Dan the Automator
Wanna Buy a Monkey?
Dan the Automator is the most open-minded producer in the closed-minded style (these days, anyway) of hip-hop. Born Dan Nakamura and a.k.a. Nathaniel Merriweather, he practically invented the genre of alternative hip-hop by producing eccentric, diverse records from Dr. Octagon (a.k.a. Kool Keith), Gorillaz and Del tha Funkee Homosapien (as Deltron 3030). Producer/artists like Dan rarely parlay a good rsum into a tolerable mix record; they usually opt to stock their set with recognizable hits until it sounds like any afternoon hour on Power 106. But Wanna Buy a Monkey? is better than that, popping the cork with Dan's take on Brand Nubian's "Rockin' It," a nugget from rap's early '90s golden age. After a funky, pre-Bad Boy Records Black Rob track, things get abruptly modern—Del's space-cadet rap rambling can't sit in the same interstellar lounge chair as Air's "Le Soleil Est Pres De Moi," and with them crammed next to each other, it feels like someone has changed gears without stepping on the clutch. But that galactic guffaw aside, the Automator still packs a variety of styles into a sublime and ambitious mix. Wanna Buy a Monkey? is less the traditional mix-tape stew than 15-course meal, with a waiter bringing out each new entre as you're chewing the last bite of the previous one. Dan may be the only man who would even attempt a transition from Tortoise's tight jazz-lounge to Wu-Tang mastermind RZA's alter ego, Bobby Digital, by way of the Doves and Dan's own silly/swanky project Lovage. This is what guys with turntables and a room full of crappy records wish they could pull off. It probably won't sit well with hip-hop purists, but if you think Funkmaster Flex's popular mix tapes are about as exciting as dry white toast, then these beats are for you. (Michael Coyle)
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Los de Abajo
Cybertropic Chilango Power
Luaka Bop's latest grooving discovery, Mexico City-based Los de Abajo (Those From Below), have put out an ode of love to their hometown with Cybertropic Chilango Power. With beats as smoking as Mexico City's choking atmosphere, this eight-member collective adds a bevy of tropical rhythms to the punk foundation of their 1999 self-titled debut while keeping the same provocative lyrics. The combination is addictive. Cybertropic Chilango Power can be appreciated on many levels: as a contemptuous critique of Mexican politics and society, as a 40-minute musical smorgasbord of the ethos that makes Mexico City one of the world's greatest—and most horrible—cities, or just as ass-shaking craziness. Such an eclectic mix of meanings makes for interesting combinations, such as the hyperfast banda beat that segues into an even more revved-up merengue rhythm on "Anda Levanta" ("Go On, Rise Up") or the cheerful cumbia/mariachi combo on "El Loco" that belies the song's sinister lyrics. Nevertheless, Los de Abajo prove they can also play it straight with the heartbreakingly beautiful huapango "Vuelvo a Comenzar" ("I'll Start Again"), which correctly employs the intricate song structure of the Mexican coast's dying musical tradition of singing of resistance. Interspersed throughout the album are noises that capture the milieu of their city—ambulances, street vendors, even a street homage to Huitzilopochtli (the Aztec god of war). I never thought Mexico City could be rendered gorgeous, but this album manages it. (Gustavo Arellano)