Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Last(?) Piece in the Natural Elements Demo Puzzle

I first found out about this record in 2009. And I just finally got a copy today. It's a very bootleggy white label 12" that features the two most prominent, as yet officially unreleased Natural Elements demo tracks. It's also a split 12", and those NE tracks are on the B-side.  So since I want to give thorough coverage to every record I write about, let me just go over the A-side real quick before we get to the juicy stuff.

The A-side features two songs by Truck Turner, an indie artist named after an Isaac Hayes blaxploitation flick who came out under Krs One's wing and wound up signing to Jive. In fact, it's an exact copy of his first, indie 12" [see: left]. The first track, "Bring It To the Cypher (Main Mix)," is exactly the same as the original A-side, "Cypher Street," and the second track, "Can I Bitch (Main Mix)," is of course that 12"'s B-side, "CanIBitch." "Cypher" is a cool duet with Krs One over a traditional old school Kraftwerk sample, that's been used by everybody from Afrika Bambaataa to Dr. Dre; but it's usage here sounds the most like Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Rhymes I Express."

And the second song, or the B-side on the original 12", is Truck going at Canibus just as he was coming up, presumably to cash in on the attention and controversy he was generating for beefing with LL Cool J and others; but in the song he claims he's "striking back" because Canibus said something about BDP. It's not a particularly effective diss track at any rate, Canibus certainly never bothered to respond, and he's the guy who's recorded eleven hundred songs at Eminem, desperately trying to get just one answer record's worth of publicity back.  It's moderately interesting, though, that one of the lines in the song is, "look both ways before you cross me," which four years later became the title of his album.

Despite this white label referring to its songs as "(Main Mix)"es, neither record features any other version or mix of the two songs. They're both the full, vocal and uncensored mixes. And comparing the sound quality, there's really no discernible difference, except the pitch is a little slower on the bootleg. I've heard it described as being bassy, but I think that's just because it's playing a little slower, so all the voices and beats sound a bit deeper. If you've got a turntable with pitch control, you can make them sound identical. And while the difference doesn't exactly take a trained ear to detect, you probably wouldn't notice it's slower unless you were directly comparing the two versions like I've just been doing.

I wanted to pay careful attention to the sound quality there because we're going to be a lot more concerned with it now that we've gotten to the songs on the B-side.

Now, I've mentioned in my write-ups of Chopped Herring's EPs that these two songs were as yet unreleased and would look nice on one of their Lost Demos EPs.  But this 12" is probably at least part of the reason the gas hasn't bit hit so hard to get them out there.  They're already on vinyl and sound fine.

First up is 'Life Ain't Fair (Main Mix)." Yeah, they keep up that "Main Mix" thing on the NE side, but this time the "Main Mix" moniker might inadvertently mean something. Because, as you'll recall, while "Life Ain't Fair" dates all the way back to my old Natural Elements snippet tape from early in their career. it's only full release has been on Chopped Herring's The Lost Demos EP Vol. 1, where it was included as a very different "Original Mix" in 2011. That version was quite different with a tough, hip-hop beat and alternate hook compared to the one I'd heard a portion of on my tape. Well, I'm happy to report that this white label gives us that missing version, the smoother one with the R&B chorus sung by a guy named Bridge.

And the other song is "Knick Knack!" Erm, "(Main Mix)." Yeah, the song that's been floating around, often split into two tracks, ever since the old tape trading days. The one where they rock EPMD & K-Solo's classic, throwing their skillful, modern flows over the old school's banging track. The fan favorite that had never been released.

And the NE tracks sound just as good as the Truck Turners. You might want to pitch it up a percent or two (it's harder to say since I don't have a mirror image 12" to compare the NE side to), but otherwise it sounds more than acceptable. There's no tape hiss or distorted bass, volume issues or any of the other problems that often plague bootlegs. If Chopped Herring got their hands on the original masters, could they make it sound better? Probably a little. And of course that hypothetical release would be an official, legit record that the artists would get paid off of and all. But honestly, this sounds just fine, as good as many legit releases. I certainly wasn't expecting something of this quality.

Of course, you'll have to find a copy. Remember how I said I heard about it in 2009 and got my hands on one in 2014? Granted, I passed up an opportunity or two to pay crazy high prices for it during that time, but still. This record is definitely not abounding and plentiful. But is it worth it for the serious NE fans - two exclusive, vintage gems on wax? No question.

2 comments:

  1. Werner, your blog is awesome.

    I just listened to this cassette rip on You Tube called Four Seasons. It seems like an early NE song, but I don't think you've ever blogged about it, so I was wondering what you know about it.

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    1. Whoa, interesting!. Never heard that one before. I'd love to hear that one get cleaned up and rescued.

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