Sunday, 19 January 2014

Champions of Nature

L to R - A.M, Lewis Parker, Supa T, Jehst, Apollo (missing L.Dolo and Profound)
With the recent release of the remixes of Jehst's 'Dragon Of An Ordinary Family' on a limited run of cassette tapes and 'The Man with the Golden Sound' - Lewis Parker, dropping collectors item after collectors item from his home in the US, it felt like as good a time as any to write a little something about the short-lived "super-group" that they were both all too briefly a part of alongside Supa T, L Dolo, Profound, Apollo and AM at the turn of the millenium.

Finalisation 12" EP (2000) (£30ish)
 At the heart of it all was Lewis Parker who at the time was probably the best known member of the collective when they decided to give themselves the name Champions Of Nature in 2000. By this time Parker was already six years into his rap career and was busy making "It's All Happening Now" (Melankolic, 2002) which would feature many of the same artists involved in the group. Prior to taking on the name they had previously collaborated with one another for Low Life's '98 Series 12"s and on the Easter Island 12" before a fall-out with Braintax lead to Parker moving himself and his mates away from the label to continue their work.

The Fuck Off Song 12" EP (£20ish)
For Jehst, the other big-hitter in the line-up, this was also a particularly productive time. Having moved to London to be closer to the heart of the scene he maintained his relationship with Joey Brains and was busy dropping stonewall classics such as his 'High Plains Drifter' EP, working with MK on the 'It's All Live' 12"and featuring on a series of 12"s that came out on Low Life Records (including some era defining tracks by the likes of Braintax and Taskforce) and appearing alongside US rap legend J-Zone on the 'Staircase II Stage' 12". It was a particularly fruitful time for the tuned-in UK Hip Hop enthusiast with what seemed like classic after classic being dropped on a monthly basis and the Champions of Nature records were definitely solid additions to that back catalogue of heat.

Unfortunately the group's output was minimal. The peak, a one off 12" on Word Play with a promo video and a spot on the 'Word Lab vol.2' comp on Wordplay Records - a subsidiary of the French Label Source. Outside of that, two seriously cheap looking independently released white label 12"s with half-assed Marker Pen labels (that have at times sold for stupid money), a lost holy grail test press and a promo mix CD/album courtesy of DJ IQ (now Professor Green's official tour DJ!) made up the collective's complete back catalogue of work.

In a 2002 interview by Redeem for www.altrap.com Lewis Parker laid down the history of things as follows...

The record that kick-started Low Life 
Lewis Parker in 2002: "I came up with the name Champions Of Nature. We was doing tunes, me and (Supa) T… (L.) Dolo was doing tunes with Profound and at that point we was still safe with Braintax and then Jehst came through from up north. So I met up proper with Braintax and then that all fired off. So that was a crew waiting to happen. The reason it madly happened was cause the way Braintax was running his label. Before he had signed Taskforce or anything, me (Supa) T and (Joe) Braintax had come with a plan for 'The '98 Series'. 

Before they were C.O.N Artists
"The first ‘98 Series had a tune ‘Life By Life’*, with me, Supa T, and Braintax (*Presumably he means Life and Breath, Ed.). It was a bad, bad tune. I hooked up the drums, Braintax looped it and shit, and that was all cool – we put it out. That was actually gonna be one of the tunes for 'Masquerades and Silhouettes'. But we put that on a B-side of one of (Supa) T’s tunes he had done with Braintax. He put that out, that was the first ‘98 Series, and it done fucking well. It was sort of a small independent release and it pretty much changed how his label was going. So we put out the second one, pretty much the same line up – we put out ‘Easter Island’. And that was the last tune that I done on Lowlife. 

Last Outing for LP on Low Life Records
"...We’re not with Lowlife no more, but we’re all here… we wanna put out some tunes. We’ve got some sick shit, let’s put it out. And I had the name C.O.N, which I just wanted to call the crew for a while. But on our first release we didn’t use that name – we just put out tunes… four solo joints, two produced by me, and two by Dolo. But by the second release we just put the name to it and it stuck.


The 3rd 12" on Source (£5ish)
We then put out 3 independent releases. Then the last independent release, ‘Salsa Smurf’, got signed for a Source compilation and was put out as a single. But they fucked it up – people had been playing it a year before it had been out… DJ’s were smashing it… but they released it mad late, which just lost the vibe of the tune. But we were gonna get signed to Source, they offered us a deal for 70 grand. We said, we should be getting more than that. Basically, we sorta slept on it a bit, but when we went back to them, they changed the whole story, and tried to come with 30 grand And we like, “What? What happened??” 

DJ IQ's 2004 mixtape comp of CON material
"At that point there were six people, we had already lost a member cause of politics. And us six were ready to sign. It never happened though, it just didn’t feel right. And we woulda ended up skint. But if we woulda went for it, right now, we’d be making more noise as a collective. But because it didn’t people sorta forgot about Champions Of Nature. But really C.O.N. are the sickest out here, with the most potential – because everyone of us makes beats, the B-Boy shit, we know what its about, and that’s the difference between us and a lot of other crews."

DJ IQ mix cd - still a cheap pickup
But alas, this is where it all ended... In 2004 Jehst and DJ IQ gathered together the majority of work by the group and put it out on an independently released mix CD, (the release of which only served to cause further fissures between the group members) but that proved to be the last we heard from the group as a collective.  In the end the politics of business proved too difficult to overcome and all the artists involved went off their separate ways - with Jehst and Lewis Parker going on to build bonafide rap careers and the rest drifting off into UK Rap obscurity rarely to be heard from again!

The Full DJ IQ - C.O.N Artists Mix CD 

Salsa Smurf - Official Video

... And that Holy Grail Test Press I mentioned...




2 comments:

  1. wasnt the CON artists mix CD compiled / mixed by DJ MK? i only ask because i literally just bought a copy from suspect packages because i lost my old one years ago & it says mixed by MK.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Haha, no mate - 100% definitely DJ IQ - click on the full cover image of the CD embedded in the article and it will get big enough for you to see mixed by DJ IQ in the bottom left corner of the front cover.

    ReplyDelete