AUTOMatic Keep It Mellow
Ever since the earliest days of hip-hop, the most popular singles have always been the loudest, heaviest, most party-ready ones—the ones most likely to move crowds or hype up the masses. Just a few weeks ahead of its release, though, those are exactly the kind of tracks that AUTOMatic were cutting from their new album as they finished tweaking it.
“We’re always trying to make our projects as cohesive as possible, so we were
switching some things around, trying to put out the best product possible, and
there were certain songs and certain beats that just wound up sticking out like
sore thumbs in the process,” says A.P.R.I.M.E., the rapping half of the duo.
“There were a couple of songs that just had beats that were too hard for the
rest of the album.”
AUTOMatic have never been afraid to flirt with the mellower side of hip-hop, but they’ve never made a record as focused as Marathon, which draws heavily from the luxurious sounds soul, jazz and quiet storm. It was a track from jazz violinist Michael White called “The Blessing Song” that set the tone for the project. The song had been running through A.P.R.I.M.E.’s head for a while—“I was listening to it all the time because it gave me a feeling of peace,” he says—before he sent it to producer Trellmatic to see if he could make a track out of it.
The track turned out to be the single “Talkin Bout Love,” an upright bass-driven number in the spirit of A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory. From there, more tracks in the same vein followed, including “Speak to Me” and “You Don’t Love Me” (yes, love is a dominant theme throughout the record). A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic had originally planned on recording an EP’s worth of material, but soon they had more than enough for an album—their first full-length in four years.
The duo had been plenty active during that between time, releasing a snappy, summer-minded mixtape in 2014 and a sharp EP called Arising last year. A.P.R.I.M.E. also branched out a little bit with a side project called 3099 earlier this year, which teased some of the R&B influences that carry through the new AUTOMatic album.
“The 3099 project was necessary, because there were certain things that I wanted to try doing,” A.P.R.I.M.E. says. “Some of those same sounds overlapped with what we were doing as AUTOMatic, but it was important for me to keep AUTOMatic purely AUTOMatic, and when it comes down to it, the basis of what we do as AUTOMatic is more jazz driven, more soul driven. Going into this project, we were listening to a lot of other people telling us we should switch it up a bit. But we were like, ‘Is that necessary?’ Because if what we’re doing is really good, and the formula is working, why would we want to change it up just for the sake of it? If you’re in a project and it gradually evolves a certain way, that’s one thing, but just doing it because people tell you that you should? That doesn’t make sense to us.
“That’s one of the things I learned during the time that we were doing our hiatus,” A.P.R.I.M.E. continues. “You can’t really care about what other people think. Either people are going to feel what you’re doing or they’re not. At the end of the day, what’s most important is how you feel about what you’re doing.”