Seeing the spine of a CD with Dan the Automator’s name on it is somewhat akin to finding a copy of Hamlet credited to Francis Bacon or Macbeth with Christopher Marlowe’s name embossed in gold leaf on the leather cover. We’d all had suspicions about who was really behind things but never imagined someone so boldly taking credit for what was theirs.
After years of hiding behind aliases (and fake moustaches) with projects such as Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Deltron 3030, Gorillaz, and Lovage, one could be forgiven for thinking Dan the Automator had a pathological case of stage fright. As a result of this impressive body of work, though, he has become one of the more visible hip-hop DJ/producers, albeit more so with fans better versed in the Beastie Boys than DMX. With Wanna Buy a Monkey?, Dan Nakamura seems to be interested in either setting the record straight as to his role in creating some of the most innovative hip-hop of the past decade, or in simply putting together a good party record (many of whose songs he happened to have had a hand in). Either way it serves its purpose exceedingly well.
Of the disc’s 16 songs, Dan the Automator appears to have been directly involved in only six of them, quelling any fears that this is a purely ego driven affair. He’s not above including songs he is, presumably, simply a fan of in order to help create a (sometimes cerebral) party vibe. Leading of with the Melvins/Faith No More/Slayer/Mr. Bungle offspring Fantômas and segueing into Puff Daddy-protégé Black Rob, Dan has essentially set the tone for the remainder of the disc. While Nakamura has been influential in pushing the boundaries of hip-hop, as the genre has become less adventurous he has increasingly lent his skills to rock acts.
Lest you think that this spells another tired rock-rap hybrid, be assured that Nakamura’s tastes are far too discerning to let that happen. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien’s sci-fi Deltron 3030 side project gets mixed with a ghettoized version of Air’s retro lounge groove. Cartoon supergroup Gorillaz is paired with old skool torchbearers De La Soul. The second third of the album is dedicated to primarily guitar-oriented bands largely untouched by the Automator’s influence. Zero 7’s silky-smooth strings are juxtaposed with Tortoise’s fragmented riffs and Lovage’s sing-along chorus. The remainder of the disc is given over to sometimes indistinguishable hip hop. Standouts include De La Soul’s trademarked laid back style and the turntable pyrotechnics of X-ecutioners.
The lingering question after listening to the album is, inevitably, whom will it appeal to? There are, of course, rarities for hardcore fans—Gorillaz’ “Latin Simone (Original Version)” with vocals by Damon Albarn rather than Ibrahim Ferrer, Fantômas’ previously unreleased yet somewhat throwaway “Intro”, Dan the Automator’s remix of the early Air gem “Le Soleil Est Pres De Moi”. But how many people do you know that would be sincerely interested in both Bobby Digital’s hootchie “The Rhumba” as well as Tortoise’s highbrow “Seneca”? Then again, maybe that’s Dan the Automator’s whole point. In an age when moronic heavy metal crossed with moronic rap can be seen as innovative, maybe it’s high time someone raised the bar. It may be hard to keep up with him at times, but it’s a very rewarding ride.