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AUTOMatic Plays It Straight, Mostly

Sep. 26, 2012
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This summer the Milwaukee hip-hop duo AUTOMatic released either their best or their worst song yet, depending on your tastes: “Move,” a thumping, electro-funk throwback that divided listeners who had grown accustomed to the duo’s more traditional hip-hop. It was a song that might have marked a new direction for the group, if fans hadn’t put their foot down. “We really wanted to run with that sound and record an album that was a little bit more electronica-flavored,” admits A.P.R.I.M.E., the rapping half of AUTOMatic, “but a lot of people made it clear that’s not a sound that they want to hear from us at this point.”

This dilemma isn’t unique to AUTOMatic. For the last decade, college-aged hip-hop fans have made it clear which kind of rap they prefer most: ’90s-styled hip-hop built around boom-bap drums and soul or jazz samples. It’s a sound that seems unlikely to go out of style; so long as there are new generations of teenagers discovering A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde, there will always be a market for more hip-hop in that mold. The choice for rap acts, then, is whether to accommodate that eager audience or risk alienating them with creative departures. For now, at least, AUTOMatic has opted for the safer route.

“We respect the opinions of the audience we’ve built, so we’re not trying to rock the boat,” A.P.R.I.M.E. explains. “We understand that our brand as AUTOMatic is more soulful, classic-feeling hip-hop, so we want to keep that core sound, even if we play with different influences, so we’ll have some live instrumentation or even a classic-rock feel on a song, but at the same time it will be true to that soulful, boom-bap feel we’ve had since the beginning. I know some artists decide, ‘I’m not this type of rapper, I can make whatever kind of music I want,’ then they go in a different direction and wonder why it doesn’t work for them. Our goal, though, is to gradually progress and bring the fans with us by just giving them gradual tastes of what we’re trying to do, so they get used to it.”

Though he’s not shy about admitting that they crafted their new record Art Imitates Life with fan preferences in mind, A.P.R.I.M.E. is adamant that neither he nor producer Trellmatic is trying to pursue traditional stardom. Quite the contrary, he insists, he’s an introvert who would just as soon stay out of the spotlight altogether. At his earliest shows he even performed with a mask, in part to combat his stage fright.

“For me, performing is just a means of getting my songs out there,” he says. “My initial goal in doing all of this was just to become a songwriter at the end of the day. That’s why our records have so many guest singers and sing-songy hooks; I just love the way my words sound coming from other people. I want to make music for the rest of my life, but as far as being a performer goes, those days may be numbered.

“I think that’s why Trellmatic and I work so well together,” he continues. “Trell is more outspoken and outgoing than me, so he takes some of the pressure off of me on stage. We put the attention on him as a DJ in our live shows, so it’s not all me. Trell is a laid-back guy, too, but he likes attention if it comes his way, which works great for me. I’d be happy if all the attention went to him.”

AUTOMatic plays a release show for
Art Imitates Life Thursday, Sept. 27, at Hotel Foster. The show will also commemorate the two-year anniversary of Milwaukee’s Dope Folks Records.


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