So we were all excited about the (endlessly) upcoming new Deltron 3030 album, right? Well, if Dan the Automator Presents 2K7 is anything to go by, those expectations should be toned down a little. This hurried-sounding collection is the soundtrack to the popular NBA video game, 2K7, and follow-up to the extremely successful soundtrack to last year’s 2K6. These old-school flavoured tracks may be fine as the background to a basketball game; but they don’t stand on their own, and a slew of impressive guests can’t save the tired, flat beats from mediocrity.
So what’s happened? This veteran of the hip-hop scene seems to have been largely passed over in recent years for more fashionable producers like the Neptunes and Timbaland. Even in underground circles, Kool Keith opted against the producer for his Return of Dr. Octagon album of this year, after disputes during the recording of the first Dr. Octagon project. Is Dan the Automator losing touch? Not if you judge an album by its guest list. Nakamura pulls in a host of top-level hip-hop stars, from Ghostface to Charli 2na of Jurassic 5. So, the producer’s still got some pull, at least. The trouble is, beneath it all, Nakamura’s beats sound tired, and turned-down; the old-school flavour (beats a little slower, more space around the vocals, which are also turned up louder than you expect) should give the MCs latitude to effectively showcase their skills. Trouble is, on the whole, these big name rappers sound like they’re reaching for a relevant couplet; basketball and rap may be easy bedfellows, but rapping about basketball doesn’t seem quite as easy. In a sense, assigning this one subject is a test of chops: unfortunately, only Lupe Fiasco and (to a much lesser extent) Fabolous come close to succeeding. Lupe’s is the best track on the CD, exploding after an extended intro into an easy funk with a more up-to-the-minute vibe; and the Chicago MC spits a relaxed but compelling flow. Fabolous (somewhat surprisingly, given his spotty recent track-record) sports a post-Kanye rapping style, and though boasts like, “They want me to dunk on them / Just to get them some attention”, are a bit cringe-worthy, a fuller background of wonky strings provides an effective backdrop.
The rest of the contributions seem somewhat misplaced. Ghostface, self-aware as the “East Coast all-star on MP3s”, is unfortunately censored by the constraints of the soundtrack nature of the album to a relatively inane verse; Aceyalone’s slightly jocky delivery is a little too aggressive for descriptions of basketball (just a game); and Rhymefest’s exasperated, put-upon flow doesn’t match the chugging, heavier production on “Bang the Ball”.
In all, 2K7 is more than a little worrying: it makes us doubt Dan the Automator still has what it takes to produce a hip-hop compilation that is at all compelling. The producer may be best when he’s working with just one artist, when the concepts can be sketched out album-length; but to an extent the Dan the Automator-ification of this diverse group of rappers was one of the objectives of this album. Since the result is a reduction of their individual qualities to a flat, only sporadically interesting collection, I’m not holding my breath.