AUTOMatic – Transistor
House of Mutants: 2010
Milwaukee isn’t necessarily known as a hip-hop hotbed to the rest of North America – aside from Brandon Jennings’ throwback hairstyles and his double-nickel against the Warriors. But after listening to AUTOMatic’s Transistor, perhaps it should be regarded in the same light as its NBA franchise: up and coming.
AUTOMatic is made up of emcee A.P.R.I.M.E. and producer Trellmatic – and they are both veterans of the game. As members of the Milwaukee collective House of Mutants, both have appeared on wax (as part of House of M’s The Alternate Reality Of… and on their own debut Audiology) and their veteran status definitely shapes the album. And so does their obvious love of hip-hop music – particularly that of the Golden Era.
The album begins with the familiar sound of scanning the radio frequencies and with the introduction of WHOM (Mutant Radio). The station makes numerous appearances throughout the album at the end of tracks and is eerily reminiscent of Little Brother’s WJLR station from The Listening (yes that was intended foreshadowing).
Right from the start, A.P.R.I.M.E. spits lyrics that recall the good ole days of rap. In fact, he emcee admits that he wants to “rekindle the flow from back in the day.” And with outstanding sample-driven production from Trellmatic that combines both jazzy elements and straight boom-bap, it’s a combination that is successful – although a bit underwhelming.
With “Higher,” however, AUTOMatic hits their stride. The track’s opening conjures up memories of The Digable Planets and A.P.R.I.M.E.’s first verse features a number of Tribe Called Quest references. Trellmatic’s track offers the best of the Golden Era sound and A.P.R.I.M.E. turns to some more Native Tongue Legends in verse two: De La Soul. The track ends with an interpolation of the sample from “Stakes is High” and Transistor is officially off to the races.
A.P.R.I.M.E. is joined by fellow House of Mutants member Raze on “Hands of Fate” and the results are fantastic. Both emcees deliver verses that describe their love of the music; A.P.R.I.M.E. even suggests that he “exists on this earth to rip every verse.” And he lives up to that claim. CT provides vocals on the back in the day love story “The Teenage Love.” While the song concept is nothing new, Trellmatic’s production, featuring a sped up vocal sample, simply can’t be denied.
Not wanting to be pigeon-holed in terms of production style, Trellmatic offers up some serious boom-bap, and scratched chorus (courtesy of the one and only Greg N-I-C-E), on “The Nice”. His partner in rhyme doesn’t disappoint on the lyrical tip and even starts things off on the throwback tip (Tick Tock you don’t stop).
Milwaukee is well represented on the album. Fellow Mutant Gambit joins in the festivities on “The Gauntlet” and the chemistry between the two emcees is evident as they pass the mic back and forth during the track. The Rusty P’s add their unique style to “The Elevation”.
But, at the end of the day, it’s A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic who are the stars. The album’s closing cut (not including the WHOutro and two bonus cuts), an uptempo track entitled “Party Jam,” showcases AUTOMatic in a nutshell. A James Brown impersonator opens the track and continues to adlib while A.P.R.I.M.E. kicks a 2010 verse about doing old-school dances and rocking the crowd; his second verse is done in a cadence and style reminiscent of the pre-Golden Era of rap. Neither verse sounds out of place over Trellmatic’s production.
With Transistor, AUTOMatic should be included in any modern Native Tongues hip-hop discussion. From their WHOM skits to their references to hip-hop’s Golden Era, the album is reminiscent of Little Brother’s debut disc (the last heirs apparent to the Native Tongue throne). And that is a good thing. A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic clearly accept the challenge of keeping the spirit of a musical movement alive. The listeners are the beneficiaries.