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All Natural takes the hip-hop world by storm.

By Dave Chamberlain

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Chicago's music scene is rumbling with a new buzz. Those in "the know," label people and club brass are talking up Chicago's All Natural as the best hip-hop act in Chicago.

After opening shows for Common and Tortoise, and an upcoming opening spot on the Pharcyde bill (August 2 at the Metro), more than just the industry are seeking out All Natural, a two man underground hip-hop outfit consisting of MC David Kelly (aka Capital D) and DJ Tony Fields (Tone B. Nimble).

All Natural's record, "No Additives, No Preservatives" is easily the best made by a Chicago act this year. Evenly cut between higher-tempo tracks (like the opening "Fresh Air"), and smooth-flowing moderation with just a tint of R & B (like the closing song and the band's first single, "50 Years"). This isn't a Chicago take on gangsta rap, but it's as hardcore hip-hop as any record made in the last five years, period. With variations in beats, scratches and an absolutely undiluted old-school thump on the bass, combined with flawlessly poetic and rhythmic wordplay from Kelly, All Natural avoids the monotonous, drab collection of recycled beats and themes that plagues so much of the hip-hop mainstream. It's neither old-school nor new-school; it's just cool-school.

Cooler yet, with the CD comes the "Fresh Air" book penned by Capital D (Kelly), part comic book, part lyric sheet and part discourse on socio-political issues ranging from hip-hop's inherent problems to its part as a cultural vehicle to steady thought on African-American suicide. It's both intelligent and heavy shit, something immediately clear from the first line: "Hip hop has been, is being & will continue 2 b fucked."

That thematic statement echoes throughout "No Additives," and All Natural poses questions to African America similar in weight and focus to Public Enemy's high-power, querying politics of more than ten years ago.

As if making a critically impressive debut record isn't difficult enough, add to the mix that the band has mastered virtually every part of the process on their own, revealing overall ability even more well-rounded than the none-too-easy musical talent and social commentary. "It took years of thinking about actually doing the record before we even began to make it," says Kelly. "In the end, the money part was the least of our difficulties."

Natives of Chicago, Kelly and Fields have been playing and rapping together for about eight years, four under the name All Natural.

All Natural's first mini-break came when they were a late add to open for Tortoise - a live show during which All Natural proved it avoids the snare of bad timing and overdone bass (live hip-hop's common downfall). That began a connection with Thrill Jockey. By giving advice, and even doing some publicity, the Thrill Jockey association, says Kelly, "has opened up a lot of doors."

"The hardest thing," adds Kelly, "is finding people willing to help. Especially with the distributing and marketing." Regardless, All Natural has sold out of the single after an initial order of 1,000, and they've already gotten "No Additives, No Preservatives" into local record stores like the Beat Parlor, Dr. Wax and Gramaphone.

The need for the All Natural duo to take care of their own business is highlighted by the lack of high-profile hip-hop acts and rappers that emerge from Chicago, minus Common. "The problem with rap in Chicago," says Kelly, "is that there's no industry here, especially if you're trying to go mainstream. There's still a lot of bias in favor of the East Coast and West Coast. But as far as the underground hip-hop scene, Chicago is good because there's no pressure to go mainstream."

Although the D-I-Y ethic commands immense respect, especially from rock people, there is a downside to taking care of every aspect of a record. "That's one thing we didn't expect," says Kelly. "It's difficult to be creative and make music when you have to handle the business side and marketing side. Fortunately, we have a lot of friends in the industry. We're making mistakes, but we learn from them. A lot of people use the responsibility of the business side as an excuse, they get scared and don't do it. But it's not an excuse."


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