Thirteen years after the fact, Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, Teren “Del tha Funkee Homosapien” Jones, and Eric “DJ Kid Koala” San finally managed to release the sequel to their 2000 magnum opus, the sci-fi opera Deltron 3030, after many false starts and empty promises. The landscape is much different than it was back in 2000: if you'll recall, Bill Clinton was still the President, and boy, were we going to be surprised at what happened next. And also, nobody was really clamoring for a sequel to Deltron 3030 as much as they just wanted to hear new music from the trio: the storyline from the original had a satisfying-enough conclusion that didn't really leave the door open for a continuation (to me, anyway). So was it worth waiting thirteen years for an album that you didn't realize you were even waiting for since you didn't honestly believe it was going to happen in the first place?
Event II was quickly becoming The Automator's Detox or Chinese Democracy: a long-gestating secret project that had been rumored and promised so goddamn often that it had become a running joke in pop culture circles (at least circles that even knew what Deltron 3030 was in the first place: it's not like the album went platinum or anything). Dan was no stranger to sequels: he had recorded and released a follow up to his Handsome Boy Modeling School side project (alongside producer Prince Paul), White People, in 2004, so he was fully aware of the unreasonably high expectations of his fanbase. And also, Prince Paul broke up the band after the release of White People for unknown reasons (I've heard money was a factor), so perhaps The Automator was simply afraid of cutting ties with Del and Kid Koala the way he had nearly everyone else throughout his career.
Principal photography allegedly began on Event II way back in 2004, two years before The Automator released his last (until now, obviously) actual hip hop project, the soundtrack to the 2K7 series of sports games. Although various news reports and rumor mills place Kid Koala and Del in the studio working on this very album at different times throughout the last nine years, Dan apparently decided to tackle a larger challenge, all but abandoning our chosen genre and providing his talents to different musical genres. Maybe he did this to regroup: perhaps he was sick to death of rap music and the direction it was taking. My guess? A combination of not being able to secure proper funding for his work (his label, 75 Ark, folded shortly after inception) and/or not being able to convince anyone to work with him, thanks to his laundry list of apparent burned bridges (Kool Keith, Kutmasta Kurt, and Prince Paul, just to name a few).
Event II finds all three participants in an interesting position. Del, the only member of the trio to have consistently worked since Deltron 3030, needed to convince his fans that the lengthy delay between chapters only strengthened his writing and informed his world view, while Kid Koala just needed to have something new to put on his resume. Nakamura, however, needs to prove that he still holds a firm place within our chosen genre, and Event II is a stab at continued longevity in a career that already has amassed several bona-fide classic, critically-acclaimed records (Deltron 3030, Dr. Octagon's Dr. Octagonecologyst, the first Handsome Boy Modeling School album, the first Gorillaz album, that Lovage thing I wrote about a few months ago, and there are others).
As if fully aware that this might be one of his last shots at hip hop glory (remember that solo album he was allegedly recording that never saw the light of day? If not, here's a link to an MTV News article about it), Nakamura took to the promotional trail: after (finally) confirming that the project existed, he hit the road touring the album (with a full orchestra at least some of the time) and even had a hand in releasing his own beer, Dogfish Head Brewery's Positive Contact, named after a track from the previous volume. (I don't happen to live in an area where Positive Contact has been shipped to, so if any of you two have tried it, let me know if it's worth the effort.)
Early word on Event II was overwhelmingly positive, with the Pitchforks and hipsters of the world singing its praises while the rest of the world looked on with a collective shrug. This will never be a bestseller, nor does The Automator want it to be. In his eyes, this is as pure a rap album that could be made about a future post-apocalyptic savior named Deltron Zero: his lengthy hiatus even ensured that he wouldn't necessarily be influenced by what hip hop sounds like today. He has been, however, bitten by the Twitter bug, retweeting anyone with a pulse that claims to love the shit out of the record and/or the live shows, but that's to be expected from someone who is trying to drum up word-of-mouth interest in a niche product such as Event II. And I just realized that I'm possibly adding to that word-of-mouth merely by writing about it. Oh well.
I, for one, hope that the actual music on Event II lives up to the atmospheric dread he mastered on the first volume. Deltron 3030 was rendered much more effective by The Automator's attempt at creating a post-apocalyptic universe dominated by corporations: you felt like you were on Deltron Zero's side as he battled his enemies using his words. I end this paragraph by reminding you two that I still like Dr. Octagonecologyst more than Deltron 3030, but that may just be due to the fact that I heard the Dr. Octagon album first, and also Kool Keith is pretty fucking nuts. (The fact that the deluxe edition of Event II appears to come with all of the instrumentals is a good sign that the trip at least think the music is worth listening to by itself.)
Keen eyes will note that I spent nearly this entire introduction talking about The Automator specifically and not so much about the other two members of Deltron 3030. This is because Event II is definitely Dan's album, what with its overly-eclectic guest list that reads as though the participants were hand-selected from a velvet-lined top hat, one that just so happens to feature Del rapping on nearly every track. You'll notice that only one of the guest stars on Event II has any sort of tie to Del in a professional sense: everyone else is a friend of Nakamura's. This will either make or break the project, but either way, it should at least be interesting to listen to.
1. STARDATE (FEAT. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT)
The Automator trades in Damon Albarn's creepy-as-fuck narration from the first installment in favor or this not-quite-as-creepy-but=cold-as-ice prologue from his new BFF, Looper's Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I'm not even going to make a joke here: I think Beethoven's Joseph Gordon-Levittt is an awesome actor, and the presence of 10 Things I Hate About You's Joseph Gordon-Levitt lends instant gravitas to the project, even though what Angels In The Outfield's Joseph Gordon-Levitt's been told to recite acts as a bullshit way to override how the first album ended, all in favor of continuing a story that was already over. But that's hardly 3rd Rock From The Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fault.
2. THE RETURN
“3030” was the mission statement for Deltron 3030, the first actual song on the album and an explanation of what was about to come. “The Return” serves the same purpose for Event II, except that Del assumes that the audience already knows what his character about (and he's correct: absolutely nobody will pick up Event II before listening to Deltron 3030 first). The Automator's beat isn't as hard-hitting as “3030”, but it meanders down more dramatic lanes and ultimately succeeds as a reintroduction, thanks to its more expansive sound. Del's bars are as obtuse as ever, furthering the saga while keeping himself floating right above the listener's head. This one will probably grow on you.
3. PAY THE PRICE
Nakamura's beat is much more fast-paced than most fans will be used to: in fact, it seems to even trip up Del at the beginning, as his opening bars are so ridiculous and simple that you'll forget that this is supposed to be a concept album. He recovers quickly, though, spitting bars about the root of all evil while DJ Kid Koala scratches in different sound bites and Dan keeps the speed as upbeat as possible. This was enjoyable enough to override Del's lyrical missteps.
4. NOBODY CAN (FEAT. AARON BRUNO)
One thing listeners will obviously notice is how much The Automator's production work has evolved since the last time he lent a beat to a rapper: his time away from the genre has allowed him to learn a few new tricks. (There's no way Dr. Octagonecologyst could have ever sounded like this.) “Nobody Can” is a rock-tinged effort that features a revolution-minded Del and Awolnation's Aaron Bruno chanting on the hook, building up the Deltron Zero legend. Rhyme-wise, we're in the same territory as was explored on the first installment, but at least our host seems to have more support in his corner now.
5. LAWNCHAIR QUARTERBACK PART ONE (FEAT. DAVID CROSS & AMBER TAMBLYN)
The first album had some absurd interludes, too, but this skit seems more like Tha Automator calling in a favor from his famous friend and his wife: why the fuck else would Mr. Show and Arrested Development's David Cross and his better half Amber Tamblyn appear on a goddamn rap album? Shit, if I knew these two and was readying my debut, I'd call them in to record something for me, too. Sadly, this skit isn't even as funny as one would expect when you read that David Cross is a part of it. Maybe he recorded this while shooting one of those Alvin & The Chipmunks movies or something.
6. MELDING OF THE MINDS (FEAT. ZACK DE LA ROCHA)
Have you ever listened to a rap song where the hook seems to be piped in from an alternate reality? That's kind-of what happens on “Melding Of The Minds”, as Dan has somehow resurrected motherfucking Zack De La Rocha, late of Rage Against The Machine, to spit some socio-political gibberish on a chorus that doesn't not clash with what Del is trying to say. The Automator's instrumental is merely alright, but at least Del sounds pretty good over it, relatively speaking. The fuck is with that guest spot, though? Did you guys really think that was the best use of a dude who has essentially vanished from the music industry? What, was El-P not available? And why Zack De La Rocha specifically? Hipsters were already looking forward to Event II: you didn't have to hog all of the dessert.
7. THE AGONY (FEAT. MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD)
“The Agony” was originally leaked by, of all people, DJ Muggs on a mixtape promoting the Rock The Bells concert festivals in 2012. When I first heard it, I thought the beat was alright, but not Nakamura-esque: while I liked the scratching, the song as a whole was a bit underwhelming. In short, this sounded like a rap song, but not an especially forward-thinking one. The music works much better within the context of the album, providing the listener with a forceful, militant-yet-retro reprieve from Del's Project Mayhem-esque views.
8. BACK IN THE DAY (FEAT. THE LONELY ISLAND)
Deltron 3030 featured a quickie verse from MC Paul Barman, but Event II triples down on its investment in goofy white rappers, snagging the comedy rap trio The Lonely Island to spit on this glorified interlude. While it is admittedly interesting to draw a connection between Andy Samberg and Dan Nakamura, ultimately this interlude went nowhere. Some of the homeless robot's line readings were kind of funny, though.
9. TALENT SUPERCEDES (FEAT. BLACK ROB)
Features another useless rapper cameo in the form of Black Rob, who only spits on the hook. This was supposed to be a bigger deal, at least for me, as Black Robert actually recorded an album's worth of material with The Automator before he ever signed with Bad Boy Records, but his contribution to “Talent Supercedes” was pretty much lifted from one of those unreleased tracks (I'm assuming): there's no way Robbie was flown in to say two goddamn sentences. Dan really should just release the actual album: hell, I'd be first in line to pick up a copy. Oh, the song? It's okay, but not great, or even that memorable.
10. LOOK ACROSS THE SKY (FEAT. MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD)
Actress-slash-singer Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Automator's partner in the group Got A Girl (best known in my household for her work in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof and Edgar Wright's severely overrated (sorry, but it's true) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), allegedly made an appearance on “The Agony”, but her vocals were so distorted that they could have easily been passed off as a sample. The same thing happens on here: Dan runs her through so many filters that it sounds like a message from the afterlife is being used as the chorus. Del sounds okay, comfortable as he is over most beats, but said beat is fairly simple and undeserving of all of his attention. At this point, you've all probably read the subtext and figured out that the beats on Deltron 3030 are better, and you would be correct. But people are allowed to change.
11. THE FUTURE OF FOOD (FEAT. DAVID CHANG)
The Automator continues calling in favors, convincing his friend, famed chef David Chang, to talk about how food is consumed in the future. I like the guy: his show, The Mind Of A Chef, is available on Netflix Instant and is enjoyable as fuck. Hell, The Automator even makes a cameo appearance on his show (as does comedian Aziz Ansari on an entirely unrelated episode), so I'm sure there was some sort of karmic payback at work here. Doesn't add much to the experience, but whatever: how many rap albums feature a cameo from an actual chef? (Action Bronson projects don't count, although if he were to work with Nakamura, there could be some interesting goings-on there.)
12. WHAT IS THIS LONELINESS (FEAT. DAMON ALBARN & CASUAL)
Although I praised “The Return” for its production work ultimately expanding the Deltron world, the rest of The Automator's beats haven't quite recaptured that magic (at least when compared to what we all know he's capable of doing). “What Is This Loneliness” is different: it lives up to that initial promise. Nakamura and Damon Albarn (of Blur and other shit) team up for the first time since that first Gorillaz project (I think Dan may have recently produced a song for an Albarn side project, but I'm not his understudy, so I can't confirm this), and even though Albarn's hook makes no goddamn sense in the context of the song, it's still nice to hear. Del even opens up the album to one of the folks in his own address book, fellow Hieroglyphics crew member Casual, who doesn't contribute much but complements our host well. This wasn't bad.
13. MY ONLY LOVE (FEAT. EMILY WELLS)
Nakamura recruits yet another of his musical partners, this time Emily Wells (who could probably play Lena Dunham at parties) of his group Pillowfight, to contribute the hook on “My Only Love”, which is, yet again, more upbeat than one would expect. The music swoops and entertains in nearly every way that Wells does not: milk was a bad choice, is all I'm saying. Del is as game as ever, but the guest appearance is distracting and causes the listener to lose their focus on the lyrics, which, admittedly, don't hit quite as hard as they used to. It is what it is.
14. LAWNCHAIR QUARTERBACK PART TWO (FEAT. DAVID CROSS & AMBER TAMBLYN)
Please refer to my comments from the first part of this interlude.
15. CITY RISING FROM THE ASHES (FEAT. MIKE PATTON)
The first single trades in sci-fi operatic tendencies for an old-school feel melded with the catchiness of the mid-1990s. Musically, The Automator manages to make “City Rising From The Ashes” entertaining and celebratory, as anything with that title probably should. Del delivers his bars with energy that is lacking from the rest of the album, and Faith No More's Mike Patton, who is a part of yet another of The Automator's side projects, Lovage (as well as his partner in the rock band Crudo), provides background vocals for Deltron Osirus's verses and Kid Koala's masterful scratching. Lyrically, Del dives into a recap of what the Detlron storyline is, which was great when this appeared as the first track from the City Rises From The Ashes EP that these folks unleashed a while back, but makes little sense now, since the track has been repurposed as the penultimate song, but whatever. Of you heard this back when the EP dropped, then the sonic direction of Event II probably didn't surprise you in the least bit. (Side note: Where the hell is Jennifer Charles? Is she no longer a part of Lovage? Did she have a falling-out with Nakamura in much the same way as Prince Paul, who also appeared on Deltron 3030 and is nowhere to be found on here? If so, that's a damn shame.)
16. DO YOU REMEMBER (FEAT. JAMIE CULLUM)
Dan calls in British pianist/vocalist Jamie Cullum, who lends a sense of melancholy to this, the end of Event II. Appropriately, The Automator's musical backing sounds fitting for a conclusion, and Del follows suit with his performance, which brings the tale to an close while smartly not ruling out future installments. And with that, this exhausting musical journey is over. Again.
According to the Interweb, there's an import version of Event II that features two additional bonus tracks, but I haven't heard them, so I can't comment.
THE LAST WORD: As far as I'm concerned, The Automator can certainly do whatever the fuck he wants: his past work is essentially a lifetime pass. But the guest list on Event II, and the lack of interaction between most of said guests and Del, proves that this project is less a Deltron 3030 album and more of an Automator get-together, which begs the question: why even refer to this as a sequel? Why even call it The Marshall Mathers LP 2? (Oops, getting ahead of myself.) Why not just release a compilation album with a bunch of people that you like to work with, Dan? Here's why: Event II may suffer from a lack in focus as a whole (those interludes seem to come out of left field), but Del tha Funkee Homosapien easily inhabits the Deltron Zero character once again (which can't be that difficult, since the dude is practically named after him), delivering (mostly) concise bars over Automator production that is richer and more fully-formed than what I was hoping for, but fuck it, everyone has to evolve at some point, right? And it's not like the music is bad: in fact, a lot of it is quite good. I just preferred the science-fiction-influenced instrumentals of the original album. Event II is overall fairly entertaining (if you bypass all of the skits), and if you enjoyed Deltron 3030 or any of the rest of Dan Nakamura's back catalog, you'll definitely find something you love on here, but it's best to go in with lowered expectations. Was it worth the thirteen-year wait? No, but then again, there's no way it could have been: we're all different people than we were back in 2000. Our tastes have evolved and shit. Just be happy that this exists and that it doesn't suck.
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