Deltron 3030 (2000)
The Automator, the mastermind behind the Dr. Octagon project, and, along with Prince Paul, Handsome Boy Modeling School, is developing into something of an auteur. Like Ray Davies of the Kinks, he speaks through concept albums, tailoring outrageous roles for his participants that, amazingly, fit them like gloves. Kool Keith, for example, found his niche as the murderous gynecologist Dr. Octagon; similarly, the Handsome Boy Modeling School project took mischievous glee in finding common ground between iconoclasts as disparate as hip-hop soothsayer El-P and techno’s negative creep Alec Empire. On Deltron 3030, the Automator has once again assembled a stellar supporting cast: Prince Paul, Peanut Butter Wolf, Beans from the Anti-Pop Consortium, the ubiquitous Sean Lennon, Paul Barman, even Damon Albarn from Blur, who delivers the ominous opening prologue. His main collaborators, however, are Del the Funky Homosapien and Kid Koala, the latter who steps in the turntablist role once occupied by Q-Bert on the Dr. Octagon project. Deltron 3030 is an extension of Del’s obsessions with video games, comic books, science-fiction films, and other pop-culture ephemera. Deltron 3030 inhabits a future world unlike our own near future, where technology is wielded as a tool for mass incarceration. The lead track, “3030,” is worth the price of admission alone, an epic realization girded by swelling orchestral strings and Del’s deft handling of a cornucopia of references – The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell. While the Automator’s previous two projects were largely character studies, Deltron 3030 has a plot of sorts – namely, Deltron 3030’s efforts to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. “I want to devise a virus to bring dire straits to your environment,” says Del on “Virus,” eagerly sharing his cyber-revolutionary plans. Though ever-present, Kid Koala adds subtle flourishes as the Automator works overtime to keep up with Del’s encyclopedic rhymes. On “Things You Can Do,” Del runs “amok with technology with no apology/Shout it out to my colony with third-eye physiology.” It doesn’t help that Del is one of hip-hop’s more elusive artists. It takes a few listens to absorb him, but the process eventually yields great rewards as his curatorial psychedelics float above the Automator’s complex melding of heavy bass, syncopated percussion, and left-field samples. He never steps out of character: even on the straight-ahead battle rap “Madness” he says, “In the year 3030 everyone wants to be an MC.” Like so many of this year’s memorable albums from dead prez, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, and Wyclef Jean, Deltron 3030 is something of a brilliant mistake, a hopelessly flawed gem that scintillates just enough to attract repeat viewings. Its frayed, quirky tale eventually collapses into a string of fantastic short stories. 75 Ark.