Automatically Dope

A San Francisco producer best known for his work with Handsome Boy Modeling School and Kool Keith's Dr. Octagaon persona, the Automator (a.k.a. Dan Nakamura) is the brains and beats behind some of the most innovative and interesting hip-hop of the past decade. In 1996, he released an EP called A Better Tomorrow that was full of complex instrumentals and some wicked lyrical throw-downs supplied by one Sinister 6000 (Keith in an earlier incarnaton). A Much Better Tomorrow features these old tunes along with several unreleased gems.

Keith flexes his singular genius on six cuts, including "Cartoon Capers" (RealAudio excerpt), where he reflects on getting thugged-out with animated all-stars. "I'm with Charlie Brown and Wolverine/ Smoking weed/ We chillin' with Yogi the Bear/ Snoopy playin' poker/ Tonight we send out one X-Man to kill the Joker." Bubbling beats, humming organs and deep basslines back his absurdly engaging tales.

On "King of New York" (RealAudio excerpt), Keith gets into full pimp mode, breaking down bus-station mack fundamentals over a thoroughly funky track that combines wah-wah guitars, throbbing bass, heavy pianos and panning sirens.

But the true test of any producer is the strength of his or her instrumentals, and the Automator is always on point. "4:17" (RealAudio excerpt) incorporates thick, organic bass grooves with excellent breakbeats, breezy sax loops and smooth keys, while "Sleep" utilizes assorted string sounds and banging drums.

Excellent production dominates the album, further reinforcing the Automator's place among hip-hop's beat-making elite.