There’s a moment in the second track, “The Return,” of Deltron 3030: Event II, following the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-voiced intro “Stardate,” when high-pitched radio scanning noises give way to shotgun-blast boom-bap drums and a mountain of choral voices. Then Del the Funky Homosapien drops in, rapping about freeing the future from evil corporations for the first time in thirteen years, and for about five minutes you dare to believe that Event II might in fact recapture the magic of Deltron 3030. Then the rest of the album happens, and you lose that feeling.
That’s not to say that Event II, the long-awaited second album from hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030, is bad. The simple fact is that their 2000 self-titled concept album was lightning in a bottle. Here, Dan the Automator’s beats are simultaneously crisp and retro, Kid Koala’s texture-adding record scratching is on point, and Del’s bars are generally strong, though the expressive bounce in his voice has been flattened by over a decade of aging (the dude is 41!). But this time around, the whole thing doesn’t come together as brilliantly.
Part of the magnificence of Deltron 3030 was the madcap sci-fi universe that it imagined. In Event II we return to our heroes in the year 3040 (or 4010, depending on which song you’re listening to; as on the previous album, the storyline on Event II is loose) as they resume their struggle against the greedy oligarchy that controls the galaxy. Del, in character as the freedom fighter Deltron Zero (or Deltron Osiris—again, depending on the song) has flashes of brilliance in sketching this dark, goofy world, as in “The Return,” when he describes some trash-compacted bandits “literally minced between pieces of leftover Chef Boyardee / mixed with a couple of booty magazines,” or calls out “Mutants and random zombies / looking for crack nuggets, that’s disgusting,” from “Melding of the Minds.” (Seriously? Crackhead zombies? That’s amazing!) But too much of the album falls into a futuristic take on generic brag rap that, in Del’s overly verbose flow, doesn’t have the same charm as the cartoonish storytelling. There’s nothing as acrobatic as the debut’s “Battlesong” or mind-blowing as “Mastermind” here.
Fortunately, a lot of that humor and imagination in fleshing out the Deltron universe has moved to the skits, which are lengthier (and more celebrity-studded) than the last time around. On the two-part “Lawnchair Quarterback,” a couple voiced by Amber Tamblyn and David Cross bemoan the lack of etiquette displayed by the children of the future, over a meal of “hover sandwiches.” On “The Future of Food,” a chef played by David Chang describes weirdly mouth-watering advances in food technology. By far the best one, though, is “Back in the Day,” in which the members of The Lonely Island voice two oldsters rapping over a homeless robot’s beatboxing, referencing events like “the presidential dog-fucking scandal” and “the war with the tarantulers” (there’s also a great time-travel gag). It’s almost a shame to go back to Del’s occasionally tiresome rapping after each interlude.
Dan the Automator brings out a characteristically great stable of beats; particular highlights include the menacing stomp of “Pay the Price,” the swaggering, horn-tinted manifesto of “City Rising from the Ashes,” the aforementioned, epic “The Return,” and the moody closer, “Do You Remember,” which also features some of Del’s best rapping on the album. Aside from one particularly egregious hook, on “Nobody Can,” Event II is fun to listen to, even if you’re content to tune out Del’s sci-fi rap opera and just vibe to the instrumentals. It’s a good album.
And ultimately, that’s what dooms Deltron 3030: Event II. It’s merely good, and hip-hop fans have had over a decade to raise their expectations to impossible levels. It doesn’t reach the bar set by Deltron 3030. Rather than join that album on its perch on Classic Album Mountain, Event II is going to have to settle for being yet another strong release in an amazing year for hip-hop.
1. Stardate (feat. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
2. The Return
3. Pay the Price
4. Nobody Can (feat. Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION)
5. Lawnchair Quarterback Pt. 1 (feat. David Cross and Amber Tamblyn)
6. Melding of the Minds (feat. Zach De La Rocha)
7. The Agony (feat. Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
8. Back in the Day (feat. The Lonely Island)
9. Talent Supersedes (feat. Black Rob)
10. Look Across the Sky (feat. Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
11. The Future of Food (feat. David Chang)
12. My Only Love (feat. Emily Wells)
13. What Is This Loneliness (feat. Damon Albarn and Casual)
14. Lawnchair Quarterback Pt. 2 (feat. David Cross and Amber Tamblyn)
15. City Rising From the Ashes (feat. Mike Patton)
16. Do You Remember (feat. Jamie Cullum)