Chicago-area All Natural (composed of DJ Tone B Nimble and MC Capital D) first gained notoriety in the late 90’s for their back-to-basics, “all natural” sound. After releasing their first full-length, they solidified their reputation with another, titled “Second Nature” (2001), which featured, among others, Slug, JUICE, and the Lone Catalysts.
“Second Nature” was the type of album you had to own on vinyl and had to listen to while sitting around with friends, taking a break from the world just to enjoy the simplicity and frivolity of each other’s company. It was such a good album because Tone laid down these mid to down-tempo beats and these simplified jazz samples behind Cap’s trademark effortless, almost conversational, rapping style (think “Queens Get The Money,” “Elements of Style,” “Mr. Sexy,” “Renaissance”). The listener hung on his every word, half-believing the song might finish after each line. It was organic, it was freeform, and it was relaxing as hell. It was like urban meditation for the contented soul.
“Vintage,” the third full-length, saw Tone B. Nimble taking a backseat to other producers. This record maintained the same relaxed vibe but changed the ideal listening atmosphere to the walk home after attending a march for social change. Cap D becomes more upfront about his socio-political views, a fact perfectly articulated by the difference between Parts I (on “Second Nature”) and II (on “Vintage”) of “Queens Get The Money.”
“Return of the Renegade” continues in this same vein, allowing Cap D to be more confident and more secure in his beliefs. His ability to reach outside the All Natural, Inc. camp becomes more apparent (a la choice appearances by Rhymefest and One Be Lo) as does his recent time in the Orient.
After a beautiful, obviously Asian-inspired opening track, Cap takes it back with “Return of the Renegade.” This track would be perfectly at home on any previous All Natural album, with the trademark relaxed beat and conversational flow. Saying that “the streets is lookin lost, so I gotta show improvements,” Cap D states why he continues to rap:
“See people asked me what I ever stopped for
I had to rediscover what I rock for
I rock it for the heads who love the hardcore
I rock it for the babies out in Darfur
I rock it for illegal cats who cross the border
And for Katrina victims by the French Quarter”
The following tracks, “Blow” and “Bright Lights,” respectively, take the semblance of relaxation created by the previous tracks and blow it up, like a pristine vacation paradise island leveled by an atomic bomb. Normally, if gritty content and upfront delivery match the beat, this would work fine, but the intense Mobb Deep-esque instrumentation swallows up Capital D’s casual flow. Although he does bring some heavy content and he changes his flow to match the beat:
“Shot from the cannon ran him blocks for the paper
Got the cops on the trail
And chasin cats tryin to shake a brother down
Cause he make a little cash when he servin up cut
Got runners on the grind, new shipment on arrival
Politicians in the pocket, takin notes on the Bible”
However, the disconnected view of observer (a la “Writer’s Block) can’t match the intensity of the beat.
A heavy boom-bap beat, mysterious guitar loop, and silly Jackie Chan sampling (poorly done Wu-Tang?) don’t bode well for “The Answer.” The listener finds Cap again struggling under a heavy beat load despite the presence of One Be Lo, who delivers some thought-provoking material:
“Sometimes it’s hard walkin the narrow
Path straight like a arduous arrow
These last days dark as my shadow
Target practice on your talltel towers of Babel”
Maker brings his usual incredible beat style, although the busyness is accentuated in its juxtaposition with Cap’s relaxed style, on “Ups & Downs.” “Nickel & Dime,” however, is a standout track, whose simplified guitar and bass provide the ideal background for Cap D to assume his usual conversational rapping. “Destiny,” another perfect gem, consists of golden-era saxophone sampling and 60s-era backup-style vocal sampling that find an uplifting home in the mid-tempo beat. Cap D tells the listener:
“This is still remembering all I had was this work ethic
Big dreams, no bling, no cream, and no credit
But don’t sweat it, it’s natural, no prosthetics, we prophetics
Slice the mic device and keep my sights pointed at Gold record
Yet to reach through all y’all, this industry is so hectic
Pops came to my show, saw me flow, and told me ‘Go get it'”
It’s hard to avoid unfairly judging an artist by their past work. Time continues, artists change, but what matters is whether they can continue to deliver in their new form. Although I highly enjoy Capital D’s previous works, I don’t feel he delivered on the latest. The beats have significantly changed and Capital D’s delivery hasn’t been able to keep up. The previously proven confidence, content, and flow disappear amidst overwhelming production, thereby disallowing any real information retention. Cap D may have returned, but he’s also become a renegade to his fans as well as the hip hop community.