Naughty By Nature: One For All
Treach, Vin Rock and Kay Gee are just as memorable for bat mitzvah-accessible anthems like "O.P.P." as they were for open-palmed lyrical slaps like "Uptown Anthem" or "Dirt All By My Lonely." Treach's soldier persona, Vin's charm and Kay's ability to walk the line between street and pop led to a debut 1989 album as The New Style before four successful and acclaimed Naughty By Nature albums, followed by an asterix iiconz effort without the group's producer and deejay in 2002. Always independent, always consistent to the formula and showered with Grammy and American Music Awards, this group arguably bridged the gap between rap in the '80s and '00s.
According to Treach however, the greatest accolade may be next week's Vh1 Hip Hop Honor. In the studio recording a yet to be titled 2009 album that returns Kay Gee to the mix. The vocal duo tells HipHopDX about the journey, Eazy-E confiding in them, and why 50 Cent might have some liner notes a bit misconstrued.
HipHopDX: What does receiving a Hip Hop Honor mean to a group that already has so many awards and accomplishments?
Vin Rock: I know, its kind of crazy! Me, [Kay Gee] and Treach have been talking about doing this album for maybe two or three summers now. Weve started and stopped, started and stopped, started and stopped. Then, this summer, we got super-serious about it, and started going hard with the album. And then the call came in for the Honors. I was kinda thinking, God dont work in wrong ways. This was the best time, perfect opportunity, perfect timing for us to do this new album, and this honor will kinda set everything off for us.
As far as the honor, we were getting pressure from our boys like, Yo, whats up man? They forgot about yall! They doin all these other, different groups, yall impacted more than these guys! [Laughs] Im like, Look, you can argue both sides. Im sure theres a lot of artists who deserve to come before us. We put in work. It is what it is. Eventually, theyll get to us. I guess this was our year.
Treach: Theres no words for it. Its an honor. Thats the perfect word for it its a Hip Hop honor for us, as were 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, thats like comin to the hood and gettin what you get in Hollywood.
DX: Well-deserved. All three of you had such a knack for being accepted in the mainstream, but regardless of that, still being one of the grimiest, street-respected groups in Hip Hop history. Can you put that method of balance to words?
Vin Rock: I think its just the different personalities. When you work as a group, the finished product is representation of all three personalities. If you didnt have Treach in the mix, you definitely wouldnt have that street mix. If you didnt have me or Kay Gee in the mix, you wouldnt have the marketing and the music there as guys know us to be Naughty By Nature. Its 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.
DX: Treach, the way that you deliver words on the microphone, I think so many guys today learned from that. You, Tim Dog and Freddie Foxxx were the first angry, passionate emcees pushing words into the mic. Where did that come from for you?
Treach: It camepassion. A love for what I was saying. Its a different type of things when you actually be goin through something and put it through an outlet, like actual feelings; theres not a writer behind you. Its not just a story youre making up.
I always had a strong voice, as far as projection. I always was a good projector, but I didnt want to be yelly or preachy, anything like that. Youll see the difference from an Uptown Anthem [click to read] or a Ghetto Bastard or a O.P.P. and Jamboree [click to read]. I feel as though, like how singers have different ranges and notes, I feel as though, me as a Hip Hoppers, I wanted to bring different tones and levels of my note, into the fold. Projection, because I was rhyming so quick, I had to be clear enough so people would know what the hell I was saying.
DX: You said quick. You have an interesting syncopated timing to your flows. Its almost like verbal percussion. Tell me, before you rapped, did you play the drums?
Treach: If you were in Hip Hop back in the days, if there wasnt a beat-box there, youd take over and play the beat on the table in the cafeteria. Or me, a lot of times, I wasnt writing to any beat. Or Id write to any type of beat. My mom had me in different stuff I took a couple of guitar classes and things like that. My moms had me modeling and stuff when I was younger. I was into music, entertainment, the facet of that from a young upbringing. It came more naturally to me. In the cipher, you dont have no beat; you just gotta be on beat.
DX: I interviewed 50 Cent in May [click to read]. He told me that Hip Hop Hoorays chorus came from a party routine from a spot called Gray Door in Jamaica, Queens. I dont think he was trying to discredit you in the least, but have to ask. Is there truth to that on your side?
Treach: Not that I know of. I mean, Ive been going to Queens and Brooklyn and the boroughs ever since even before Naughty By Nature even came out. Like, as far as the hey, ho, whole thing came, we had the song, we performed itthe way we wrote the song, after Hip Hop horray, I needed something to rhyme with ray, but not like [simple]. Me, Im a hook analyst. So Ho, thats since the first Hip Hop party. At the end of that rhyme, when it came to ray, I said Hey, ho. It rolled with the beat.
I didnt hear it at a certain party and put it in the like. But heyyyy, if somebody said they heard it, I mightve been in the areaif thats the case, I wasnt in the area for every hit we done had. [Laughs] Like you said, but 50 [Cent] is my man. I just finished his movie with him, everything. Like you said, it wasnt a discredit or anything; somebody mightve said something to him or whateva, but I definitely didnt go to no party. I dont be going to parties to try to find hooks. [Laughs]
DX: My favorite album, strange as it may be, is Natures Fury. That album, or iiconz, have the same qualities as the other three or four. Again, how did you achieve the consistency of whether you were in your early twenties, early thirties or today?
Vin Rock: It was a blessing that when we started, we made music from our hearts. With records like O.P.P., it broke across all barriers, 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 [click to read], any of those kind of records, its organic to us, cause thats our style. Thats how we interpreted Hip Hop, being from [New] Jersey. Once you have your own stylecertain artists cant 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, its not like were reaching.
DX: You did a hot record in Radio. You guys were on Tommy Boy Records for a bulk of your career. As youre doing it yet again, given the climate that Hip Hop is in today, do you think its possible for groups coming up today, to have the success you three did without having major label backing?
Vin Rock: Yeah. You know why? Because the music is more accessible now. Lines are blurred. Kay Gee and I were just reviewing the [MTV] VMAs the other day. White kids have been enjoying Hip Hop for so long, and Hip Hop has been around for so long, and I guess the urban kids are aware of the white kids liking it, the cultures kind of clash and merge. Maybe more urban kids are up on white music, and vice-versa. Now theres no rules. You can do basically anything. Look at what Kanye [West] attempted that night [in Love Lockdown]. I guess its not the most well-received record hes done, but theres no boundaries now. Look at what Jay-Z [click to read] did, coming out to [Glastonbury] with his guitar. I just saw Lil Wayne [click to read] perform on Saturday Night Live this weekend, and he came out with a guitar on his back, and even played a little. I think its easier now, cause music is more universally-accepted.
DX: Radio was a Vin record. Dirt All By My Lonely is a Treach record. After 10 years, what made you come like that?
Treach: It was a [line] that I said in Uptown Anthem first. Going back to 50, how strong that wasout of everybody he robbed in How To Rob" [click to read], the only one that he aint diss that he mentioned was [me]. I do my dirt all by my lonely like Treach. A lot of people after that made that a slogan for they selves. You know we live in a snitch-free, supposedly, ghetto and its supposed to be against the rules. With me, I used to say Id do [dirt] by myself because I dont trust half these mothafuckas out here. Im not gonna tell on myself, so I do my dirt all by lonely.
Derived from that, it was Kay and Vin who said, We need to do a dirt all by my lonely record. It was like a Guard your grill. It was a saying people said after that, so itd only make sense to make a record after that. And Kay just had a track that was just so gully and hard, his track helped me write the rhymes.
DX: You guys began as New Style, a group signed to MCA. The first Naughty album had Lakim Shabazz, Queen Latifah and Apache. Look at what youre doing now. To what extent would you say Naughty By Nature carried Hip Hop from its place in the 80s to its place today in the 00s?
Vin Rock: Hmmm. After Run-DMC and Salt N Pepa, I think Naughty By Nature helped put the final stamp in Hip Hop being mainstream and getting this Hip Hop music out to the suburbs. I think we put the final stamp on it, and then the Death Row [Records] era came right after that.
DX: Im glad you mentioned that. You guys did one of my favorite Eazy-E records in Only If You Want It. Besides Ice Cube working with The Bomb Squad, bi-coastal collaborations were rare in those days. How did that happen?
Vin Rock: Right! We hooked up with EazyI guess O.P.P. had come out, and Eazy was just goin through that stuff with [Dr.] Dre and them, so he kinda reached out to us to work with him. We got the tail-end of what was going on. We knew there was a transition. Eazy told us about Suge [Knight] and the Death Row situation. He was like, They came and kinda tried to strong-arm me, but I know the core and the basis of where this guy is comin from, and in the end, it wont pan out. I remember Eazy to this day, cause he came to my house. We were both into properties. He showed me his properties in L.A.; we showed him our properties out here in Jersey. Even, right now, I still live in the same house that Eazy came to visit. When I think back about Eazy, Im like, God, this guy was right here in this house! He definitely was a marketing genius. Even I picked his brain about merchandising. At N.W.A. they had all that merchandising and the pull-out sleeves. Eazy, how are you doing that? Basically, he was using a licensing company. I took it a step further. Shit, we were already printing stuff and were selling it off the block. We have the inventory and dont need those guys, we just got Tommy Boy [Records] to let us put the inserts in the album cover. Eazy definitely put us up on game.
DX: Its always been said that you guys had the biggest entourage in Hip Hop. You guys and Hammer, and his folks were on payroll. To what extent were those people who were so much a part of your life in 92, 93, are they still in your life today?
Vin Rock: First off, were all from East Orange, New Jersey. We all met together at East Orange High School for a talent show initially. It was those people who supported us. It was those people who gave us that first round of applause as The New Style that made us want to believe more in ourselves and say, Hey, we could do it. And it was the same people, after that talent show we used to perform at Club 88, and those people would come [and help us win the competition]. It was then that we took it over New York and tried to make it bigger. To this day, were still in East Orange around the same people. Same people! Its one big family out here minus the homies that went to jail or got murdered.
DX: You and Queen Latifah are often left out of the discussion about your states musical contributions, despite having unrivaled impact. How do you feel about New Jersey Hip Hop today?
Vin Rock: I think Jersey has always been a step-child. It takes groups like us or Redman or Queen Latifah [click to read] to kinda do for Jersey what Jermaine Dupri [click to read] and OutKast have been able to do for Atlanta. Theres always been a scene here. Weve always been the [sixth] borough. Jersey has been up on Hip Hop since its inception. One of the biggest Hip Hop labels was Sugar Hill Records, and thats where you get The Message and Rappers Delight from. All of that is Jersey. Right now, since Naughty hasnt been as consistent, Jersey has a Hip Hop scene. Theres a lot of talent out here. As a matter of fact, Treach is working on a project called Garden State Great. Its starting with some guys from Newark working with Treach, but were gonna move it around the whole state of Jersey and use that as an umbrella brand.
DX: Tell us about the new album, and where Naughty is meeting us this time on new material
Vin Rock: Were just working. We took it back; theres nobody in the studio but me, Kay Gee and Treach and the engineer four people in the studio at all times. First of all, for Kay Gee, his progression as a producer he worked on all the R&B albums, Next, Jahiem, Zhane. His musicianship and his production-skills have blossomed to a whole different level, which is why it was unfortunate that we had to do the iiconz [click to read] album without him, but you knowthe classic internal beef. You have to move forward. Basically, it was left to me and my guy Bryan Leach at TVT [Records] to work with these different producers to come up with the material.
[Having Kay Gee back] is the most important thing to me. I even told Treach: I really wasnt interested in moving forward on Naughty By Nature albums without Kay Gee. That was just my personal opinion. It can always be done, but I just dont believe in that. I believe we built such a legacy, and the situations that happened, which played a part in the group, I just thought it was bullshit and eventually wed all come back together and work again. First and foremost, it was about getting Kay back in pocket production-wise.
Were in here, and hes starting to bring in some of his songwriters, live musicians and thats the approach were taking now. We do want to continue to expand our sound and experiment a little. You mentioned Radio [click to read] on Natures Fury, we got some fly shit comin right now. We reached to DJ Lethal from House of Pain, and hes cheffing some stuff up for us. Were definitely gonna put a 2009 twist on this thing.
DX: Treach, when Tupac Shakur was murdered, you said one of the most profound things I ever heard. You said in his eulogy, Pac wasnt a thug; he was a soldier. People today ought to listen to those words. What does being a soldier mean to you?
Treach: To me, being a soldier means being a rider. Youre not out there reckless, in the streetscertain times, you have to do what you have to do to be protected the police got weapons. They ask me what Im doing with a [bulletproof] vest, what are you doing with a vest? Youre in the same hood Im in. If you need one, come on.
A soldier is someone that takes care of they tribe. They go out to fight because they have to, not cause they want to. They go out to protect they land and they family. Theyre not just out there recklessly destroying their community, their people and their surrounding. We have a thug mentality cause look where we from. We have no choice in that. If youre a kid and you grow up around nothing but flowers, youre gonna talk about flowers. If you go outside and you have to run into school cause theres shootings outside, thats what your mentality is gonna be. Even if you dont want to be like that, youre gonna need that mentality just so the thugs think you a thug. But a soldier steps forward cause he brings the soldiers and the thugs together and lets them know, Were here for a cause, not a pause. Before you get them to follow the path that you want them to be on, youve got to get them on your team first. If there aint a cause, it aint for nothing because its easy to destroy but its hard to build.