Dan the Automator‘s career calls to mind a quote from one of Kanye West‘s many back-because-I-never-left anthems, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”: “If we talk about classics, do my name get brought up?” While you can argue about the parameters for defining a classic, it’s difficult to deny Dan’s importance and influence in hip-hop, both underground and, at times, mainstream.
In a five year span from 1996 to 2001, Dan released a stellar debut EP (A Better Tomorrow), quarterbacked two of underground hip-hop’s most lauded and idiosyncratic albums (Dr. Octagon’s Dr. Octagonecologyst and Del the Funky Homosapien’s Deltron 3030), co-produced a beloved, often hilarious concept album about a modeling school for men (So…How’s Your Girl as Handsome Boy Modeling School, his partnership with the perennially under-appreciated Prince Paul), and produced the Gorillaz’s debut album (a smash hit that sold 10 million copies worldwide). Since then, he’s orchestrated soundtracks for video games and branched into genres as eclectic as the palette of samples that typified his early work.
So we arrive in 2013 with Pillowfight, the Automator’s collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells. At first listen, fans of Dan’s past work (particularly Handsome Boy Modeling School and Lovage) will find much to love about Pillowfight, which marries jazzy vocals with midtempo beats, resulting in a rejuvenated version of the muscular, multilayered lounge-funk that the storied producer road to prominence. In Dan’s hands, a sound that could easily be boring background music often becomes symphonic and moody.