In 2004 Dan the Automator promised the world that his debut solo album would finally be coming out. But the chaos that came when his label, Geffen, merged with MCA (an event that prompted the Roots to move to Def Jam) caused the record, titled Omakase, to be shelved. And shelved it stayed, even after Dan left Geffen and received other offers to release it, because at that point, the producer, most famous for his work with Kool Keith on Dr. Octagonecologist, wasn't sure if he wanted to put something out that seemed so dated to him. To placate the rabid fans, however, Dan agreed to produce the NBA video game's 2K7's soundtrack. The album for 2K6 was a compilation of indie hip-hop songs, but with 2K7, Dan was offered the opportunity to make his own beats for the guest vocalists. And while initially the game's creator, 2K Sports, had given him a list of solely backpacker MCs to work with, the Automator was interested in gathering a more diverse selection of rappers, both underground and mainstream, and from all parts of the country. Because of that, the finished album is a pretty nice assortment of styles and sounds that, despite the transition from E-40 to Chali 2na, flows really well thanks to Dan's consistently good and interesting production.
Putting hip-hop and basketball together is something's that's been done a thousand times before, but 2K7 is just another example of why it's always been an idea that's made a lot of sense. Most of the rappers on the album choose to rhyme about basketball, use basketball metaphors to explain other activities, or, more interestingly, combine the two so that it's hard to tell if it's the sport or the music that's being spoken about. "Before the game was a game, before the shot clock/Before the limelight, when it was hip-hop," Anwar Superstar says in "Here Comes the Champ," which he does with Mos Def, uniting the two entities so that they're impossible to separate (similarly, A.G. compares himself "and Ghost" to "Kobe and Shaq in '01," which is a bit less interesting, but still makes the same point). Some of the other songs, like Fabulous' "Ball til You Fall," Slim Thug's "I Love This Game" (in which he successfully, thanks to his Texas accent, rhymes "baller" and "shot-caller" with "quarter"), and E-40 and San Quinn's hyphy -- one of two on the record, the other being the Hieroglyphics' fantastic "Don't Hate the Player" -- "Baller Blockin'" are a little more straightforward in terms of their overall statement, while others, like Aceyalone and Rakaa's "Champions" or A Tribe Called Quest's "Lyrics to Go," (in remix form) speak less about basketball and more about skills in general. Dan changes his beats so that they fit each artist (Ghostface's is darker, Rhymefest's is inspired by the Bomb Squad), but they're still wholly his own, airy and simple yet melodic and interesting. No, 2K7 may not be the Automator solo album everyone's been waiting for, but it's a pretty satisfying holdover until that finally comes. ~ Marisa Brown