Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, producer of two of the year's most innovative hip-hop releases, is hanging out on Sunset Strip, just up the hill from gangsta-rap country. But the music created by Nakamura, emcee Kool Keith and scratcher Q-Bert in the San Francisco-based group Dr. Octagon couldn't be farther from the gangsta mindset.
"I loved hip-hop in the mid-'80s, where you had all these different characters -- one guy was doing electronic beats, somebody else was using really dirty samples, people were making party records, political records," says Nakamura, relaxing at the offices of his band's DreamWorks record label. "Then you turn the clock to '92, and suddenly everybody in L.A. is like `Check out my Lexus, count my money.' On the East Coast, everybody was building records around the same jazz breaks.
On the group's debut album, "Dr. Octagonecologyst," Kool Keith announces, "Earth people, I'm from Jupiter." With a sonic backdrop conceived by Nakamura that variously incorporates rock guitar, Gothic organ, classical violin and futuristic synthesizer noises, Keith sounds like he really did drop in from Jupiter -- think of a sci-fi movie directed by John Waters and you get some idea of the album's mad mix of skewed humor and otherworldly atmosphere.