As far as club bangers go, Naughty By Nature are quite possibly one of the biggest groups to have ever touched the mic. Whether it’s the iconic party starter "Hip Hop Hooray" or the slick-tongued infidelity anthem "O.P.P.," the New Jersey threesome are probably responsible for some of the best nights out you have ever had.
Championed by Queen Latifah, the crew - Treach, Vin Rock, and Kay Gee, came up during what is often referred to as the golden era. Signed to the infamous Tommy Boy label from 1991, Naughty put out four albums as a threesome, one as a duo - 2002’s IIcons, after Kay Gee decided to leave the group due to differences with Treach and Vin Rock, and one, Independent Leaders, under their original moniker The New Style in 1989.
Winning the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album for Poverty’s Paradise in 1996, they are often regarded as Hip Hop icons. With a guest spot on the Juice soundtrack, lead spitter Treach was very good friends with the movie’s bad boy Tupac Shakur. Way before he became one of the most talked about artists in Hip Hop, the Naughty front man witnessed the rise and rise of the All Eyez On Me rapper, he even penned the touching tribute "Mourn You Til I Join You."
Having dropped their first bit of material in almost eight years on the free mixtape Naughty By Nature: The Mixtape, the group are prepping their first full album as a threesome since 1999. Titled Anthem Inc., according to producer Kay Gee, “Fans can expect typical Naughty.”
Talking to HipHopDX.com, the East Orange natives let us know why there are no more rap groups, why the club anthem formula has changed, and Treach discusses 2Pac’s passing.
HipHopDX: You guys have been away from the game for a minute. Why the decision to re-enter the game now in 2011?
Kay Gee: The fans! The people wanted it. They’ve been asking for it.
Vin Rock: The thing is... we never stopped touring. We just stopped putting out music. Ever since coming out [as "Naughty By Nature"] in 1991 we average around 100 shows a year. So it never ever stops. After a while we realized the demand was there in the touring market, and the people we met were like, “Yo, we want some new music from you guys.” So it just made sense.
DX: With that said, what is your opinion on the current state of the game?
Vin Rock: It’s hectic. I was actually just talking to Kay [Gee] about it earlier. The corporations are consolidating everything. They’re globalizing, they’re consolidating, they’re teaming up with companies like Live Nation. They have a radio element to ‘em, they have ownership of all of the major venues, and they’re now cutting deals with the labels like Universal Records. They’re just centralizing everything. So all the bigger concerts and the big labels will be one, and if you’re an independent artist it will be bad because you won’t be able to play the prime tours, the prime markets. It’s either you’re in or you’re out. That’s what the game is becoming right now. Even when it comes to radio, and all of this stuff. Basically, if you’re not with the major labels you’re gonna get x amount of radio play.
Naughty By Nature Explains The Key To Making A Club Anthem
DX: You guys are essentially three "kings of the club banger." A lot of your hits were witty, clever, and for the most part, had underlining messages attached to them that didn’t revolve around getting drunk in a club with a girl hanging off of each arm. Times have changed and so have club bangers. Why are clubs hits not as intricate as they used to be?
Vin Rock: I think it’s a testament to the times. When we came about, in the early '80s, there was more struggle in the game. You know? Socially, what was going on in the U.S. back then, Reaganomics - where they took a lot of the recreation and social programs out of the hood, they just left it for dead. There was nothing to do and then they’d just flood the communities with drugs, guns, dramas, and poverty. So you’re gonna have that struggle, you’re gonna have the housing projects, you’re gonna have everything, and then artistically the kids spoke about it. The kids had Hip Hop to tell the world what was going on in the hood. Now it’s like our kids are growing up far more spoilt. Our kids are growing up better than we did. So the younger generation, maybe your average 15 to 18 year old, they don’t have the same issues we did growing up and maybe it is a bit easier for them. I have nieces and nephews and they don’t even have the same hustle that we did when we were their age because they’re not faced with the same struggle. So I think that translates in to the music. Everyone is about the club, partying, and all this stuff. When we were coming out we didn’t have the clubs popping like that really.
DX: With that said, who do you guys listen to these days?
Vin Rock: I kinda listen to everything. I’m not a collector of music, but I passably listen. I always scour the Internet to see what’s on the Hip Hop blogs and stuff like that, [laughing] as well as the same four records that play on the radio. Just like anyone else, you hear the same records on the radio all the time. There’s good music out there. I’m not mad at these new cats.
Treach: I listen to what’s there. I listen more to satellite radio where there’s throwbacks, where there’s stuff that’s played that’s not on the regular playlists that you’ll hear on the regular shows. I like the mix shows and all the rest of that. I like to hear that type of stuff because with the travelling and everything else you don’t get to collect a lot of stuff and be on the road with it listening to it because you’re so busy. But when I’m at home I definitely do the satellite thing. There’s a lot of good music out there as well as a lot of garbage.
DX: Kay Gee, you left the group for a while and then decided to rejoin. What prompted the return for you?
Kay Gee: Time. Time and the fans. I needed some time off to do some things and collect my thoughts. I just needed to get back in to touring and back on to the stage. Once I was ready we got back in to it.
Naughty By Nature Breaks Down Anthem Inc. As 20th Anniversary Album
DX: Moving on to your music, more importantly your new album. What’s the album called and what can fans expect?
Kay Gee: It’s called Anthem Inc. and fans can expect typical Naughty, but at the same time now. Naughty now. Don’t expect 1991 Naughty By Nature. However, everything you like about Naughty By Nature, the things we represent and the things we’ve always represented since 1991... that’s what you can expect from us, but with a newer sound.
DX: What about features?
Kay Gee: There’s a few, but it’s more or less about our family and people that we’re close with. I’ve never been a fan of putting out an album, and to be honest I’d call it a compilation album, full of other people, basically using them to help sell your record, make your record sound better, or even market your records better. It’s always been about us and staying central, staying within ourselves, and being able to hold it on our own. If you look at the history of our albums it’s always been like that and nothing has changed to this day. That’s why I say you’re gonna get what you normally get from Naughty By Nature.
Treach: And you can look forward to a group called Garden State Greats and Queen Latifah being on the album.
DX: Are there any expectations with regards to how the new album is going to perform after not releasing anything for a while, or is it a case of just putting it out there for people to enjoy?
Kay Gee: There are no high expectations or even low expectations because we haven’t been out in like 10 years. So it’s definitely about the enjoyment element. At the end of the day we know we’ve put together a good collective effort. We know it’s good music, and it’s just like when we came out in 1991... we had no idea how the people were going to take to it, and whether or not it was going to be highly successful or bomb. That’s the same now.
Vin Rock: And I think a difference with what we’re doing now is that we’re in an independent label situation. We always started that way, even with Tommy Boy [Records] - that was an independent label. But right now it’s like everything we’ve done up until this point, before we got with E1/Koch for distribution, we did everything independently. So from the first video we shot, called "I Gotta Lotta," and the mixtape, to a video we got for "Heavy In My Chevy" and what we did with Flags - we shot it mini movie style with Ice-T, so the social and viral stuff... our international fan base and the people that really care check for all of that and are like, “Wow! When is the album coming?” So because of the viral stuff and people getting music for free, plus the fact that we’re still in an independent situation, we’re not worried about the big numbers that a big artist could get because they have so many more tools. We know that and are going directly to our fan base virally, traditionally through the independent distribution, plus with us touring doing over 100 shows a year. So definitely for our fan base the awareness is saturated, and by the time we drop the album our fan base will get it and the people that care will get it.
DX: With your track record, what would you say is the key to longevity in the game?
Vin Rock: I think it’s a combination of things. First of all, the people. You can never fool the people, and this thing is about music. Good music is good music, and you can’t pull the wool over a music lover’s eyes. There are people who are dedicated and loyal music fans. They listen to all kinds of music. They know good music when they hear it and they know bullshit when they hear it. Secondly, we maintain being professionals. We don’t come to shows and make the people wait two hours before we come on stage. We’re professional across the board. We don’t give the promoters headaches, we don’t miss flights, or miss this and that and are not always with constant dramas. As long as you’re consistent with your fan base they’ll be consistent with you.
DX: Treach, this year saw the 15th year anniversary of the passing of 2Pac. You’re song "Mourn You Til I Join You" is still considered one of the greats as far as tribute records go. How do you feel knowing that it’s been 15 years since his death?
Treach: It always hurts when any of your homies pass, especially when you knew somebody before either one of y’all had a deal and were broke, and then y’all made it. Out of the statistics of those that come out in the industry and blow up and become known worldwide, famous, and rich, and have all these accolades, to lose him was definitely a shame. You always think about it. You’re always, “What if? What if? What if?” And, “I wish they was still here,” especially someone that was as talented as he was. I knew how much more he had to offer. He just didn’t get a chance to because of his demise.
DX: On "Mourn You Til I Join You" you get pretty deep in to it. You strip away the hard posterior that comes with being a rapper, and are as honest as can be about your feelings. Not many emcees do tributes as touching as this any more. There may be the occasional shout out on a record, but never a full blown tribute. Why do you think this is?
Treach: I’m not sure. I know it’s a different era. It’s more of a me, me, me era. It ain’t about anybody else. It’s more about being the one to outshine and the one that’s known. A lot of people do a shout out and do a lil’ something but they move on. We were in the era where there was more respect and loyalty from day one until the end.
DX: The track itself was very intricate and exceedingly detailed. Was everything mentioned a true account and as it happened, or was it like a movie adaptation where a few things were changed for entertainment purposes?
Treach: Nah, it was definitely what happened. However, it wasn’t even a fragment of everything. You know what I mean? You can’t put years and years of knowing someone and friendship in to a three minute song. It was definitely accurate, but as I said it wasn’t everything.
Naughty By Nature Explains Why The Popularity Of Groups Faded
DX: Finally, back in the '90s there seemed to be an onslaught of Rap groups. There were yourselves as well as groups like Onyx, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, and many more. Where have all the Rap groups gone?
Kay Gee: I don’t know. For some reason there are no more groups. I think everybody is a little more solo and selfish now. I don’t know. I think a part of it to is that the era that we came up on, the people we grew up on, were all in crews. When you think of Hip Hop, Hip Hop started out as crews. Everybody was crews. That’s why you had more groups. So we grew up idolizing that style at that time in Hip Hop, so it was almost natural that you came like, “Alright, I need to get my Hip Hop crew together.” I think that’s been lost somewhere along the way and that’s why there aren’t as many crews.
Treach: It all started with the labels and the radio. The labels were signing what the radio was playing. If groups weren’t getting those record sales and getting those plays like that then the labels were looking for those on a solo tip to sign. Then you had those coming out where everything was about flossing: "I’m this, I’m that, rich, famous, mansion and a yacht." So everyone was like, “You know what? I need to make records like that.” So that’s what the labels were signing and what you’d hear all day on the radio. So the originality got lost in the mix. Instead of so many artists being true to themselves and putting out the meaningful records that separated them from everyone else, they decided they wanted to compete with this new genre of music. So to me that’s why it all sounds the same right now.
Kay Gee: When you look back at early Hip Hop there weren’t really too many solo artists. It’s was all about the groups. There were crews. It always started out with crews. We all, in the early '90s, or "the golden era," if you want to call it that, or even the '80s, it followed what Hip Hop was about, that crew mentality. Whether it was the Juice Crew or Boogie Down Productions, it was always a bunch of crews. We came up in the era. Like I said before, at some point that got lost.