Creativity is strange. You can be creative by creating something entirely your own. But creativity is not always original; sometimes the most creative things are made out of other people’s creativity. Collages are a great example of this. DJ Shadow’s Entroducing is a better one. Made up entirely of samples Shadow’s debut was the first of its kind, but not the last. Using the same formula as Shadow, Dan “The Automator” Nakamura is known as one of the best beat makers/producers. Maybe you have never heard Automator’s solo work but I can guarantee you have heard his superb production elsewhere. He has worked with everyone from the rich and famous Damon Albarn created hip-hop “band” Gorillaz to the ridiculously good Deltron 3030 to collaboration experts Handsome Boy Modeling School.
Automator’s production sound on A Much Better Tomorrow
is comprised of ambient, newer hip-hop samples and older, jazzier samples. In a world where mainstream Hip-Hop beats are comprised of kiddie synths and hand claps (Lean with it, Rock with it anyone"), this production sticks out like a sore thumb (granted this is hardly mainstream). And boy, I’ve never had a sore thumb that sounded this good. Songs like 4-17
are perfect examples of this fusion of old and new. Brass, loud walking bass lines, hand percussion and jazzy keyboard lines are all looped throughout the song. ‘4-17’ could easily have been on an early jazz record but works plenty fine on a Hip-Hop record. Unlike Shadow, Automator doesn’t play around with his beats a lot. This said most of the record doesn’t get boring. Even 5 minute instrumental tracks never lose interest (well mine at least).
While the album houses great instrumental tracks, the vocal tracks outnumber (and out-good) the instrumentals. Automator’s production takes a backseat to the superb guest vocals; featuring mostly Kool Keith handling Emcee duties (On 6 of 8 vocal tracks) the raps on AMBT put (most of) the mainstream rap scene to shame. If anyone ever tells me rap doesn’t take any skill I will force them to listen to opening and title track, A Better Tomorrow
. The rapper on this track, Sinister 6000 (Code name of Kool Keith) delivers some great rhymes, over a great beat comprised of jazzy bass lines, dark strings and huge sounding drums. Keith’s raps are sinister (Hence the name), he spits out as fast as possible Eternal thoughts combine, bluh blah, supersonic courts/Colt .45's amped up; gates pump, compressors leak/Maximum out-strength the bass meter stretch a length
. An epic tune, “A Better Tomorrow” should be listened to by all fans of rap and anyone with an open mind.
A Much Better Tomorrow isn’t without flaws though. “Buck Buck” and “Cartoon Capers” are two pretty bad yet relatively painless tunes that come towards the end of the album. Both annoying after even one listen, I find myself skipping only these tracks when I re-listen to this album. Granted they aren’t terrible, just kind of annoying and repetitive.
While the end is tarnished by Buck Buck and Cartoon Capers, Its Over Now
saves it. There is only one way to describe this track, cool. The production is great, wahed guitar riffs and a slick bass line fit perfectly under Kool Keith’s smooth rhymes. A saxophone solo, not something you see in every rap track but “Its Over Now” has one. Not blaring or really loud the sax in Its Over Now is very tastefully done and the perfect way to end a very jazzy, highly recommended track.
Overall ‘A Much Better tomorrow’ really is a great record. The production and beats are just the right mix of jazz and Hip-Hop and sound great. The guest vocals feature some of the best rapping I have heard. For any fan of Electronic music, jazz music or Hip-Hop there is something on AMBT for you.
-A Better Tomorrow (Album opener and superb track)
-Wiling (Best vocal performance, superb production)
-4-17 (Best Instrumental)
-Its Over Now (Overall great track)