Today's write-up is taken directly from the request line, which is absolutely positively something that I pay attention to, as you two have (hopefully) noticed by now. I actually meant to get to the self-titled debut album from Naughty By Nature a long time ago, but I kept getting tripped up over a bit of semantics, and it wasn't until recently, when I decided that this is still my blog and I could write about pretty much whatever the fuck I want without restrictions, even those that are self-imposed, that I broke free from my shackles and jotted down my notes.
So here's where I hit the brick wall: Naughty By Nature is not the first album from Naughty By Nature. Technically, it is the debut from the New Jersey trio, made up of producer-slash-deejay Kay Gee, rapper-slash-hypeman Vin Rock, and leader-slash-rapper-slash-softcore porn star Treach, but it's not their debut. Confused yet? You wouldn't be if I just got to the fucking point. Which I will do...right now. Naughty By Nature actually started off their career as a group called The New Style, who signed a deal with MCA Records and released their actual first album, Independent Leaders, in 1989. Unless I reside in a parallel universe, absolutely nobody purchased Independent Leaders, and The New Style was doomed to fade into obscurity, without a hit single to draw any future royalties from, so Vin Rock would be forced to take on a second and third job in order to pay for his son's bar mitzvah, without which he would never become a man.
From what I can tell from my admittedly sketchy research, Independent Leaders caught the ear of exactly one person: rapper (and New Jersey native) Queen Latifah. (Please note that I never said that she actually purchased the album.) Impressed with what she heard for some reason, she set the trio up with membership in her Flavor Unit collective, a group of like-minded artists and deejays who banded together to release good music to the masses. (This mission statement was blown to shit when Flavor Unit started managing a group called The Almighty RSO, best known as the stomping grounds for one Ray Benzino.) Empowered by her interest in them (and their new record deal with Latifah's label, Tommy Boy Records, who has never fucked over any rap artist ever), The New Style opted to change their name to Naughty By Nature, and their lives seemed to change for the better.
Naughty By Nature was released in 1991 to a ton of commercial acclaim, most of which was spurred by their hit single "O.P.P.", a catchy ode to a topic everyone dreams about, apparently: fucking whomever you want. The project also boasted a few more chart-toppers, resulting in some plaques that Kay Gee still uses to hold up the wall to his family room. Naughty By Nature's success also came with the usual trappings: the group was sued by a different New Jersey rapper who claimed that they stole the beat for "O.P.P." (they settled out of court), but on a good note, Treach was also tapped for a career in acting, making his debut in the 2Pac vehicle Juice shortly after the album dropped.
What follows are my notes on Naughty By Nature after I realized that I don't have to do everything in order all the time. Which probably won't change the overall format of the blog, but at least it allows me to shake things up a bit.
1. YOKE THE JOKER
After an introductory skit that runs on the friendly side of irrelevant, the breakbeat (taken from “Synthetic Substitution” from Melvin Bliss) kicks in, and Treach launches into three hard-hitting verses that make him sound like a long-lost member of N.W.A., doubling as Naughty By Nature's official introduction to the masses (under this particular name, anyway). Treach's flow is both assured and threatening, and he rides the instrumental as if he were being forced to entertain royalty, with the threat of an early death taking up residence in the back of his mind. This shit was fucking dope, and right off the bat I can remember how some hip hop heads felt that Treach was underrated as a rapper: he certainly sounds like 'Top Five Dead Or Alive'-material on “Yoke The Joker”.
2. WICKEDEST MAN ALIVE (FEAT. QUEEN LATIFAH)
And just like that, the momentum on Naughty By Nature is brought to a standstill. I find it goofy that the crew's Flavor Unit boss Queen Latifah appears on this song (in a singing capacity only), as I believe that the Treach sound bites at the beginning of “Yoke The Joker” sounded more like Dana Owens than Anthony Criss. But my Lord, this song sucks: the instrumental reminded me of Blondie's “The Tide Is High” as filtered through the soundtrack to the video game Super Adventure Island, except in a terrible way, and Treach sounds restrained by these radio-friendly shackles (a curse word is even edited out). But to be fair, it isn't as though Anthony wasn't trying: he just had absolutely no support on this wack shit.
Seriously? You want me to write about a song that has transcended our chosen genre, one that you absolutely already know, a song that everybody's grandfather was listening to during their teenage years? Okay, I'll bite. Naughty By Nature's ode to promiscuity, underscored by the creative theft of the Jackson 5's “ABC” (along with yet another “Synthetic Substitution” sample), still clicks in a way that most mainstream hip hop fails to understand today: Treach's verses are risqué, contrasting with the overt radio-friendliness of the beat, but neither component falters under the pressure. Indeed, there likely was no pressure from the label for Treach and company to deliver a timeless hit single: music executives worked a lot differently back in 1991. These guys just happened to stumble upon a monster hit: please note Treach's clever rhymes and wordplay, neither of which would be a part of one of today's generic rap records. Throw this shit on at a party today and watch everyone get drunk off of nostalgia. Especially your grandfather. That dude can fucking dance.
4. GHETTO BASTARD (A/K/A EVERYTHING'S GONNA BE ALRIGHT)
After an interlude that bluntly informs the audience what the following track will be about, the instrumental kicks in, lending an inspirational feel to Treach's description of his abhorrent living conditions growing up, without a father to assist (earning the absentee paternal figure a homophobic description, thereby failing to convince younger heads that this song was, in fact, a mild radio hit). Anthony relates his struggles and what he believes to be the inevitable conclusion to his life story with clarity and candor, somehow rendering the hook (made up of a vocal sample from Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" repeating the alternate title of the track) not corny by default. Not my favorite song, and not necessarily successful with the delivery of its inspirational message, but decent nonetheless.
5. LET THE HO'S GO
Defies audience expectations by not being about releasing your politically-imprisoned sluts: instead, the “Ho's” mentioned in the title are the chanted kind, unleashed whenever you feel excited about something or some shit. Yeah, my previous sentence wasn't that well thought-out, but neither was Naughty By Nature's concept for the song: if you want Treach to conduct a lyrical clinic, it probably would have been smart to not lay his rhymes over an overused sample from the Bob James classic “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, as that move only distracts the listener from whatever Treach is trying to say, which I have to assume wasn't very important anyway, as I can't remember one fucking bit of it. A misfire.
6. EVERYDAY ALL DAY
This overlong jazzy number reminds listeners that Naughty By Nature isn't supposed to be a one-man operation: in addition to producer Kay Gee getting a shout-out at the end (along with everybody else in the studio at that time, from the engineers on down, which was awfully nice), Vin Rock actually makes his first vocal contribution of the album, albeit as a Spliff Star to Treach's Busta Rhymes during the first of the four presented verses only. The fourth verse seems to be dedicated to the idea of placing Naughty By Nature into the same conversation as all of the legendary rap artists and groups Treach rattles off (including De La Soul, who Treach now can't stand), an idea that was successful, as I am writing about Naughty By Nature twenty fucking years after its original release (fuck, I feel old), and am partially doing so thanks to the numerous requests from you two, so people obviously still think about these guys. This track runs for nearly six minutes, which isn't necessary, but it could have been much worse.
7. GUARD YOUR GRILL
Had it not been for the piano melody layered within, you would be forgiven if you accidentally labeled the instrumental as some Tical-era Wu-Tang grimy shit. The beat is fucking hard. Much harder than Treach's rhymes, but that's alright: Anthony uses his time with the track to frighten the listener into protecting himself, doing so with a mixture of violent threats and dark humor, combined with Das EFX's tongue-twisting wordplay at times. “Guard Your Grill” ends with a random series of shout-outs that Treach apparently forgot to provide on “Everyday All Day”, which is passable when the music beforehand is this fucking entertaining, but I was most intrigued by the extremely kind words that Treach had for Brand Nubian's Grand Puba. Nice!
8. PIN THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY
Vin Rock returns with some more ad-libs for this bit of cotton candy. Treach sounds alright over the simplistic instrumental (consisting of drums and little else, so it comes across as more old-school than it should), but the song itself is ultimately pretty hollow. Thankfully, it's much shorter than the previous two tracks on Naughty By Nature, so I didn't have to waste that much of my life on it, but it still isn't worth listening to more than the one time. Although I'm fairly certain that this shit is your favorite Naughty By Nature song; if that's the case, then you have some very questionable taste.
9. 1,2,3 (FEAT. LAKIM SHABAZZ & APACHE)
This song sounds completely out of place on Naughty By Nature, so it makes sense that it was the only song on here that wasn't produced by the crew themselves. “1,2,3” plays around with the idea that I first introduced in my review for “Yoke The Joker” (namely that Treach sounded like a long-lost member of N.W.A.) and turns it on its ear, as producer Louie Vega samples a sound bite from The D.O.C. (a guy who knows a thing or two about The World's Most Dangerous Group) while feeding Treach some sedatives that make him sleepy. The guest stars, who sounds awfully generic when compared to what the listeners have heard on Naughty By Nature thus far, monopolize two of the three verses on here, rendering Anthony to the status of making a cameo on his own shit, making this already boring song sound even worse in hindsight. This song sucked balls: there's no reason for anybody to ever listen to it.
10. STRIKE A NERVE
The instrumental is simple as fuck, but it serves its purpose, even though the rappers don't take full advantage. That's right, I used the plural form of the word “rapper”: Vin Rock actually spits some bars on here, sounding like a homicidal Phife Dawg riding on a tricycle near a busy street. And he doesn't sound awful, but he also doesn't sound great, and Treach shows signs of fatigue, probably because he had to sit through the long skit that precedes the song, just like we did. Speaking of that skit, the beat Kay Gee plays (to show off something he had just finished the night before) isn't even the same one used for this song. The hell?
11. RHYME'LL SHINE ON
This song sucks. Normally, that would be all I could write about it, but “Rhyme'll Still Shine” enters the pantheon of really shitty songs by becoming the musical equivalent of trash can punch: Naughty By Nature use this time to throw as many ingredients they can find into the stew, transforming the track into an unfocused hot tranny mess. During the first break between Treach verses, though, the group makes an allusion to a future hit song from their catalog, so that was fucking weird.
12. THANKX FOR SLEEPWALKING
The conclusion of Naughty By Nature kicks off with an unnecessary skit, leading into both Vin Rock and Kay Gee dismissing those who are “sleeping” on them (this was probably the wrong forum, guys: if somebody bought this album and was still listening this far into the program, then they are most certainly not “sleeping” on you), then Treach turns in a completely unrelated performance, and then the track devolves into yet another series of shout-outs. They could have trimmed about six full minutes from this outro, and it would have been workable. And yes, I'm aware that the track only runs for about five-and-a-half. A strange way to end the evening.
Later pressings of Naughty By Nature included the following as an additional track.
13. UPTOWN ANTHEM
Since the movie Juice, released after Naughty By Nature's initial pressing, featured Treach's film debut, it makes sense that Naughty By Nature would land a spot on the soundtrack. It's called synergy, folks. Anyway, what's most surprising on this catchy but ultimately run-of-the-mill track (which became a hit single, causing Tommy Boy to tack it onto a Naughty By Nature re-release) is that Vin Rock actually shows up to fucking play, trading verses with Anthony and proving that Naughty By Nature wasn't a Nine Inch Nails-type of situation. The beat is engaging enough for “Uptown Anthem” to have earned its designation as a radio hit, and in all fairness, it does actually fit on the album, but nostalgia doesn't hold up as well as it used to, I suppose.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Naughty By Nature starts off strong, falters early, and, aside from a few deep draws of breath, never fully emerges from the ocean. As this album is primarily a showcase for the deft wordplay of Treach, he has to work hard to maintain the interest of the audience, and when he succeeds, it's a beautiful thing to watch: there are some fucking fantastic songs on Naughty By Nature. But when the music fails him, which is often enough to be problematic, not even Treach's boasts can save the day. Vin Rock is a nonfactor on Naughty By Nature: I'm still wondering why he even bothered to show up to the studio at all, since Anthony does all of the heavy lifting on here. Producer Kay Gee does okay enough, but when he resorts to lazy samples, his lack of effort is noticeable. Nostalgia is a funny thing, clouding your judgment and coercing you into remembering things that never actually happened, such as Naughty By Nature being a good straightforward listen. Once again, there are some fucking fantastic songs on here that stand up to the test of time, including the biggest single of the trio's career, but the rest of the project is, unfortunately, kind of forgettable. Treach does sound pretty good throughout the majority of Naughty By Nature, though.
BUY OR BURN? Burn it. The songs listed below are entertaining as fuck, but the rest of the album proves why Naughty By Nature is typically remembered as a “singles” group. It is what it is.
BEST TRACKS: “Yoke The Joker”; “Guard Your Grill”; “O.P.P.”