Anthony Cruz AKA A-Butta (Natural Elements) Interview
Sunday October 30th 2005,
Filed under: Interviews
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Anthony Cruz is a member of one of the most indefinable and amazing hip-hop groups of all time, Natural Elements. Also known as A-Butta, Anthony is 1/4th of this group, which also consists of L-Swift AKA Swigga, Mr. Voodoo and Charlemagne. Coming out of West Harlem, A-Butta began showing up on radio shows and open mics with some of the most vicious and intricate rhymes ever heard. The prolific 90’s era of NYC hip hop was a strange and unpredictable time for many artists. As hip-hop became more and more embraced by corporate interest, the genuine creation of original music thrived in nightclubs and on college radio. Tracing Anthony Cruz’s career involves a grasp of things like mix tape culture and 4am radio appearances. After slipping through the cracks of major label promotion and the materialization of new trends in music, A-Butta has continued on his path and has a new direction with his music. Read on to get a first person perspective…

Keir: Where did you grow up, what was your neighborhood like?

A-Butta: I grew up in West Harlem. Specifically, 125th street & Broadway. My neighborhood was, and still is, extremely diverse so I was exposed to many different cultures and customs at a young age. For example I hung out with kids who listened to the Ramones and at the same time I had friends who were bumping The Fearless Four. West 125th has a wild mix of African-American, Latino, Asian and straight American cultures. Pretty much the New York City prototype…

K: Do you remember how you were first exposed to hip hop?

A: I have a few early memories that stand out. I remember I had Ramones and UB40 records on heavy rotation at like 5 years old. Then I paid a visit to my next-door neighbor who was bit older than me, and he was DJ. His alias was DJ Kid Fresh. He was like “Yo man, forget that punk shit – listen to this!” and I think he threw on “Ladi Dadi” or “The Show” and I was blown away! From then on I was pretty much addicted to hip hop.

K: When you got older, how did calling up to radio stations work out?

A: I was always listening to college radio shows. I remember listening to heads call up and I would say to myself I could rock that if I called. One day I was with my girl and she was like you should call, so I did and I have been in and out the game since…

K: What kinds of things were going on in NYC at that time?

A: As far as NYC hip hop was concerned it was just a plethora of talent popping up out of the urban streets. I mean from like 95-98 NYC hip hop was nutty man! Some of the most important places were The Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe open mics and The Vinyl Nightclub. The whole scene is still somewhat surreal to me like it almost never really existed…

K: How did you get connected with Mr. Voodoo, Charlemagne and L-Swift?

A: My man DJ Mayhem introduced me to Swigga (aka L-Swift) and we instantly clicked. From there, it was pretty much this is Voo this is Charlemagne let’s get it poppin!

K: Who came up with the name Natural Elements, what is the story behind it?

A: I believe Charlemagne came up with the name in the early 90’s. There were a lot of early members before me for example KA, Raidermen, etc. But the ones who got the most attention were Mr. Voodoo and L-Swift. At the time the material they were coming with was groundbreaking. Heads were just not putting words together like them and their flow was unique and so immaculate. It literally was poetry in motion.

K: Can you explain how the label situation worked out with Natural Elements?

A: Initially, the plan was to get Fortress Records jumped off, but then the focus was switched to actually getting signed to a major label. We were approached several times and the labels just wanted Voodoo, L and myself. At the time Essence (former NE female mc) had some creative differences and eventually branched off to do her own projects. So me Voodoo and L along with Charlemagne put together a package and eventually got picked up by Tommy Boy. We were really hungry and ready to blow, but what we didn’t know or expect to encounter was the massive amount of red tape and politics that go behind the scenes in a record label. To make a long story short our creative process was pretty much taken out of our hands and the result was a half-ass album that never got put out anyway. There was so much talent and potential between me L-Swift and Mr. Voodoo it was a shame the hip hop world never really got to experience the sound of NE. We still got wild flavor but each of us is our handling our own projects. I’m remaining optimistic that some time in the near future we’ll reunite and drop the album that hip hop heads deserve to hear.

K: The freestyle sessions you took part in on shows like Stretch & Bobbito, The Underground Railroad and Halftime were some of the most amazing examples of lyrical mayhem on air. How did you and L-Swift happen to have such amazing chemistry that you could cut each other off and still keep the rhyme going?

A: We were young and hungry man. That creative energy was pulsating in us, our blood was pumping to the same beat so we fed off each other and I guess people felt it. I’m shocked that people still bring those sessions up, I never really realized so many people loved those rhyme sessions… I had fun doing them so I’m glad people appreciated the energy we brought to our live radio sessions.

K: I heard you don’t even write lyrics down, is this true?

A: Yeah, I just repeat them in my head. I can’t write the lyrics down cuz’ it interferes with my flow. I like to get the flow and words down packed at the same time so I just repeat the verses literally over and over…

K: Who is Kenny Diaz?

A: Kenny Diaz is a huge mentor and influence on me, creatively and personally. We’ve been working together on my solo stuff for like 8 years. We have like 10 different albums. We just keep material shut in the safe for no reason. It’s sounds idiotic, and it is, but we’re ready to release some huge bangers in the future. There are a lot of different vibes on each joint so I’m anxious to see how people react.

K: Tell me about Bullet Proof Junkies?

A: Bullet Proof Junkies is a recent project that I’ve started working on this summer. It’s me on lead vocals and 3 Japanese guys. Butch on guitar, Yoshi on Bass and Dai on drums. We play a hip hop/punk/rockabilly fusion… We’ve had a few gigs over the past few months in NYC and we’ve had a huge response so far. The music is wild, and I think that it should really jump off any minute. We’re on some worldwide Puerto Rico meets Japan rap/rock vibe.

K: What other projects can we expect from you in the future?

A: I have a bunch of group projects in the works. One is called Kourageous Katz. This will be Scaramanga Shallah, Godfather Don, Kenny Diaz and Anthony Cruz. Of course Bullet Proof Junkies, Puerto Rico vs. Japan, Free Energy Pioneers (blink 182ish) The Incredible Shrinking Men and the return of Natural Elements…

K: Closing words?

A: Much love to all supporters of creative minds. We’re all artists and deserve a chance to express ourselves. Peace.


Photos: Keir Johnson

A-Butta - Freestyle

A-Butta - Phone Freestyle

A-Butta & L-Swift - Tag Team Freestyle

Natural Elements - Bust Mine [Dolo Records, 1997]

Natural Elements Discography

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40 Comments so far
Leave a comment

very dope. thanks a lot for this.

Comment by g 10.30.05 @

Man, where did you find A-butta!! I have every single of N.E. My personal favorites were ‘Shine’ and ‘NYC’. Thanks for the interview. It is greatly appreciated. Peace

Comment by alternate9 10.30.05 @

Yo A-Butta, you legendary kid! Not sure if you know this already, but all the Fortress 12 inches sell for loot ($25-$150!) on Ebay and at Sound Library here in NYC. Someone should put out a compilation of all the 12inches including the freestyles, the paper chase remix and the singles ya’ll did for Tommy Boy. peeps def want to hear…

Much respect!

Comment by neil nice 10.30.05 @

Man, this site/blog never ceases to amaze me.

top work

Comment by rival 10.31.05 @

I remember my man Prime gave me a cd with that tagteam joint, and it’s still serious good biz

Comment by Pugs 10.31.05 @

it’s funny you did this b/c i just pulled out an old stretch & bob tape to listen to their tag team shit and it sounds fresh to this day…reminds of me why i like hip hop.

Comment by thesurgeongeneral 11.01.05 @

yo good looks on the A-Butta interview. I’ve been wondering what’s going on with him and the rest of the NE crew. I still bump NE on the show to this day. Keep the tracks coming and the dope interviews. And that freestyle clip with L Swift is crazy, first time I heard it. It’s crazy!!

Comment by Nesto 11.02.05 @

This is cool so far. I gotta come back and finish reading the rest though. That 2nd Butta pics is fiyah. Like the colors.

Comment by Dayrell 11.03.05 @

one of the best ‘underground’ emcees of all time. one of my top 5 rappers ever.

Comment by dsun 11.06.05 @

great interview.

Comment by treatfreak 11.07.05 @

Man I wish we could get that unrealeased N.E. album that was supposed to be put out by Tommy Boy. Respect to all the members of the Natural Elements crew. Bring it back, Please!!!!!!!!!

Comment by D.F.MALO 11.09.05 @

bullet proof junkies bout to blo. Someone’s gotta sign these dudes
a-butta keep doing it. Hit a up for show info on bulletproof junkies.
i thought kourageous katz had b – visze in it?

Comment by brian wood 11.15.05 @

Yo niggas have to link asap and do this..you have a big ass fan base waiting for yearsss…your fan base is more of a secret society

Comment by natural elements 11.20.05 @

IVER BEEN A FAN SINCE DAY 1!! I REMEMBER ROCKIN ALL UR JOINTS ON MY RADIO SHOW BACK IN THE DAY . THE SUBTEREANEAN HEAD NOD SHOW. WORD. I REMEMBER SEEING U GUYS PERFORM IN SOUTH BEACH AT CLUB LIQUID BACK IN DA DAYS .STRAIGHT FIRE.

Comment by dj.seequence 11.22.05 @

“NYC, all the five boroughs I be, L.S.W.I.F.T, NYC…”. Ooooooh, ooooooh!!! That’s one of my favs of all time. Man, I miss 90’s underground hip-hop from NY. If I had a time machine, I would go back to those years. I took those years for granted. What happened to all those guys. I used to bump Big Kwam. The beats were so fresh. F*@$! this new stuff. Don’t get me started. I’m bitter. Peace.

Comment by SF_Afrofuturist 11.23.05 @

Some of the most classic hip hop, been waiting to hear from NE for a long time

Comment by Ace 11.30.05 @

does anybody know what that phone freestyle beat with the female vocal is ? that is phat hiphop

Comment by hellswindstaff 12.10.05 @

nice interview: best underground group of all time — will someone please leak the NE album from tommyboy black already?!

Comment by konijn 12.10.05 @

I love it when my childhood friend and confidant till this day is shown the love he rightfully diserves. This dude A-Butta inspired me to follow a career in music since we were kids he started me up.Because of him I do what I do to this day. We go back to our childhood years.

The days of beat boxing on the 1 and 9 trains on our way to high school in the mornings from 125th to 14th street stops and getting standing ovations on the New york City Subway System lol even further…the elementary school lunch table banging beats for him to battle kids in our class that rapped.

Natural Elements was the the most overlooked rap group of the 90’s. A-Butta, Swigga, and Mr.Voodoo where way ahead of there time. To this day there is no one in there category. They where the pinnacle of word play and lyricism at it’s best. A-Butta and L-Swift(Swigga) where true freestyle kings. None of this stuff that goes on millions of mixtapes these days. These cats made every lyric up on the spot of the top of their heads,And would spit ryhmes for ever and make sense. That is what you call a freestlye but if half these cats today tried to do that they would sound straight wack.And yes I’m the “Bearfakts” A-Butta mentions in the tag team freestyle and i’m still rolling by his side 2005 with Automatik the dude L-Swift mentioned in tagteam as well we are called SoundSik look out for us in 2006. I lived every moment A-Butta and Natural Elements were going through for night after night after night on WNYU’s Martin Moore and DJ Mayhem Show 89.tec9 and halfpint shows. I actually own a large colletion of Natural Elements projects but they are my personal Stash. I mean all the original members numerous albums on tape.
Planning on dropping a SoundSik Album in 2006 featuring Swigga,A-Butta, and Voodoo amongst other Underground Independent Artist from NYC. The down low reunion track. Shhhhh.

Comment by BEARFAKTS OF "SOUNDSIK" 12.18.05 @

Its dope to see the brova is still alive. I need to seriosly burn them tapes to mp3. Classic sessions .. He need to drop ish soon . I got the joint he did that talked about his girl catchin him cheating in the club ” . .we will last forever/ I gassed the bytch not we back together..” Crazy ish
.. Paz

Comment by dolo 12.25.05 @

I’m pretty sure Mayhem introduced him to L Swift at my show, where they rhymed together for the first time that night.

Comment by Jay Smooth 01.04.06 @

I’ve known about Natural Elements since the late 90s. This kid from UK put me up on them but its hard to find their shit around my way. I’m desperately lookin 4 a song of theirs from back in the 90s …I believe its called RAINDROPS (its like raindrops all in ya ears..yeah..its like raindrops all on ya dome WORD)…that shit is DUMB ILL!!!! I need that 4 my collection. I’ve been searching for over a year now w/ no luck…

anyways….. any help would be appreciated!!!

peace 2 all the other female emceez strugglin…
**sometime must be invested 4 this 2 B manifested**

~1~

Comment by Sabotage 01.11.06 @

YURRR, MY NIGGA A-BUTTA, DO U MY DUDE, WE WAS THE HOTTEST GROUP LIKE PEOPLE ARE SAYIN IN THEY COMMENTS, I DEFINETLY AGREE, BUT IT’S A NEW DAY AND I STILL SUPPORT U 110%!..

Comment by SWIGGA DA DON!! 01.12.06 @

I have the unreleased Black Label album. If anyone wants it, just hit me up at [email protected].

To capital A, rappin on stage, first lemme say word to plaid pants and bold colors. I remember you on the mid-90’s nyc tip, goretex and pnb and timbs, polo bear steez but this fits you too.

To Swigga also, I wrote you this dumb long email to Agathamusic but i don’t think that’s you? hit me if it was.

To the both of you (and Voo also), when I worked at SubVerse Records (RIP) after I got the unreleased album I wanted to bootleg it and I SWEAR cut you in on profits but Brewin at FatBeats told me someone else was planning on doing that?!?!? Whatever no matter. That EP came out recently and I was a little disappointed because I’d have done that shit right, mad tracks on 2LP, fuk Tommy Boy and their masters. We could have gotten around it and all eaten even just a little bit.

Anyway word, I’m 28 and went to Bronx Science, coming from QU. The NE tapes from stretch/bob era kept me sane on the 4 train. I’m a lawyer now, used to DJ at Fat Beats and worked with C-Rayz Walz, that culminated in his getting signed to DefJux. Natural Elements basically raised me, refined my taste. Henri Char was the first black man to give this whiteboy goosebumps with his beats. (Check him out on discogs, he’s worked on mad projects too, but his grimy shit from the NE-as-kings era was never surpassed).

So much love and reminiscence when it comes to these dudes. When I worked at FatBeats I told Breeze (brewin) that you, A-Butta, you were my fav emcee of all time, breeze being #2 and doom being #3. That has never changed. Swigga is mad nice too, but I really just always sweated Butta on the mic a bit more.

That one stretch show when Butta goes off for like 10 mins, talking about Clinton getting head in office, I still laugh at that freestyle.

and word to all NE fam who posted on here, but i have to say that while i do agree that lots of the shit you hear on those radio shows was off domes, butta wouldn’t be able to back vocals on some of swift’s punchlines unless they rehearsed that shit or just ciphered together so many times it’s like when i finish my boys’ sentences.

Anyway word, minus those cherished radio freestylies, I have the unreleased album and mad others, here are the ones I have…the album version i have was a studio DAT unmastered and not of great sound quality; I had to guess many of the song titles, and those will have an asterisk* next to their names. all other tracks i have i just been collecting for years. NE, Bulletjunks, SoundSik whatever, anything any of you need in the way of management, legal shit, contract stuff, you name it. I do not exaggerate when I say tracing back to the backpacker/skate/krylon years of the almighty golden age, Natural Elements really did run tings, making competitors flip on the really. I liken them to the PNB Nation of the hungry emcee sect.

I seriously would do anything to help you guys out in any realm, just to be involved in any of your projects. Butta, Voo and Swiggs, fuck it big HENRI too, even tho he branched on some other shit. I do however wish I never got outbid on the DantePachino 21 guns testpress on ebay. fuckers!

Peace and mad love to Anthony Cruz, (it’s his alter ego)

Tracks from the Unreleased album:
1) MurderShit (Intro)
2) Apocalypse
3) ???
4) Piece of the Pie
5) By Nature*
6) R.A.P.E.
7) Second Hand Smoke
8) Paper Chase (this was called Paper Chase 2005 on that new shifty EP some UK cats from DaybyDay put out i think, but it’s just a better beat than the original Dolo 12″)
9) NEthing*
10) Phone Sex
11) Too Many*
12) Return of the 45*
13) Ain’tNothingChanged*
14) Definitely*

Other tracks I have in collection
– Magnetic
– Hey Hey Hey
– Mayday
– Gettin Over
– How its Goin Down
– Lyrical Tactics
– Still Living
– Chryme Life
– Lyrical Tactics Pt. 2
– Life Ain’t Fair
– Freak Freak
– S.H.I.N.E.
– NYC
– Take a Trip
– AAAh Who am I?
– 2 Tons
– The Promo
– How it’s Goin Down Rmx.
– Live it up Part 2
– Hemlock
– Knick Knack Paddy Wack
– Paper Chase (OG beat, different from album’s beat)
– Return of the 45
– Live it Up
– Livin it up (Rmx Instrumental)
– Freestyle Stretch/Bob
– Tri-Boro (one of the dopest songs about new york, hands down, basically…ever)
– UndergrndRailroad freestyle
– Strategy

Comment by ABEL 01.21.06 @

God… i remember those days staying up listening& recording Martin Moore, Mayhem& Sunset, Stretch & Bobbito, Underground Railroad, the Awesome Two, the Dirty Dozen… it’s just not the same anymore! Of the tapes I have left, I have one with A-Butta freestyling with Black Thought that i still listen to in awe.
I used to wonder whatever happened to NE. I’m glad to know things are still cool and can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Comment by Jessica 01.23.06 @

its good to here from dude.
i got a 15 minute freestyle with the roots, L swift, sadat x, half a mil and many more on my soundclik page. hit me up on aim @ jakdanylls for the whole 33 minute freestyle, if ur interested.
http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=206360

ayo mr. cruz, good luck.
out.

Comment by bice 01.23.06 @

Don’t forget about the lost member in the Natural Elements camp, KA. “KA, I am a genius I mean this…” Charlemagne’s beats are some of the most underated of all time. I loved hearing all the exclusive promo’s and demo’s on WNYU’s New York Live Show with Mayhem and DJ Riz and WKCR’s Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show. Not to mention the classic Natural Elements freestyles on other shows like WBAI’s Underground Railroad. Mr. Voodoo aka Agu started as an intern with J-Smooth on the Undergroung Railroad in like 1992-93. I could go on forever….

Comment by Pmd 01.27.06 @

…ayo what happened with a-butta?!

he’s gone all japanese indie rock with them bullet proof kids or am i missing out on something…?

…someone, please shed some light on this.

appreciate it.

peace.vision.focus&quickhandz

danoe

Comment by danoe one 04.15.06 @

Does anyone out there knows the name of the JUNGLE BROTHERS cover song they N.E did cause i only got half of it and dont know the name but its dope!-“natural elements n.e for short a writer bit my ryhme and we almost fought”.

Comment by B.V 05.19.06 @

Firstly, NE needs to understand how happy we all would be if they were to compile some official shit for us (whether it’s the Tommy Boy shit or whatever)….we are salivating at the thought. Natural Elements…..one of the illest crews ever!!! C’mon, Voodoo, A-Butta, and L-Swift spittin over Charlemagne beats….please!!! Incredible. A-Butta, get rid of the plaid pants and reconnect with NE…it’s NOT too late!

-To B.V, That JB’s track is called “The Promo.”

Comment by MudBFree 07.08.06 @

natural e forever
so slept on and charlemagne was the illest
niggas know
a-butta had that ill flow
and swigga was on the halftime show a few weeks ago still representin
i need all of those exclusive ne promo and joints

Comment by illest 07.18.06 @


NATURAL ELEMENTS???!!!
Swigga still doin his thing big up!. A Butta where u at?? used to love that freestyle over the Full Cooperation beat he did 4 DJ Camilo way back.
And when NE came out as 2-FACE on the blindside label..anyone got that?? Need to hear that again.

Comment by mingkilla 01.26.07 @

i uploaded their tommy boy lp on my blog. enjoy.
http://www.compleckshiphop.blogspot.com/

Comment by Complecks 04.09.07 @

Very Talented Lyrical Artist and Wordsmith..much Conviction & Range in your work Man!

Peace n Respex

Gh3770

Comment by [email protected] 07.18.07 @

A-butta…. good stuff. Just picked up the 2Face (Blindside Records) 12″ of NYC/Hey,Hey,Hey off of Ebay from Japan. Priceless. Cop it if U see it. Quintessential Hip-Hop. Sounds as fresh in 2008 as it did in 1996.

Comment by CAUM 01.18.08 @

Oh shit… I beeeeeeen lookin for that 2Face.. Even out in South Africa we recognize the real.. I was bumpin this back in ’94 off some Rasta Root mixtape back then and I never been able to forgive the friend of mine who lost that tape!!!

Comment by emceeKasualT 01.23.08 @

Yo!!!!!!!!!!A-Butta when I heard him, he just blew my mind away especially with Hey,Hey,Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Ha, Ha, Two-face! Letting it blow, Plus getting da dough, We be checking yo ho, While you, Sweating the flow…..He’s bananas…Wish you much success..

Comment by Rob 11.18.08 @

Still kills me to this day how much potential these cats had. And how dope these cats were and yet they ended up with nada. Most def one of the most slept on groups EVER!! Anthony Cruz was a beast.

Comment by Cresno 03.19.11 @

Textbook example of criminally underrated

Water air earth fire…I’d like your attention

Comment by Maya 07.13.11 @



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