Welcome back to the latest edition of Flashback Friday Flop, a weekly feature in which I examine a hip-hop album from years ago that was considered a flop, either critically or commercially or both, when it was released and see if it has gotten better – or worse – over time.
This week: Nature’s For All Seasons (2000)
The first time many people heard of Nature was when he replaced Cormega as the fourth member of The Firm in 1997. While that project fell far short of expectations, it did debut atop the Billboard 200 and would eventually be certified platinum, exposing fans of Nas, AZ, and Foxy Brown, to this young spitter who performed admirably, even if he was unable to steal the show.
A member of the Class of 1998, Nature continued making noise with his appearances on DJ Clue mixtapes and albums and as a featured artist with both his mentor Nas (“In Too Deep“) and his peers (kicking off Noreaga’s “Banned from T.V.“). He was buzzing.
Unfortunately, as so often happens in hip-hop, the Queensbridge native’s debut album was delayed…and delayed…and delayed. It finally arrived in September, 2000, nearly three full years after The Firm project and long after his moment had passed. For All Seasons peaked at only number 50 on the Billboard chart and quickly faded. As XXL explained in 2012, “Though well-received by critics, the slept-on album would fail to lift the rapper’s career.”
Now that we’re more than fifteen years removed, how does the album hold up?
The first cut (after an intro) is a smooth Trackmasters flip of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” over which Nature takes the opportunity to display his wordplay with lines like “Keep the livest image, high percentage/Four in the morning, n—s blitzing on corners like the line of scrimmage.”
There are some absolute gems to be found throughout, including the rap clinic “Nature’s Shine,” the hypnotic “Go Ahead,” and “Remember,” which finds Nature taking a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the old days, and displaying more emotion than usual. This is a true solo debut, the only guest appearance being Nas and he slides out after only a quick but clever eight bars on “The Ultimate High.”
At a tight twelve tracks (plus the short intro), the album is lean and mostly devoid of filler. His delivery may seem laid back, but he attacks the beats and never sounds as if he’s phoning it in, even on the weaker songs like “Smoke,” with its weed-obsessed chorus and the love/hate ode, “I Don’t Give a Fuck.” A few beats have that unmistakable late ’90s Trackmasters sound, but they keep the gloss to a minimum and other producers, most notably veterans Ski, L.E.S, and Lord Jamar, provide lush backdrops with pounding drums that allow Nature to show off.
The most underrated aspect of Nature’s skills is his ability to craft a hook, something that plagues a large number of emcees. He supplies worthwhile choruses to most of the album’s songs, most notably the best track on the album, “We Ain’t Friends,” about the shallow and transient nature of relationships in the hood. In a bit of an ironic twist considering that song, Nature would claim that Nas’s lack of support was the reason for his album’s disappointing performance. On “Destroy and Rebuild” off Stillmatic, Nas responded to Nature directly, even remarking, “Of course we ain’t friends,” to which Nature went on the attack with his own cut, “Nas is Not.”
It’s unfortunate that beef and lack of sales overshadowed it, because while it is not an overpowering debut, For All Seasons is a very good first album that should have been the foundation for a strong career. But Nature’s opportunity had come and gone, the repeated delays halting all of his momentum and effectively derailing his mainstream career. He’s still making music, including an appearance on “D.U. [Divine Unity]” on former rival Cormega’s Mega Philosophy, but it’s impossible to remember Nature from 1998 and not wonder what might have been.
Previously in Flashback Friday Flop:
Tha Doggfather | Blood in My Eye | The Best of Both Worlds | Can-I-Bus | Beats, Rhymes and Life | Encore | Immobilarity | 14 Shots to the Dome | Forever | Christmas on Death Row | Double Up | The New Danger | A Better Tomorrow | Back from Hell
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.