In the ‘90s, there were three things you could always count on: Death, taxes, and a mammoth Naughty By Nature anthem. The East Orange, New Jersey hip-hop trio consisting of Treach, Vin Rock and producer/DJ Kay Gee, managed to walk the fine line between overt commercial hit makers and lyrically respected MC’s. During the ascending era of gangsta rap, the Grammy winning act was not afraid to make hits for Middle America as well as for the streets, as such mammoth tracks as “O.P.P.,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Feel Me Flow,” and “Jamboree” became pop chart staples. Now following a bitter 2000 split from Kay Gee (the prodigious beat man successfully branched out into R&B, overseeing gold and platinum works for Zhane, Next and Jaheim) and a 2006 reunion, the group has reformed to release their long awaited 20th anniversary album Anthem Inc., currently in stores. And according to Vin, the project was a long time coming.
“Well this album was years in the making,” Vin Rock tells VIBE, referencing the follow-up to such platinum plus albums as Naughty By Nature (1991); 19 Naughty III (1993), and Poverty’s Paradise (1995). The release features the aforementioned Jaheim, Joe, Syleena, and Oscar nominated actress and pioneering rapper Queen Latifah, who discovered Naughty. “We had taken a break from recording,” he continues. “We put out the IIcons album without Kay Gee in 2002 and then we just kind of toured for five more years after that. Once we reunited with Kay in 2007, we were like, ‘Man, we should do a new album.’ Treach stays in the studio. Kay stays in the studio, so basically the demand was there for a new album. The fans wanted new music.”
For Treach, coming back together for a fully reunited Naughty By Nature album was an exercise in patience. “Everybody had to get on the same page because we all came with different agendas,” says the influential lyricist, who ushered in the fast paced, stutter step, two-fisted rhyme style that went on to influence the likes of the late, great Big Pun. “Sometimes conversations make things a lot better and that’s something we weren’t having in the beginning. We were just doing things and figuring them out later. It was about relearning more of how to deal with each other.”
One intriguing aspect of releasing a new Naughty By Nature album in 2011 was being a part of the current hip-hop scene. Coming from an era that at times frowned upon courting pop audiences, both Vin and Treach see the irony of acts like Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj being celebrated for commercially transcending the rap genre.
“I think Young Money is one of the best cliques out there,” says Vin, praising the Weezy led powerhouse crew. “Of course they are catching a lot of heat because they are under the big corporate structure and they are getting the most publicity and push. But talent wise I believe Lil Wayne is a beast. He didn’t just put on all his homies. I love the way he scoured the industry and found out who was deserving of a deal. He acquired a Nicki Minaj who was already independently grinding. He acquired a Drake who was already grinding. I applaud them all.”
But Treach says that Naughty By Nature is not out on a nostalgia kick. They are set to compete with their current hip-hop peers. “We got love for all the new artists,” he points out. “But don’t ever try to get on a track with us and act like we are wiping the cobwebs off [laughs]. There’s nothing old or wack about us. If you see us on that stage you better bring your best shit. You can have explosions and costume changes…we don’t care. We got that stuff that puts it down lyrically and still makes you move. It’s a competitive, positive thing.”—Keith Murphy