Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Natural Elements, Just In Time for the Holidays!

Natural Elements are now set to drop on December 1st. Remember that project on Traffic I was talking about a few months ago? Well, there's now a date, album cover and an official track-listing. It looks like we're a go!

So, this is gonna be rewarding. The track-listing is 20 tracks deep; which is 6 songs longer than the leaked Tommy Boy album. So we already know we're in for something extra. In fact, it's only sort of Tommy Boy's shelved album... Actually, it seems to be a random assortment of NE tracks, including a large chunk of the Tommy Boy stuff. Once again it gets confusing and brings up almost as many questions as answers, so let's break it down song by song and see what we can work out:

1) "NE Season" - This was track #12 on the leaked version, so already we're out of sequence with the Tommy Boy LP, but that's the least of the differences we're going to see moving forward.

2) "2 Tons" - The big Tommy Boy single, of course, and one of their best ever.

3) "Bust Mine" - The old Dolo single? Yup. It seems like we're going into a bit of a 'Natural Elements' Greatest Hits' run here.

4) "Tri-Boro" - 'Greatest Hits...'

5) "Paper Chase" - More 'Greatest Hits.' I wish they would've left these off to make room for more unreleased material; but there's plenty of that still to come, so can't complain too much.

"Supreme Domination" - Whoa. An unreleased Fortress-era track (that I wrote about in HHC, here)? NOW we're talkin'!

7) "Livin It Up" - Second single from Tommy Boy, though surprisingly it wasn't on the album as leaked. But Traffic threw it on here.

8) "Shine" - Back to 'Greatest Hits' steez. ::shrug::

9) "Off Beat Bop" - Whoa! Never heard this before... A "new" song that wasn't on the Tommy Boy leak - sweet!!

10) "By Nature" - This was on the album, and has been floating around the 'net, often titled "Take a Trip Into the Mind."

11) "Intricate Plot" - This was on the album. Remember, though; this is the first time these "album" tracks are getting a legit release, so even though I say "this was on the album," it's still completely, previously unreleased.

12) "Survive" - Traffic's taking it back again. This is an old song from the early NE days that'd only seen release on the bootleg EP from Word of Mouth (which I detail here).

13) "Second Hand Smoke" - This was on the album.

14) "Tell Me Something Good" - This was on the album.

15) "NE Thing" - This was on the album.

16) "Paper Chase Pt. 2" - This was on the album, and also the Word of Mouth boot, where it was titled "Paper Chase 2005."

17) "Livin It Up Pt. 2" - Again, this was released on single from Tommy Boy, but wasn't featured on their version of the album. But it's on this one. Nothing new, but the more the merrier, right?

18) "NE Definitely" - This was on the album and the Word of Mouth EP.

19) "More Than Vocals (MTV)" - A track that NE recorded after being dropped from Tommy Boy that's been floating around the 'net, and another one I covered in my HHC piece.

20) "First Of All" - Odd that the album's intro is stuck on as the last track, but what the hey? This seems to be slightly shorter than the version included on the leak AND the EP (I refer you to my EP review, again, for the differences between the two). Is this possibly a third edit? Or maybe it's just mixed a little faster.

So, Traffic (who seemed to be partnered up with a label called Kings Link Recordz for this release) has definitely gone gonzo in including plenty of extras along with the proper album track-listing... but unfortunately to extreme of excluding a bunch of songs from the LP! Yeah, you read that right. Five or six album cuts were left off of this release, which is all the more frustrating when you look at those damn "Greatest Hits" songs they've got on there, taking up room. What Natural Elements fan doesn't already have "Shine" and "Bust Mine?" "I Don't Care Anymore" and their ill phone sex song would've been much more welcome than some generic reissue songs thrown in the mix.

I guess maybe some of those songs are considered unfinished? L-Swift said the album was never properly mixed down and that the leaked version we heard were "skeleton songs" (see this post for more on that, including Swift's full quote). He even said "I Don't Care Anymore" was supposed to feature SuperCat, and I guess if they didn't record his part back in 1999, it's unlikely they would've called him into the studio in 2009. So I guess they made some "executive decisions" (though the tracks they left off don't sound particularly unfinished for the most part to me). I guess I can sorta accept that. They promise us that these are "the original masters secured and remastered," and the soundclips they've put out there (like here) do sound nice and clean.

It would kick ass if this came out on double LP, but it'll probably just be CD. But despite my qualms and the ways this could've been better (less stuff everybody's got and more previously unreleased material, this is still one hell of an awesome release. Heck, if this sells enough, maybe they could be talked into releasing a Volume 2 with all the rest of the songs.

Update 12/11/09 - Now that this disc is shipping and I've gotten my copy, I compared "First of All" to see if this is the version on the Word of Mouth EP or the Tommy Boy leak. Interestingly, it's the Tommy Boy leak, but they fade it out about a minute before the song's actually over. So if you've got the EP, at least you'll be getting the different version when you purchase this album... but yeah, it's missing the final third. Weird.


  1. Damn, they need to put this out on vinyl.

  2. It's maddening to read reviews like this.

    Dude, not everybody has all of Natural Elements' tracks on their hard drive. There are a lot of hip hop fans who have only heard about Natural Elements and would love to get a primer on their history; a comp packed with hits and a few unreleased cuts is even better.

    Otherwise, much respect. I've been a fan of your work for years.

  3. I don't have all their music on my hard drive either (though I have a lot now since I researched that NE article I wrote last month lol). I barely have any mp3s, and the ones I do have are pretty much a random assortment of junk. I'm talking about what's already available on the actual records that are already out their to be purchased if you're interested in them.

    I can't imagine very many NE fans don't have their greatest hits like "Bust Mine" or "Shine." I mean, why would they BE fans if they haven't heard their music? I'm sure there are a few younger cats who've only heard about them, but I just don't see there being a large demand from fans who don't already have their best songs.

    Not that I'd have an objection to a Greatest Hits album for newer fans, etc to catch up, if they wanted to put that out separately. But when they're specifically leaving songs off, keeping them from ever getting an official release so that none of their fans will ever get to hear them, just so they can repackage and resell us songs we already have? Sorry, but that's wack.

    ...Especially since it's not just, like, old demo tracks they've decided not to restore (which would've been sweet; but oh well), but 6 songs that were on the Tommy Boy album that this is supposed to be the 10 year anniversary release OF. "Big 10 Year Anniversary Special Release that leaves off half the album!"

    But, still, I'll be happy to pick this up for the new songs they are giving us. It's just a sad, wasted, first and last opportunity.

  4. Actually, none of Natural Elements' 12-inches are available for purchase. In fact, many of them are quite collectable, trading for anywhere from $30 to $100. (I'm sure you already know this.)

    Also, I would disagree that hip hop fans aren't interested in learning about Natural Elements. Bloggers and critics have been talking them up for years as one of the major groups from the indie-rap era. Personally, I'd love to see a review that analyzes whether Natural Elements is truly deserving of all the hype they've gotten from hip hop collectors over the years.

    While I regret writing that your review was "maddening" -- it's not that serious -- I sometimes get frustrated reading reviewers that simply judge albums and comps according to what they have or have not heard before. Why not judge it according to whether the music is any good? Or better yet, whether or not it gives a complete picture of the group?

    This album isn't intended as a legit release of their unreleased Tommy Boy album. It's not a rarities disc, either. It's intended as a primer on the group, fleshed out with a few rarities and unreleased items. Hence, the "10 year anniversary" title. So why criticize it based on what it is specifically not?

  5. Well... You might have a point about fans who haven't heard NE but have become curious after only reading about their legacy. I wonder, though, if there's that many who've A) never actually heard NE but would still be curious enough to buy this release based on curiosity alone and B) wouldn't just download it just as easily as downloading all their 12"'s.

    This IS the 10 year anniversary of the Tommy Boy album, though... that's what was due to be released in 1999. Natural Elements started putting out records in 1994, so it's not like a 10-year anniversary of the group or anything.

    If the disc is meant to be a primer on the group, then they've made some pretty poor selections the other way around. They leave off a bunch of their best songs ("Lyrical Tactics," "Magnetic," "Mayday" etc) in favor of a bunch of Tommy Boy album tracks that aren't as good.

    What I'm sure this album REALLY is is an attempt to pull in every possible buyer they can... a few greatest hits, a few unreleased tracks... to pull in new fans, purists. Basically to make a release that's completely compromised no matter how you look at it, but still has just enough to rope everybody into buying it. ...Though, I understand why they feel they have to cover all their bases considering NE is an underground group and so not as safe a bet as Traffic's usual rereleases.

    And finally, while a few NE 12"'s do go for prices like you say, none of those rarities are included on this disc (there's nothing from the original NE EP or Mr. Voodoo's first 12", for example). Even $30 would be pretty high to pay for "Bust Mine" / "Paper Chase," and you can get "2 Tons" on Amazon for $1.99.

    Anyway, I don't mean to be criticizing your response (and I do thank you for taking the time to comment here and open up this discussion) so much as just expressing my frustration at Traffic here... Again, they're giving us "2 Tons," which anyone who cared could buy for two dollars (and most NE fans already do have) in favor of leaving songs off that now nobody will ever get to hear. To me, this is a chance for music to be released for the first time ever, to preserve art (and IMHO, NE are truly deserving of the hype they've gotten), and it's being thrown away because they want to be sure they're not missing out on another couple of bucks they could be getting from kids who just don't care enough to look for what's already available.

  6. By the way, Traffic's official description reads, "a fantastic debut that was shelved - until now. After a decade of gathering dust, Natural Elements debut full length is ready for your ears." So they DO seem to be pushing it as a release of that album (they're probably just hoping none of us will notice that it's missing 6 songs) rather than some kind of primer, so I think I am criticizing it based on what it is.

  7. I was looking to see what was on the Natural Elements CD and found your breakdown very enlightening. Traffic have released some great reissues which seem to be aimed at the completist and some that have scratched the surface for a better version to appear later. I am hoping this is one of the latter.
    I can see what Plug One Boss is saying but I agree that most people looking at your site will be a bit more clued up than the average teenaged rap fan.
    Love your site & the Discogs.

  8. Great review - I agree.

    A-Butta (or a dude under his guise) left a comment at grandgood:
    "it will be on Vinyl and 45s (limited edition signed by us) as well"

    Hopefully these will come to fruition.
    One track I was dying to see was a revamped version of the "I Gotcha Heart" demo! Still gonna cop this CD release.

  9. @-Plug One Boss:
    "It's not a rarities disc, either. It's intended as a primer on the group, fleshed out with a few rarities and unreleased items."

    So does this mean that they are going to release more of their rarities in proper quality?
    I haven't copped this yet, but I will just because it's NE. I was such a fanboy of these cats in the 90's, it was ridiculous.

    I agree with Plug about not everyone having every NE record that's on this release. Yeah, I copped them when they dropped, but I don't have them anymore.
    So this will be cool to have even if just to have certain tracks in CDQ.

    As CatchnWrek stated, I would also love to have "I Gotcha Heart" in CDQ, both versions. And all their other promos, for that matter.

    But Werner is correct in how they marketed this as an anniversary of the unreleased 99 TommyBoy album.
    And it clearly isn't. Shit, I would go as far in speculating that a few of these tracks are post 2000. One or two maybe even as new as 2005. And not much of what I haven't heard already is good.

    But it's NE and I'll cop. I just WANT MORE!! MORE MORE MORE!! Master all those promos and/or demos that only us lucky KCR and NYU listeners got a chance to hear. I believe mostly everything has been on the internet, but there's always something great locked in the NE vault.