Art Imitates Life
If Kanye West has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need a distinctive voice or superior rhythmic skills to be a successful rapper—as long as you have clever rhymes and innovative beats. A.P.R.I.M.E. may not have natural superstar vocal cords, but he’s already one up on West in terms of delivery. As evidenced on the new Art Imitates Life, songwriting and production are still a mixed bag for Milwaukee’s AUTOMatic, but there are glimpses of greatness.
In the past, AUTOMatic has been justifiably accused of being stuck in the ’90s, but on Art, producer Trellmatic mostly eschews the overused minimalistic jazz and mellow soul in favor of more overtly danceable funky fare, flourishes of EDM, and even jammy guitar licks. None of the music could be called groundbreaking, but particularly compared to 2010’s Transistor, the beats are resoundingly fresh and modern. Propulsive album opener “In The Land” is instantly more infectious than any previous AUTOMatic track, and “Move” borders on synth-pop but with a Parliament-style chorus. Even the throwback A Tribe Called Quest-ish “The Back Up” benefits from engaging, moody guitar stylings, refreshingly eclectic but never too busy.
Lyrically, the “conscious” tag is still a factor, but morality tales like “The Problems” and “Little Black Boy” take a back seat to A.P.R.I.M.E.’s more personal treatises and joyrides of tongue-in-cheek bravado. On easy highlight “Zulu Beats,” he approximates a cross between Q-Tip and Kool Keith with some incisive rhymes and great flow, and the prankster-dreamer persona enlivens “Lower Heaven” and “Vespa.” Consistency is still an issue: a couple of clunky verses mar “Baby Listen” as well as “Vespa”; “Get Up” is nondescript as a whole; and “Little Black Boy” is sub-par, predictable, and too corny to be inspiring both in terms of lyrics and a vocal hook. But the missteps on the album won’t stop listeners from coming back to the handful of undeniable gems.