If Prince Paul is hip-hop’s mad genius, then Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, his partner in the acclaimed Handsome Boy Modeling School project, is its eclectic visionary.
By incorporating a vast range of musical genres into his production for the legendary 1996 “Dr. Octagon” album, a collaboration with eccentric rapper Kool Keith, the Automator exponentially expanded hip-hop’s sonic scope.
“I tried to take music from every type of genre and freak it into a hip-hop backbone,” says the San Francisco-based Nakamura, 32. “It was the idea that we could delve into all the different types of music, like hip-hop used to do.”
One of the album’s big fans was Prince Paul.
“The music was so good,” he says. “I think his programming, production and arrangements are just so incredible. . . . His stuff had quite a few elements to it, and when I listened to it I kind of got the feeling of how the production was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when people really concentrated heavily on arranging music and trying to make it unique.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Nakamura was first exposed to classical music. He started playing violin at 3 and continued until he was 15, even though he knew that he wanted to pursue other musical interests.
Nakamura became a DJ, getting into hip-hop in the early 1980s. He started producing in 1988.
The Prince Paul-Automator partnership began when the latter asked Paul to remix “Blue Flower,” a track from “Dr. Octagon.” The two stayed in contact, leading to their Handsome Boy breakthrough.
Nakamura is working on an album with underground rapper Del and turntable whiz Kid Koala called “30/30" that will be released through an independent record company this summer, but he’s most focused on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a project for DreamWorks Records that teams him with the Dust Brothers’ Mike Simpson and with Prince Paul.
“He has a knack for bringing out the best in people,” the Automator says of Paul. “When you listen to one of our records, whether you like them or not, I think you can definitely ascertain that we’re having fun.”