Like a lot of Milwaukee rap groups, AUTOMatic pays lip service to innovation while being shamelessly nostalgic for rap’s late-’80s/early-’90s “golden age.” It’s a patently troublesome dichotomy also at the heart of Transistor, the otherwise enjoyable debut from rapper A.P.R.I.M.E. and DJ Trellmatic of the well-regarded Milwaukee collective House Of M.
A self-made collection of superhero MCs battling the supposed evils of radio rap in the form of arch-villain Dr. Wacktagon, House Of M occasionally sounded like grouchy scolds on 2009’s The Alternate Reality Of …, rapping about flash-over-substance “swag” MCs on top of undeniably pleasurable throwback head-bobbers. On Transistor, A.P.R.I.M.E. is an instantly likeable presence on the mike, with a clear and smooth flow that fits with Trellmatic’s appealing soul-jazz tapestries like Kangol hats on LL Cool J. But Transistor grows tiresome whenever AUTOMatic gets too wrapped up in the good old days. “I go on YouTube when I’m feeling nostalgic,” A.P.R.I.M.E. raps on the title track—and in case that wasn’t overbearingly classicist enough, he does it over a Stevie Wonder sample.
All the “back in the day” talk just seems unnecessary considering how assured Transistor is musically; it’s a record brimming with hooks, from the charming swagger of “The Natural” (which references Seinfeld and Third Eye Blind) to the self-explanatory “The Rhythm.” AUTOMatic sounds too joyously alive in the moment to be so grumpy about the present.
AUTOMatic celebrates the release of Transistor Aug. 28 at bSide.