A couple of so-called Mutants from Milwaukee's hip-hop super team, House of Mutants, have set out on their own Task Force called AUTOmatic, which features artists A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic. (Got that? House of Mutants -> AUTOmatic -> A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic). AUTOmatic is set to release its new record, "Transistor," on Aug. 28.
Generally speaking, the House of Mutants has sworn to protect and preserve hip-hop's art form and culture from Dr. Wacktagon, a villain who has developed a fear of originality, a small collection of the same 12 songs, and a penchant for auto-tuning. The House of Mutants formed, its members say, to make music that is creative and uncompromising to the tired trends, styles, and sounds that plague modern hip-hop.
AUTOmatic's newest album fits nicely into the House of M Universe by doing its part to avoid the overuse of soullessness Auto-Tune, leaning back to more classic sounds of hip-hop and other genres as well.
"My mother was a singer and my uncle was a jazz/reggae musician, so I was introduced to music at an early age," songwriter A.P.R.I.M.E. says.
"Auto-Tune was designed as a correction tool for pitch and notes, so in that respect Auto-Tune is totally appropriate. However, people have been abusing their Auto-Tune privileges. I can't get on board with that."
Taking a more natural approach brings back obvious and necessary subtleties -- voice inflection, for instance -- and, as a result, more emotion from the emcee himself.
"Transistor" laments the modern day successes of less talented, over-hyped, cookie-cutter artists that currently find themselves on the radio. But the group doesn't just complain about the dregs of the music industry. Lyrically, A.P.R.I.M.E. reveals personal experiences, uplifts listeners with productive thoughts and is quite confident about his talent.
"I have an affinity for using vivid imagery in my narratives to paint a picture for the listener," he says. "Also, I'm trying to chase my influences when I write."
Deft listeners may recognize references to De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr or Afrika Bambaata, among others.
"I look at everyone being better than me or having something to bring to the table that I don't have and that keeps my edges sharp," A.P.R.I.M.E. says. "I'm too humble to brag on my emcee skills, but I believe that I'd be a difficult cat to beat.
"Now, if anyone wants to come at me in a game of Uno ... I'm kickin' rump and taking names."
It's this snarky attitude that also keeps the mood of "Transistor" light by offering a series of amusing skits between tracks, taking on relationships, peer pressure and even a dig at a certain alderman whose artistic preferences were shouted across the city.
"Bob Donovan's reaction was appalling. I was very shocked that he went so far to call those youths liars, vandals and criminals. He clearly doesn't understand the culture nor the element of graffiti. To dismiss it as trash, is very ignorant."
The album is cleanly produced, but not too slick, and travels through a few styles of hip-hop and rap. Trellmatic layers a few genres together, like R&B soul and jazz, proving that even though an artist can return to the classics of the genre there is still plenty of room to carve out a new niche.
Some stand out tracks are, "Once Again," a jazz-infused song that showcases the honest and witty lyrics A.P.R.I.M.E is known for; it makes for an obvious choice for the single.
"The Coolout" and "Everlasting" are both nice smooth tracks while the drama of "Teenage Love" is palpable with meaningful music sitting above dramatic strings. The final tune, a secret track called "Black Gold," is colorful and frenetic and definitely worth waiting for.
If I have one complaint about the album it's that A.P.R.I.M.E. spends some time in the meta realm bragging about how much better and more creative he is than his competition instead of simply being better and more creative. I don't mind a few reminders about the skills as long as those skills aren't overshadowed by the reminders.
Even so, he might be right. If he isn't better than those he teams up with, he is certainly made better when he's competing at the mic. Songs featuring other artists (Frankie Flowers, Raze, and The Rusty Ps, among others) are some of the more exciting tunes to listen to.
"I'd like to see more unity, considering that we're all separately working towards one dream."
AUTOmatic will release its "Transistor" at B-Side, 235 S. 2nd St., on Aug. 28. The show will also feature the likes of The NightKrawlers and other special guests including teammates Gambit, Raze, Element (formerly of Black Elephant) and the Rusty Ps, and more.
Those in attendance will receive a free copy of the album and a chance to win comic books all night long.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.