Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Natural Elements, Old To the NEw

Chopped Herring, I think I love you. Continuing their divinely inspired partnership with the Natural Elements crew, they've now dropped their third jewel-laden Elements EP. Thus one's called All Hail NE; and it's noteworthy because it's mostly new material, though they still manage to maintain their tradition of getting NE's classic material still desperately in need of a proper vinyl transfer onto wax too.

If you caught their latest video on Youtube, you may've spotted a link to a new 7-song EP on ITunes. Well, I don't know who gives a crap about some mp3s (heh. Okay, I guess some people do), but I was infinitely more excited to discover that there was also this vinyl version quietly being released by Chopped Herring. The track-listing's not exactly the same (more on that later), because, again, Chopped Herring's dipping back into the vaults, whereas the ITunes EP is 100% new material.

So, what have we got exactly? There's definitely some interesting material to parse here. Considering how their past releases of odds and ends and bootlegs have made the Natural Elements catalog pretty confusing already, I'm going to break this down track by track:

1) DoNE - Natural Elements put this song online back in 2011. For a long time, NE had been operating on divergent paths, either as solo artists or in smaller groups. So this was an early (the first?) reunion to have their original producer Charlemagne back with them behind the boards, and that as hot as a lot of their separate ventures were, they were strongest together. A real return to the classic NE sound.

2) All Hail NE - The title track, "All Hail NE" is a Scram Jones produced joint they released sometime early in 2013, but just recently made a video for. A really strong track to coincide with the EP releases.

3) DoNE (Instrumental) - What's a vinyl release without exclusive instrumental tracks, right? This one's pretty self-explanatory.

4) Survive - This is one of their original, OG tracks pre-dating their first EP,. It's been hiding in the shadows all these years... on their earliest snippet tapes and bootleg releases. It got its first official, cleaned up release on that crazy anniversary album; but of course that was CD only. So this is its (non-bootleg) vinyl debut.

5) Off-Beat Bop - This was a mysterious DJ Sebb ("B-Boy Document")-produced song that wasn't from their Tommy Boy album but still popped up on that anniversary album. Again, that was CD only, making this its vinyl debut, boot or otherwise.

6) Turning Tables (Acapella) - WTF? Well, "Turning Tables" was a cool new song NE put out online early last year, an ode to hip-hop's great DJs (it's a pun; get it?). But even though the song's never gotten a proper release, Chopped Herring's decided to only include the acapella? I mean, sure it's a treat for acapella collectors and remixers; but not putting the actual, proper song on here first? That's just weird.

So, we have some very interesting choices. The ITunes EP features exclusively new material, so basically they only have two tracks in common: "All Hail NE" and "DoNE." That one doesn't have the instrumental or acapella version either, though they do include the complete "Turning Tables" song, as well as some other new NE joints. The biggest loss in the translation for me was "Competition is NoNE," possibly my favorite of the new Charlemagne-produced NE songs to date. Yeah, it's gotten flack for sampling some teeny-bopper song, but since I don't listen to that crap, the association doesn't bother me.  I just appreciate it as the killer NE groove that Charlemagne turned it into. I would've loved to have it on here, especially in place of, say, a random acapella.

But at the end of the day, this is another terrific Natural Elements release. Maybe it's not the ideal track-listing I would've personally assembled, but you've gotta put aside what could've been and look at what is. And "what is" is another essential, must have slab of wax for any Natural Elements fan.  I'm especially pleased to report that their new music is totally up to par with their 90s material... Sadly, that's very rarely the case with artists like these. But Natural Elements have really mastered the retention of everything that we fell in love with - in terms of lyrics, vocal stylings and production - while still keeping it fresh. A tremendously rare feat.

And considering this is already Chopped Herring's third Natural Elements EP, I guess it's not too unrealistic to hope that any song we wanted but didn't get here may still turn up on volume 4, right? "Competition Is NoNE," Knick Knack"... You know what the world needs, Herring. But in the mean time, I'm gonna sit here and be super happy with what I just got.  :)


  1. Chopped Herring is great label but I've never understood why they release the acapella or instrumental versions when the vocal versions have never dropped. Quite disappointing when this happens like it did on the One Deep EP with unreleased instrumentals that clearly have a vocal version because there are parts of the vocals on the instrumentals. They also randomly filled space with instruments on the other NE EP before this one.

  2. yeah, sequences plus track selections of chopped herring ep's are often questionable...sometimes really wack.