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Home / Articles / Music / Music Features /  A Sharp
common-automatic
Some of the best things in life are free—like DJ Automatic’s new mixtape.

A Sharp

A Lot in Common

September 1, 2010, 1:00 am
DJ Automatic’s Mixtale Volume II: Theater of the Mind dropped last week and is available for free online. This release marks the second iteration in Automatic’s Mixtale series (the first featured Atlanta rapper TI), and focuses on the life and music of legendary Chicago emcee-actor Common.

“I had opened up for [Common] and interviewed him multiple times,” Automatic says. “Plus, while he was filming [Terminator Salvation] here, I ran into him several times so, when his label pitched him the idea, he was all for it.”
Mixtapes can sometimes be sloppy and poorly put-together, but Mixtale is produced and executed with studied musical precision. Automatic’s knowledge and library of beats are perfect for any hip-hop situation.

Throughout the mixtape, Automatic matches classic and newer Common rhymes with both well-known music (Beastie Boys and Jim Croce make brief but memorable appearances) and obscure beats. It’s a patchwork of styles that creates work that’s just as easily enjoyed by devout hip-hop followers as part-time listeners.

Clocking in at just over 56 minutes, Mixtale is seamless in every sense of the word. In fact, it has no track breaks whatsoever to interrupt the flow. There is plenty of rapping, but a good chunk of the mixtape is presented as narrative, in which Common relates stories of his life and career.

He regales us with tales of his first record deal (he thought he’d be given piles of cash and a limo, but rode home in an artists and repertoire rep’s hatchback), what it was like to work with the inimitable Kanye West and tragically deceased Detroit hip-hop producer J Dilla (good), or how a beautiful woman sparked the words to a song (doesn’t one always?).

Common’s transitions between narratives and intricate rhymes and lyricism are so natural that it’s easy to forget one is listening to an album and become completely immersed. The interspersed storytelling is just as captivating as the music itself. This is documentary-style record making and an interesting take on a genre that carries with it an important human aspect.

Mixtapes currently are a major force in the hip-hop industry. These often self-produced albums are rooted in hip-hop, but also incorporate elements of soul, funk, reggae, rock and more to create genre-defying works. Harkening back to the earliest days of hip-hop, when such artists weren’t frequently signed, mixtapes were once the only way to get one’s hands on recorded hip-hop music. They’ve evolved into a fantastic—and economic—means of self-promotion. Bigger-name artists use mixtapes for that extra bit of street cred, and unsigned acts use them to generate buzz. Just to give an idea, Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, 50 Cent and plenty of others rose to popularity and record deals due in part to mixtapes, which they continue to release to this day.

While the phenomenon has exploded in larger markets, such as California and New York, mixtapes haven’t fared as well in Santa Fe.

According to local hip-hop DJ King George, “Within Santa Fe and New Mexico, the DJs don’t try to actively promote mixtapes outside their own circles, and it’s primarily just their friends and pre-existing fans they are giving them to.”
But Mixtale Volume II: Theater of the Mind—with household-name Common and local-hero (and SFR readers’ pick for Best DJ for the last two years) Automatic—may just break the cycle as well as garner some attention for our beloved New Mexico DJs.

“I have plans to do more Mixtales,” Automatic says, “So stay tuned.”

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