Friday, July 3, 2015

Blowing the Dust Off Mr. Voodoo's Long-Lost Demos

Woohoo! Chopped Herring is back with their, umm... fourth?  Wait, let me count. One, two, three and now four. Yup, their fourth Natural Elements EP release! This time around, though, it's focused on just one member. They've uncovered, cleaned up and pressed Mr. Voodoo's 1994-1995 demos on wax.

Now, any NE fans how've been in this for the long haul probably thought to themselves, well, I'm familiar with some great, unreleased Mr. Voodoo demo songs - are these them? And the answer is yep, pretty much!  =)  As the emoticon there suggests, though, that's a very good thing. This is some seriously long-awaited material that's been floating around the tape trading fringes for a long time. Most of these songs are online in terrible, low quality and have been for years. And I mean really low quality, where the hiss is actually louder than the song itself, the kind of Xth generation dub of a radio broadcast of a cheap cassette that literally hurts you to listen to it, but you did anyway, because Mr. Voo was blowing your mind as a lyricist.

So do we want to get into this song by individual song? Well, I don't know if we really need to get into every tiny little detail of - are you kidding? Of course we're going to break this down song by song! Let's go!

"New York Straight Talk" - I don't really remember this one, but it has been around in those junky rips. The track has a really cool, interesting sound that's a little richer and more musically layered than you'd expect from an old Voodoo track, and a nice EPMD vocal sample for a hook. It's a great foundation for a calmer, more introspective flow than we're used to from this man. The drums are pure traditional NE-style, though; and the old sleigh bells are in full effect.

"G.L.O.C.K." - This is the one I really remember. This is the one, when I first heard Chopped Herring was releasing Mr. Voodoo's demos, I immediately checked if this was on there. Spoilers: it is. He kicks a tight "Lyrical Tactics"-style flow over a dark, grumbling bassline. There's a g-funk inspired whistle sound over the hook; but otherwise this is very gritty NY-style that couldn't be further from Warren G or those kinda guys. Heavy sleigh bells again, too. Ha ha

"Runnin From My Magic" - This is the obvious chorus, sampled from the classic Brother J vocal sample you know nobody named Voodoo could resist using. I definitely remember this one, too, and I'm really happy to see it restored here. It's got an almost eerie, ominous vibe, not even any sleigh bells.

"New York Straight Talk (Remix)" - An alternate version of the A-side opener, also produced by Charlemagne. This is a more smoothed out version, with very early 90s vibes that a ton of artists were using for a very brief period of time. I prefer the original, but this is a nice alternative, and 90s heads will probably get an extra nostalgic kick from the sample selection.

"Pen Hits the Paper" - Yeah, I remember this one, too. It's got the slightly jazzy vibes of the last track, but couples it with a more boom bap sound and Voodoo just spitting freestyle rhymes. Listening to this pressing for the first time, I just thought yeah, this is exactly what us fans are here for. This EP is 100% delivering. ...Or maybe 90% in this case, because this version is only two verses long, and past versions have had three. But 90 is still great!

"I Come With Skills" - This is the only one not produced by Charlemagne. DJ LDR provides a good backing for Voodoo, too; but it does stand out from the rest, lacking that signature NE sound the rest of this EP has; so it's good that they saved it for the end. Last but not left off, because it's still a dope Wu or "Tried By 12" inspired track with Mr Voodoo killing it.

"Betta Duck" - Okay, technically THIS is last; and it's back to Charlemagne production again. But this is labeled as a bonus track, and that's because it's not a '94-'95 demo track like everything else on here. It's a 2001 recording, and isn't as good as the rest; but it's still a nice little cut with some cool scratching on the chorus.

Like all the previous EPs, this record is limited to 350 copies. 75 copies were pressed on white (white) vinyl, 75 on gold, and the remaining 250 on standard black. They all come in the sticker cover, pictured above, and sound great. I mean, there is a little bit of a limited range, muffled feel to the audio which suggests these tracks were taken from a cassette. I noticed it most on "G.L.O.C.K." It's not a perfect, crystal high fidelity sound, but it's clearly been mastered to sound the best it possibly can and is a huuuuge, huge, huge improvement on the terrible recordings we've heard before. We're talking about the difference between a little imperfect vs. awful; fans will be very pleased with this vinyl.

Now this EP doesn't represent ALL of Mr. Voodoo's vintage demos. I've heard stuff like "Magic," an alternate version of "Hemlock" with different lyrics, and "Chryme Life" comes to mind. [Oh, and if you're thinking, waitaminute, didn't he release that in 2000, Werner? That's right, but there's an older demo version that's even better.] And there's like a whole unofficial Mr. Voodoo album that's been floating around that's a little bit newer (end of the 90s, early 2000s) that never got an official release. One thing I've learned about following these guys is they recorded an incredible amount of killer material, even though they didn't release so much back in the days. So Chopped Herring's work isn't done; there's still more for them to track down, polish off and get out into the world. And I'm here rooting for them to pull it off. But this was just a great big step forward, that's for sure.


  1. On point review, Werner. Chopped Herring did a great job. Maybe, this is the hottest CH release of their whole catalogue.

    I'm quite positive that CH mixed up the production credits as an old NE cassette of my collection said that "I Come with Skills" was one of these mid-90s demo tracks produced by Charlemagne while "Betta Duck" represents that early Y2K sound of Agu. Plus, I guess DJ LDR is the same guy as Louie II who produced the 2004 EP by Mr. Voo.

    By the way, besides a couple of unreleased NE/Agu tracks, there's also lots of unheard Nightbreed recordings from the late 90s produced by Charlemagne.

    1. Yes! Unreleased Nightbreed would be great! Even a repress of the "2 Roads Out the Ghetto" 12" would be nice, since that goes for crazy $$ these days. Like an EP repressing that 12" combined with unreleased bonus tracks would be incredible.

    2. thanks for the dope review Werner - and yup - you guys are right - shouldve been track B4 - damn typo!!!!! obviously Herring takes full responsibility...adds to the mystique tho!!

  2. awesome e.p.! stand-out release in the field of mediocre and sub-par limited stuff from the 90s - best herring wax since the head toucha demos!

    it's a shame that these guys from the uk cut off the 3rd verse from "when the pen hits the paper"...