Dan The Automator Presents


posted September 22, 2006 12:00:00 AM CDT | 3 comments

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Few producers have proven so influential on their respective genre as Dan "The Automator" Nakamura has on the underground Hip Hop scene. As the co-creator of concept projects ranging from Dr. Octagon (with Kool Keith) to Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul) and the mastermind of the genre-bending Lovage (which paired him with alt-rock icons such as Faith No More's Mike Patton), the Bay Area turntablist has shown an ability to make good artists sound great, and to make great artists sound even better. So in some ways it makes sense that video game developer 2K would hire Nakamura to produce the soundtrack to their latest hoops title.

Of course, making sense and making dollars are two very different things, and Nakamura's previous projects weren't exactly known for their commercial sales figures. Perhaps that explains why he's paired, seemingly incongruously, with several street-friendly emcees here, including Slim Thug (on the weak "I Love This Game," which is the lyrical equivalent of the Washington Generals trying to hold down the Heat), Fabolous (on "Ball Til You Fall," which finds him slam-dunking the verses only to throw bricks on the half-assed chorus) and E-40 (who proves an unstoppable lumbering giant like Shaq on "Baller Blockin'," with San Quinn). Nakamura uses samples of sneaker squeaks, feet pounding on hardwood floors and shot clock buzzers to drive the musical theme home and, if not exactly inventive, the tracks at least tend to enhance their respective emcee's styles.

But The Automator fares far better when paired with icons from the backpacker scene with which he is most closely associated. The nimble linguistic skills displayed by the Hieroglyphics clique on "Don't Hate the Player" are the lyrical equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters show, full of "how'd-he-do-that?!" flash that makes it a welcome return for fans of Bay Area Hip Hop, while Aceyalone and Rakaa of Dilated Peoples make for a fine 2-on-2 combo with the aptly-titled "Champions." Lupe Fiasco and Evidence of Dilated Peoples prove equally formidable lyrical opponents on "Catch Me," while Mos Def continues to prove a perennial human highlight reel with the infectious "Here Comes the Champ."

From Rhymefest (the slammin' "Bang the Ball") and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5 (the fairly pedestrian "Anchor Man") to A Tribe Called Quest ("Lyrics to Go Remix"), the album has some of the biggest names in commercial and alternative Hip Hop behind it - which  makes it all the more disappointing that this All-Star effort seems so lackluster, as if many of the players involved were simply there to collect a paycheck. Still, the ridiculously obvious lyrical and musical metaphors won't likely matter much when the music is serving its primary purpose--playing in the background as you school your opponents on the virtual court.

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