Why Don't We Talk More About Naughty By Nature?

Why Don't We Talk More About Naughty By Nature?

In 2010, when VH1's "Hip-Hop Honors" was still airing fairly regularly; Naughty By Nature was among the acts who got honored.

"There’s no words for it," Treach told HipHopDX at the time. "It’s an honor. That’s the perfect word for it – it’s a Hip Hop honor for us, as we’re just fans of Hip Hop first. You get awards through the years. You get your Grammys, your AMAs, but when your own home honors you and gives you props, that’s like comin’ to the hood and gettin’ what you get in Hollywood."

The reverence for Naughty By Nature never needed to be explained. The trio of Treach, Vin Rock and Kay Gee were among Hip-Hop's chart-taking vanguard in the 1990s, as hits like "O.P.P." and "Hip-Hop Hooray" gave them major crossover clout as rapper's commercial ambitions were going from gold to platinum.

It's been 30 years since the release of the group's eponymous debut, a supremely confident album that helped define its era. Naughty By Nature had its origins in The New Style, early Flavor Unit signees whose debut album went nowhere in 1989. With Queen Latifah and the Flavor Unit brand behind them, the three friends from East Orange, New Jersey, revamped as Naughty By Nature and dropped one of the decade's most inescapable singles in the late summer of 1991.

"O.P.P.," with its Jackson 5 "A.B.C." sample and innuendo-laden title, was one of the biggest hits of the year, and has become something of a 90s standard. The song, a tongue-in-cheek ode to infidelity, made stars of Naughty By Nature, and it set their debut on the road to major success. 

That initial success came at a time when "crossing over" in Hip-Hop was still tied to kid-friendly images ready-made for Saturday morning cartoons or going onstage in backwards clothes. Grimy street rhymes of artists like Kool G Rap and Just-Ice seemed to sit at the polar opposite of the rap spectrum; but Naughty By Nature was able to burst out of the gate with a knack for pop hooks while staying tied to a street image. 

In the 1990s, Naughty By Nature's approach was a formula for gold.

"I think it’s just the different personalities," Vin Rock told HipHopDX in 2008. "When you work as a group, the finished product is representation of all three personalities. If you didn’t have Treach in the mix, you definitely wouldn’t have that street mix. If you didn’t have me or Kay Gee in the mix, you wouldn’t have the marketing and the music there – as guys know us to be Naughty By Nature. It’s just a perfect balance. When you put different people together, I guess that collective input equates to one. You get the merge. It is a mixture, and we have been able to ride that fine line between street and Pop."

Naughty By Nature has always had the kind of accessible sound that's primed for mass appeal while also delivering an undeniable grittiness that set them apart from most other Billboard-climbing rap acts of the early 1990s.

What it was time to follow the success of "O.P.P.," the group didn't opt to go back to the party-friendly approach. Instead, they dropped the pained, introspective "Ghetto Bastard." The second single from Naughty By Nature, retitled "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" for radio and MTV release, features Treach baring his depression and anxiety as a youth in the streets. The song helped to highlight early 90s Hip-Hop's focus inward, as more rappers were beginning to pen songs detailing personal pathos. 

"Everything's Gonna Be Alright" wasn't the megahit that "O.P.P." had been, but that wasn't the point. This single and video showed anyone watching Yo! MTV Raps that there was more to this Jersey trio than party songs.

Naughty By Nature is one of the strongest debut albums of the 1990s. Treach emerges as a top-tier lyricist, capable of personal narratives and verbosity showcases; with Vin Rock co-starring in the everyman role and Kay Gee delivering some of the hookiest production in Hip-Hop circa 1991. 

The ominous "Yoke The Joker" starts things off on-point, Treach makes it clear from the opening bars that he's no lyrical slouch, as Kay Gee's ever-present keys lace the Honeydrippers' sample. From there, Naughty By Nature never really lets up; a handful of uber-famous singles alongside stellar album cuts that announce this trio as a musical force. 

Songs like "Wickedest Man Alive" highlighted dancehall influences (with a noteworthy hook from Queen Latifah); the Beatles-sampling "Thankx For Sleepwalking" served to close the album on an upbeat note, yet another example fo Kay Gee's shrewd gift for samples and catchy production.

"Uptown Anthem" was added to later pressings of Naughty By Nature after the song became a hit as part of the Juice original motion picture soundtrack. Treach famously appeared in the film, having turned up for the audition with his friend Tupac Shakur, who'd land one of the film's leading roles. "...Anthem" would later by revisited by 2Pac, when producer Big D would use Kay Gee's distinct bassline on Pac's1996 track "Bomb First."

In recent years, it's interesting to see how often greats are discussed and this legendary group doesn't get mentioned.

That's not to ever present Naughty as something to consider obscure; these guys are stars. Always have been.

"We started on the streets of East Orange, NJ when we were 12-13 years old," Vin Rock shared with Cryptic Rock in 2017. "To be blessed enough to make a living out of it and be considered legends amongst our peers and legends in our genre is a blessing. It is a definite blessing." 

"Blessed" is also how Vin would describe being able to capture the organic vibe that comes from three friends making music from the heart. 

"With records like 'O.P.P.,' it broke across all barriers," Vin told HipHopDX. "And it became a mainstream record, and it had a [Jackson 5] jingle – all of that was organic for us. So if we did a 'Jamboree,' a 'Feel Me Flow' – any of those kind of records, it’s organic to us, ‘cause that’s our style. That’s how we interpreted Hip Hop, being from [New] Jersey. Once you have your own style…certain artists can’t do [those songs] because they pigeon-holed themselves. We were blessed that we came out the box with a record like 'O.P.P.,' which was universal. It kind of formed our profile. Us doing these records, it’s not like we’re reaching."

Treach is one of his generation's tightest, most nimble lyricists; able to go from conversational to a verbal assassin in a single verse. His deft wordplay made him one of the 90s most in-demand ghostwriters, and his voice is the anchor of Naughty By Nature's sound and spirit.

And Kay Gee? As he producer, he'd take the success from Naughty's debut album and launch a career that would shape the sound of the rest of the decade. It's Kay Gee behind such era-defining hits as Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y." and Zhane's "Hey Mr. D.J.," as well as Next's oddly-evergreen ode to erections, "Too Close." Naughty By Nature's impact on the 90s and beyond is massive. 

But they still don't get enough love, dammit. 

Not enough for how great their debut album isor for the impressive run of LPs that follows it, for that matter. They don't get enough love for how remarkably unique Treach's skills and Kay Gee's production has always been, and how they came to be the sound of summer in the 90s. It's been 30 years of Naughty By Nature, and it's time we start making sure they know we appreciate the work and the passion they've put in.

Ten years ago, no one had to remind any one of this.  When the music is this good, all anyone really has to do is press play. 


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