Dan the Automator - Biography
Groundbreaking, internationally known, platinum-selling hip-hop producer, remixer, and composer Dan The Automator has been compared to other superstar, auteur-producers of the 1990s like RZA, Kanye West, Timbaland, and Rick Rubin. Born Daniel M. Nakamura in San Francisco in 1967, Nakamura played pivotal roles in such eclectic hip-hop classics as Dr. Octagon: Ecologist (1996 Mo' Wax), Deltron 3030 (2000 75 Ark), and Gorillaz (2001 Virgin). With influences as varied as Serge Gainsbourg, Brian Wilson, Q-bert and The Simpsons, Nakamura's collaborators have included DJ Shadow, Mike Patton, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Prince Paul, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Damon Albarn, Mos Def, Blink-182 and hundreds more. An essentially soft-spoken, well-mannered, NBA-addicted Japanese-American, Nakamura found his strength in assembling diverse, divergent ensembles for high-concept projects, a talent he continues to exercise in the present by, for instance, curating the NBA2K7 video game soundtrack, as well as working on another project with Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
Young Dan was classically trained on the violin at age four. The influences of these early years would show up decades later with the incorporation of 1970s and 1980s disco, kitsch, cult films, classical music and science fiction. Nakamura has stated that his life changed when he heard “Rapper's Delight” at a young age, catalyzing his self-education in hip-hop and funk. After listening to such genre-benders as Run DMC rhyming over old Monkees records and A Tribe Called Quest working with jazz beats, Nakamura learned to ignore specific genres and deliberately cross such lines in his approach to music. Nakamura came of age in San Francisco during a huge upsurge in hip-hop culture and quickly realized he couldn't sing, dance or scratch as well as many of his peers in the world-class San Francisco scene. Instead, Nakamura was drawn to sampling, the French sonic collage style of Musique Concrete, and the legacy of production work created by artists such as Phil Spector, Brian Eno, and Brian Wilson. Nakamura realized a producer could potentially effect musical culture in more interesting ways than a mere artist.
As early as 1988, Nakamura was producing for tiny labels like All City Records, Ubiquity, and Bulk. Nakamura released the EP “Music to be Murdered By” in 1989, followed by production credits on the “Leave My Curl Alone” twelve-inch for Skanless Records in 1991. Nakamura's production credits pop up on 1994's Mo Cookin, featuring various artists as well as “Earth People,” off Bulk in 1995. Ubiquity Records retains the honor of releasing Nakamura's last solo EP A Better Tomorrow in 1996 before the second stage of Nakamura's career would ignite.
A chance piece of production work with weirdo rapper Kool Keith on James Lavelle's Mo' Wax label proved fruitful for Nakamura. Mo' Wax was the hotbed of experimental hip-hop in England, associated with DJ Shadow, Massive Attack, and the trip-hop movement out of Bristol, England. Keith appeared as Sinister 6000 on A Better Tomorrow and in turn, Keith retained Nakamura's services for a full Mo' Wax record -- Dr. Octagon: Ecologist (1996 Mo' Wax). Kool Keith's oddball rhymes and drunken meter perfectly fit Nakamura's penchant for spacey effects, drowsy down-tempo rhythms, and luscious arrangements full of effects. The result appeared before some of the most discriminating critics of the time, instantly raising Nakamura's cache and initiating a lifetime’s worth of remix and production projects. Nakamura admired producers like the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA for his ability to unite disparate elements on large conceptual projects, and emboldened by his own early successes, he began to create concept work. It would lead to international fame.
In 1998, Nakamura partnered with friends Prince Paul, Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Shadow, Money Mark, Sean Lennon, and El-P to create the concept group Handsome Boy Modeling School and their first record So ... How's Your Girl? (1999 Tommy Boy Records). A reference to Chris Elliott’s sitcom Get a Life, Handsome Boy Modeling School teacher Nathaniel Merriweather (Nakamura) and Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul) offer a musical curriculum with So ... How's Your Girl? A critical darling, the album mixed fresh takes on old school hip-hop beats with new school trip hop, abundant sampling, and celebrity cameos. It managed to be not only listenable but also cutting edge, and as humorously corny as only Nakamura could make it.
Equally conceptual and star-studded, Nakamura hit his stride in 2000 with the release of Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Kid Koala collaboration Deltron 3030 (2000 75 Ark). Even more high- concept, the album is essentially a post-apocalyptic space tale in which the tracks are broadcast from a stranded spacecraft. Damon Albarn opens the album, followed by appearances from Prince Paul, Mr. Lif and Sean Lennon. Led off by the evocative string arrangements of “3030,” the album sidesteps the pit of kitsch with stone-classic rapping from Del on tracks like “Virus.”
Like a film producer who repeatedly uses many of his favorite actors in different ensemble configurations, Del and Albarn returned in Nakamura's highest-selling, most prominent work on the Mercury Award-winning Gorillaz. Composed of four cartoon characters playing experimental hip-hop and rock, Gorillaz's self-titled debut Gorillaz (2001 Virgin) went triple platinum with help from monster single “Clint Eastwood,” featuring Del on the verse, and Albarn on the hook.
Ditching the spaceship for the waterbed, 2001 group Lovage featured Nakamura as Nathaniel Merryweather partnering with Faith No More's Mike Patton and sultry vocalist Jennifer Charles. Music to Make Love to Your Lady By (2001 75 Ark) balanced genuinely original bedroom downtempo and trip-hop with a hokey love of vintage romance film tropes.
Numerous remix projects consumed 2002 and 2003, and in 2004 Nakamura returned to the head of the Handsome Boy Modeling School with Prince Paul, this time enrolling the Mars Volta, Pharrell Williams, Casual, Cat Power, Rahzel, Sean Martin, RZA, and Jamie Cullum. White People (2004 Elektra) was ultimately a less successful effort. Frustrated with the demise of record labels in the face of changing distribution models, Nakamura turned to video games--curating the hip-hop soundtrack on NBA2K6, before full-on production duties on NBA2K7 featuring Ghost Face, E-40, Lupe Fiasco and A Tribe Called Quest. Most recently, Nakamura has put the beats in Mike Patton's Peeping Tom project and has said a follow up for Deltron 3030 is imminent.
Platinum-selling Dan The Automator may not have many solo albums or international face recognition, but the demur artist has been ranked by newspapers in the top ten producers of our time alongside Timbaland, Rick Rubin, and The Neptunes. From an early age, Nakamura eschewed the mic and its attention and focused instead on orchestrating a rare type of high concept, ensemble art. The Automator's latent fingerprints can be found on some of the most listenable yet experimental electronica and hip-hop of the 1990s and into the present day. Since 2008 he has produced more than a dozen artists, including Kasabian, Damon Albarn, and Miles Kane- but to name a few.