”

And I think that hurt Cube — I think he was like, “OK, well, damn, you didn’t like the first album?” I’m like, “Nah, nah, I like it, but, you know…” It was just that, from my little social network, I wasn’t getting the love that I thought I was going to get. It was the opposite. Because motherfuckers already done heard all my demos and shit. They knew how wild I could get.

A man in a baseball cap, sunglasses, nose ring and sweatshirt holds a microphone out to the crowd
Del the Funky Homosapien onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Feb. 22, 1992, the year before ‘No Need for Alarm.’ (Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

So that’s what I did for No Need for Alarm. I’m a battle rapper by nature. That’s what I really do. It was limited on the first album. And that was probably a wise decision, because a lot of people can’t understand that shit.

I was in transition. I was couch-surfing for a minute, living with different people, roommating. In ’93, I ended up living in New York mixing the album, doing whatever I needed to do for the album, so I had a little flat in New York that I was staying out of.

Before mixing in New York, though, we recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, with Matt Kelly. Matt Kelly is one of my mentors. He really showed me how to mix, he showed me how to be able to listen to the mix, how to work the equipment in the studio. When I had questions, he would answer my questions and really fuck with me. He took me under his wing and showed me a lot.

Some people write in the studio. We were more self-reliant — we had songs done before we even hit the studio. Nine times out of 10 when we hit the studio, we’re there to record the shit and get it done.

Our time outside the studio, though, that would be when we were smoking and drinking, making beats, selecting shit. Motherfuckers might bring records over, I’d be like, “Ooh, what’s this?” Be like, “Ooh, okay. We’ll use that real quick.” I might be at Opio’s house with A-Plus, Tajai might be there, we might be listening to records. His stepfather had a great collection of records, so we’d just be in his office, listening to records, getting ideas, maybe watching anime or something, playing video games.

a young man in a superman t-shirt smokes in a park
Del: ‘One of my favorite songs from around that time, ‘Pistol Whippers,’ it didn’t even make the album. I was proud of the production on that one. I just thought that beat was hella crazy.’ (Carl Posey / Elektra Records)

The album came out and Elektra Records loved it. I don’t know if Cube loved it, but Elektra was fully supportive. And Dante Ross was my dog over there — he’s part of the culture, so he felt it. I was with Sophia Chang too, she was A&R over at Jive Records, and got Souls of Mischief and Casual on the label there. She ended up leaving, but I still was good friends with her. So when I was in New York, I would never be at my little flat. A lot of the time I’d either be at Dante’s crib, or Sophia’s crib, or over at Kurious Jorge’s crib.

I appreciated their friendship and the encouragement, because like I said, I was in a dark place. I don’t even think I really believed in my shit like that, but Sophia and Dante really backed it, especially Sophia. I appreciated her taste because she fucked with Wu-Tang, she knew what was up. So it was big for her to be like, “Nah, this really is tight. Go forward.” Even when Cube was like, “Whatever, man, if you wanna do what you wanna to do, go ahead.”

I will say this, there’s some things I said about women on that album that I’m not too proud of. I was a kid, but no excuses. I said some shit about white people on there that I’m not too proud of. I don’t really feel like that. Like I said, I have my issues — and, I’m Black, growing up in that era, so it was different. I think people that heard it understood where I was coming from, too, because I wasn’t trying to be malicious, necessarily. I was just letting it spill out, whatever the fuck it was.

Oakland had crack going on and the high murder rate, which affected me, but I didn’t wanna rap about that shit. For me, hip-hop was like how it was for motherfuckers in the Bronx, like Ultramagnetic MCs. I done talked to Kool Keith, and he was like, “You might come home and see a hand in the mailbox, or your next-door neighbor might have a gorilla in this house.” Just wild shit. Because if you’ve got dope money, you might be trying to floss, maybe you might get a tiger.

But Ultramag, they’re trying to escape that shit. They’re like, “Man, why I wanna rap about gangster shit? I don’t wanna rap about that shit.” So, that’s how I was. It did affect me, but hip-hop gave me a vehicle to escape it.

a red pagoda in a park, with victorian houses in the background
The pagoda at Chinese Garden Park in Oakland, where the ‘No Need for Alarm’ cover photo was shot. Photographer Carl Posey recalls of the location: “The idea was to take people out of their typical element, and try something different.” (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The album cover was shot by Carl Posey. The pagoda, you know, I love all kind of different cultures, and that just spoke to me, the structure and how it looked. Maybe since I was into anime and shit, martial arts, that might’ve had a slight thing to do with it too. But I just like Chinatown too, you feel me?

We shot at the pagoda, then I picked this other spot that’s an underpass over by Lake Merritt, by the college. These are places that I liked to go to at night, because I was like, a street kid. I might not have had a place to go sometimes, so I’d just be out at night, tripping or whatever, in some of the places that I like to be at.

We did a comic book design for the cover. That was my idea. I was into Marvel and DC, but I was also heavy into underground comics. Vaughn Bodē, Mark Bodē, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all that shit was starting to come out and really bust the bubble. I did the lettering too. I’m a visual artist first and foremost, so I already had an artistic vision. Elektra was just gracious enough to let me go with it.

a man in a bucket hat sitting in a concrete culvert holds his hands out toward the camera
Del the Funky Homosapien in Oakland, in 1993, in a publicity photo for ‘No Need for Alarm.’ ‘I think, looking back, Cube feels like, ‘Okay, you really did your thing. You didn’t try to ride my coattails. You did your thing and you became successful for that.’ I think he respects that now.’ (Carl Posey / Elektra Records)

Man, I wish I still had that boombox I’m holding on the cover. I’d be playing all the classics on it. I was a huge Gang Starr fan. Ultramag, Erick Sermon, Jungle Brothers, De La, KMD, Brand Nubian. I also might be fucking with some dub, too, some King Tubby or Scratch Perry. I’d listen to dancehall too, and a bit of punk rock, like Black Flag.

I was 20 when I recorded No Need for Alarm. I’m 50 now. I don’t feel 50, because I don’t drive. I skate everywhere. In certain ways I feel my age because of some of the injuries I’ve had, like when I was with the Gorillaz, I had a real bad injury, fell off the stage, damn near killed myself. But I don’t feel like I look hella old, either.

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Hip-hop is 50 now, too, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s so far removed from where it was. The essence of it is so far removed from where kids is at now. I’m not saying that don’t nobody care about it, because a lot of kids do care about it, and they try to research the shit and figure it out. It speaks to them. But it’s been commercialized to the point where it’s been milked down by corporate society, motherfuckers feasting on shit, just wearing it into the ground. That’s the sad situation of it.

I’m not trying to sound hella dark or nothing, because I do got a lot of hope in the shit. There’s been new movements within hip-hop that took it somewhere else, that maybe a lot of old heads might not really fuck with. But I feel, overall, just the corporate rule, always, that’s what it is — “We trying to make money off this.” Ain’t really no concern about the culture or people.

As for No Need for Alarm, I’m just glad people still fuck with it, 30 years later. One love to all the supporters and all the fans. I love you all.

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