Dr. Octagon is dead. Been dead for almost four years now. The all-star project was great during its brief life span -- Kool Keith's pornographic science-fiction delusions, Dan the Automator's way, way left-field beatsmithing and Q-Bert's playful scratch routines were just what the dour hip-hop scene needed at the time. But do we really need another futuristic concept album with another quirky three-member lineup? Okay, the X-rated raps are gone, but what really is the Automator adding to the project on this go-around?
He's got Del in the place of Keith, and Kid Koala filling in for Q-Bert, but while satisfying in spots, not much original ground is broken on this outing, either musically or conceptually. The biggest disappointment is the performance submitted by Del, who seems bored retelling the same stories of Decepticons, alien annihilation, micro machines and sonic soldiers. Over the years, his focus on lyrical content seems to have slipped considerably (listen closely to Both Sides of the Brain), even as his tongue remains as nimble as ever.
"Positive Contact" has him spitting, "I landed on planet Mercury/Gave you atmosphere/Set up my headquarters/I'll never be captured here." It's as if he's struggling to keep within the Jetsons theme rather than just rhyming what comes naturally. After some 15 or so songs describing the same vaguely conceived future, the listener longs to be rid of the year 3030 and return to the present.
Dan's work behind the boards is much more inspired -- his cinematic strings are as complex and otherworldly as they ever have been, and his skits are clever. His percussion patterns, as sluggish and funk-derived as we've come to expect, sound strangely antiquated, though, when compared to, say, a Manny Fresh beat. It's an interesting reversal of fortune -- an "underground" producer seeming conservative by pop music aesthetics. Meanwhile, Kid Koala contributions are mostly ineffectual. The few times you can hear him cutting, it's buried so deep in the mix that it's rendered an afterthought.
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All in all, great beats, tired script and a concept more fully realized by the good doctor back in '96.