Dan ďThe AutomatorĒ Nakamura is hip-hopís Prodigal Son. Part eclectic revolutionary, part laid-back visionary, his latest project, Gorillaz, which also features Blurís Damon Albarn, Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto, Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club fame, Del The Funkee Homosapien, and the artwork of Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl) is smashing up the charts, even if band member Murdoc doesnít want it to.

Derrell Bradford: Iím a huge fan of Handsome Boy Modeling School and Deltron 3030; I thought those albums were amazing. Just cutting right to the chase: youíre doing stuff like that, which I hope is the future of hip-hop musicówhere do you think the genre is going right now?

The Automator: Well, itís going a lot of places at the same time. Hip-hop, especially if you look at last year, had some of its biggest records ever, as well as [immense mainstream success]. But at the same time, the undergroundís bigger than itís been in years. So both sides are doing pretty well. I think what was most interesting about hip-hop last year was that groups like Jay Z, DMX, Outkast, Puff Daddy or whateveróthey all had big records that were, like, some of the higher quality records out.

DB: I think thatís kind of odd because I donít think it was always that way. For a long time the biggest names in hip-hop were just, essentially, putting out the whackest shit.

A: Exactly. This isnít like MC Hammer time any more. Puff Daddy has always made really hot records. But this last one, itís really good. And Outkastóthatís some of the most original stuff out there. I mean come on. And these guys are also selling their own records.

DB: I have a question for you about alter ego. On all of your albums, youíre always someone different. Everyone on the album is always some astral projection of who they really are. And itís a different person based on the album and what the concept of the album is. How important is it to you to sort of cloak yourself in another identity before you start out on a new project?

A: For me itís just having fun. The best way I can say this is that, when I get to do an albumóI mean a whole albumóI like to make it into something like an experience. Iím a big record buyer, and a lot of the records I buy [have] one or two or three really great songs and the rest are junk. To me, thatís doing me a disservice as a consumer. So when I make a record, I want it to be so that, at least once, you can listen to the whole thing. To make a record like that, I think you have to surround it with some sort of continuity or concept and put it into a place. So to me itís kind of like musical movies, or plays.

DB: So whatís up with your new album Lovage?

A: Iím really excited about it. Lovage is one of my favorite recordsÖwell, all of my records, from Handsome Boy and on, are my favorite records because I get to do what I want to do.

DB: Now, about Gorillazówhatís up with the live show?

A: There are certain difficult technical issues involved with bringing 2-D characters to the stage. And to accommodate the fact that theyíre two-dimensional, thereís like a 50-foot screen in front of the stage that plays [the animations] and the band plays behind that screen, and theyíre backlit onto the screen. And that takes place with me kind of in the middle. Itís a different kind of experience.

DB: As a group, do you feel like, other than putting good music out there, that your goal was to say to the music industry ĎListen. Weíre the anti-music superstars. And itís important to note that even though we donít have this huge marketing budget and a major label isnít blowing us up, that there are still really talented musicians that donít need all of that stuff to get good music out there.í?

A: I think thereís the whole idea that we wanted to create music we felt really good about. And I think a lot of that had to with the fact that a lot of the music we really enjoy doesnít really see as much light as other music. And we didnít want that to deter us from what we were doing. And we wanted to make music that we felt represented our state of mind.

DB: Describe your process for cooking the beats up for this album. I mean, itís not a surprise that you were able to orchestrate the beats and the hotness that goes with Gorillaz. But, when youíre sitting down thinking, ĎIím gonna make these tracks for Gorillaz,í whatís the process?

A: Itís a collaborative thing. You know, Damon [Albarn] and I come to the table with different backgrounds and stuff and we meet in the middle. He has a lot of pop sensibilities that are better honed than mine and I had the luxury of having that around me.

DB: The more I listen to Gorillaz, the more complex it becomes; and not just complex musically. Like you were saying, it tells a story. The album needs an intellectual context almost to set it up. It also does a great job of punching the industry in the face. Iíve noticed on your website quotes from Murdoc, whom I suspect is no singular person in the band, talking about how the album is a confluence of what you guys think and what you all put together and that itís not meant necessarily to be a million seller.

A: I mean, selling records is always great because it validates some issues. But I think we were making this record because we were making this record. [Being] given the opportunity to work together was great. And we will continue to do so. The fact that people like [Gorillaz] is also great. [laughter] Itís a secondary issue [though]. As people we donít really have the ability to dictate who buys our records.

DB: Whatís up with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien? I think heís dope but that he doesnít get any love.

A: I think he gets love. Heís one of the few rappers whoís had the same style, skill and hipness for over a 10-year period. If you even look at acts like Run DMC, their heyday was like í82 to í90, and that includes Down With The King. Thatís an eight-year run, and Delís been down for 10. I think thatís fantastic.

DB: In looking at him and in looking at Kool Keithówhom youíre also down withóI find them really interesting in that their styles are similar. Theyíre both extremely intelligent and it really comes through.

A: Well, they do whatís pure to them and thatís what comes through. And Delís a well-read guy and he can paint a picture better than any guy I know. Thatís why Deltron 3030 worked so well for me. Itís just his ability to convey the details.

DB: So youíre going on tour right now; what do you have planned after that?

A: Well, Iím gonna do my own record and I have a mixed record coming out called Wanna Buy a Monkey.

Gorillazís self-titled album is available on Virgin Records




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