With an album like Deltron 3030, I realize it is best that I state my biases up front. So here goes, I’m crazy about everything the Automator (Dan Nakamura) touches. His A Much Better Tomorrow was the best hip-hop album of 2000, his production on Dr. Octagon’s (Kool Keith) Dr. Octagonecologist masterful, his remix of Primal Scream nasty, his Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul) the collaboration to emulate. So, it is with those lofty standards that I approach Deltron 3030, Nakamura’s futuristic concept album staffed by Del tha Funkee Homosapien (aka Deltron Zero) on the mic and Kid Koala (aka Skiznod the Boy Wonder) on decks with Blur’s Damon Albarn (aka Sire Damien Thorn VII of the Cockfrosters Clan), Prince Paul, Paul Barman and Sean Lennon adding adornments. With that celebrity cast and my almost certainly unachievable high standards for Nakamura, I had expected to be disappointed by Deltron 3030, and I suppose I am somewhat, but just ever so slightly—this is an essential record.
From Albarn’s freakishly prim and proper introduction, we know that this will be true spectacle. “3030” pulls out all the stops, showing Nakamura’s ability to rise even above his old colleague, fellow Californian, DJ Shadow. Nakamura fires a multi-dimensional wave of beats, as the track, an orchestral championship boxer bobs and weaves for over seven minutes of Ali-like glory. While Nakamura’s soundscape would be impressive enough on its own, Del adds a smooth, sci-fi vocal which provides a stinging social commentary on American inequality through the guise of a societal critique 1029 years from now. The social commentary is retained throughout and though it takes a few listens to set in (Nakamura’s aural workings are sometimes so good they prove too distracting from the lyrical content.), it is effectively delivered by Delor whoever rises to the microphoneand well punctuated by Nakamura’s sturdy beats. “Things You Can Do” stays well within the framework where the intellectual meets hip-hop ear candy with neither side dominating the otherDel’s vocal cannily knocking technology and the threat of nuclear war while his word-bending and off-the-cuff rhymes are otherworldly.
“Positive Conflict” shows another side of Nakamura’s musical mastery, as he taps into his knowledge of rock (indeed, in addition to his work with Cornershop as well as Primal Scream and Albarn, Nakamura names Radiohead, Blur and Placebo among his favorite acts). Brandon Arnovick adds rangy, Fall-influenced guitar as Kid Koala’s breaks and bumps jostle in and out. Albarn’s simple backing vocal behind Del’s hyperactive rhymes on “Time Keeps on Slipping” is both subtle and classythe key to Deltron 3030’s success is that none of the parts (read big names) ever overwhelms the system which thrives on their interdependence. Similarly, Sean Lennon gives a well-timed performance in a clearly Yoko-influenced feminine counterpoint to Del’s more macho wrath unleashed about crack, racism, social justice over kaleidoscopic hip-hop designs.
While I enjoy this record more with each listen, my disappointment, however mild, largely stems from some of the filler pieces which cause Deltron 3030 to lose some of its impact while gaining little in transitory strength. Most problematic is the (thankfully very short) Paul Barman track “Meet Cleofis Randolph the Patriarch”, which like most of his work, descends into utter silliness, distracting from the compelling concept piece that Nakamura, Del and Koala have otherwise expressed so artfully.