The Dereliks may say they’re from San Jose, but in truth they’re from a different planet.
It’s unclear which part of the galaxy they’re from, but their intergalactic travels can be traced through the immaculate production, beats and lyricism of Izado “MC Iz” Byrd and Henry “DJ Hen Boogie” Alexander.
The Dereliks made a home for themselves in music history with the release of 1995’s legendary A Turn On the Wheel Is Worth More Than a Record Deal. Late last year, the group compiled that album alongside 22 other tracks as the band’s definitive anthology, Broken Cyphers: The Anthology. This four-sided LP carves deep into wax what makes the South Bay emcees so special: quality.
Everything about the Dereliks speaks quality—from their smooth lyrical delivery, to their impeccable instrumental arrangements, to the pace of their rare live performances over the past three decades. During that time, they’ve often surprised each other, Iz or Hen stopping to ask, “What planet are you on?”
The duo originally met when Hen was working at the former Star Records on Capitol and McKee. One day in 1992 or ’93, a young Iz walked into the shop looking for records.
Iz, wordsmith and main lyricist for the Dereliks, remembers Hen as a savant with a knack for lyrics and melodies. As an employee of Star Records, Hen was constantly surrounded by every kind of music imaginable. Even against the greats, he considered Iz to be a special talent.
“It’s nice to be in a group with an MC that you consider top 5,” Hen says.
In their heyday, the duo would jog for miles to master their breath control. They would dig through endless crates of records looking for unique samples to lace into their beats and songs. They rolled with a high energy and stylish entourage and made a case that they were unlike any other performers in rap at the time.
In the early ’90s, the group landed an appearance on tastemaking radio program the Wake Up Show, hosted by hip hop duo Sway and Tech. At the time, the Wake Up Show blasted the latest and greatest hip hop hits from nearly any stereo with an FM transmission—something the Dereliks reflect on as a thing of the past. Though music is often now streamed, Iz stands by vinyl as the tried and true format for music lovers.
“It’s nothing like when you hear that needle hit the wax. It’s rich. It’s imperfect, it’s deep, it’s full. And there’s no fast forward. There’s no skip. There’s a method to that madness,” Iz says.
For the Dereliks, the method was collaboration. That’s what made their sound so special and original.
“It was just we connected. He produced, I rapped. He was kind of a big brother personality. I needed that in this game,” Iz says. “And the music spoke to both of us. I was feeling what he was doing. He was feeling what I was doing. We just gave it a shot.”
A Turn on the Wheel would prove to be an influential album in the underground. Copies now sell for up to $70 on Discogs.
“We definitely had a sense of what this music does and how it impacts people’s lives. You sort of had this responsibility, or felt that you had this responsibility, even if it wasn’t really there,” Iz says.
However, the road to underground hip hop status hasn’t been easy.
“We were struggling,” Iz admits. “You didn’t get support from your hometown from the beginning. You had to go and prove at first you were worth it. And San Jose, they don’t approve of just any old thing.”
By now, their minds have traveled distant solar systems searching for the perfect beat. Broken Cyphers: The Anthology compiles the best from their decades of music, including previously unreleased songs recorded in parts of the galaxy where most have never traveled, places where everything has rhythm, meaning and soul.
Now that it’s been 27 years since A Turn at the Wheel, a question remains: are the Dereliks still in search of the perfect beat?
“Still haven’t found it…at least I haven’t yet,” Hen says. “I’ll let you know when I do.”