Label: NatAural High Records
Rating: 7 / 10
Bay Area-based NatAural High Records hits the scene with an enjoyable mixtape plenty with plausible rhymes and quality beats. Mixed by DJ Icewater, “Develop[Mental]1” serves as a showcase for both the label and a triad of acts that make up its roster €“ Texan Bavu Blakes, San Fran €™s Spank Pops and CA/CT trio Lunar Heights. Musically roughly on the same page as Quannum and Hiero Imperium, NatAural High probably aims for the less martial and materialistic market, but that doesn €™t prevent Spank Pops from giving it up to the region €™s more hard-edged vets: “Let €™s go / throw your drinks up, let €™s make a toast / West Coast back with a banger, go figure / Frisco like Quinn, Nickatina and the Bigga Figga / Bay like E-40 and The Click, Mac Dre and Mall / All of y €™all; granddaddy of €˜em all Todd Shaw.”
€˜Populate €™ is Spank €™s attempt to propagate a phrase hoping it €™ll catch on, the way we €™ve seen it happen with €˜bling bling €™ or €˜hyphy €™. Whether he €™ll succeed or not remains to be seen, but riding a DJ Natural & Ambush track equipped with the typical West Coast thump and dropping references from Barry Bonds to Digital Underground, it €™s evident that his “style is pure Yay.” As in Yay Area, not as in lleyo. Best believe a rapper like Spanks Pops is cautious with cocaine references, when elsewhere he complains, €œEvery rapper got a drink comin €™ out / tryina turn our kids into drinkers / what we need is some thinkers / better schools and more teachers / pumpin €™ this through your speakers. €
But clearly the NatAural High artists try to leave the often characteristic animosities against the mainstream behind. Reminiscent of fellow Oakland residents Foreign Legion, Lunar Heights pursue a middle-of-the-road path, heading straight towards the dancefloor with €˜Shake, €™ taking a clue from €˜Wait (The Whisper Song)’ as they tone down their voices over DJ Vinroc €™s mystic Middle Eastern guitar loop. They complete their repertoire with an ode to music (the not particularly imaginatively titled €šDa Music €™), reminding us that “one song can change your day.” €šBest Bar €™sees member Jern Eye embarking on a battle mission, evoking the precocity of the Souls of Mischief. €˜Copecetic €™ is the crew €™s best offering, as they leave all troubles behind over a (sample-based) gem produced by Doc Phil, who stacks natural sounding drums and rolls out funky guitar layers as if his name was Chief Xcel.
To continue with the name-dropping, Bavu Blakes sounds like a more refined Defari on €˜Who Knows, €™ which he bases on the Andre3000 quote “Who knows what I must face when I leave this recording booth,” reflecting on his own career choices and coming to the conclusion: “Even outside the booth I just face the music.”Exhibiting the vocal tone of a relaxed GZA and the pace of a slowed down Gift of Gab, Bavu hosts the two remixes of €˜Play the Role. €™ Symbolyc One €™s Liquid Soul Remix pours soul-drenched slices of singing, a drum set borrowed from the Jay Dilla sound library and an unidentified, but literally bubbling substance into the mix, while Blakes tells perpetrators, “Just because you play the role, that don €™t mean you get the part.” For the Hydroponic Sound System-produced Statewide Remix he invites MyOne, Money Waters and The People’s Champ Paul Wall, the latter setting things off nicely with, “These boys fakin €™ the funk, it €™s like they auditionin €™ / but they actin €™ skills need conditionin €™ / Corporate America is in they ear whisperin €™ / and unfortunately they keep listenin €™.”
There you have it, the bandwidth of music NatAural High Records is prepared to put out. With MC €™s concerned with rocking shows to the audience €™s satisfaction (Blakes €™ €˜Nobody Leavin €™) and “tryin €™ to become a household name” (Spanks €™ €šLike Me Now €™), the work force seems to be ready and willing. The mixtape is accompanied by a singles series, but the true test for both the label and its artists will be any forthcoming full-lengths. Until then, “Develop[Mental]1” is a tasty appetizer.