Naughty by Nature: Hip-Hop’s Iconic Trio Marches Back

There are only a handful of recording acts, whose voices, personae and imagery will always be attached to the memory and legacy of hip-hop.  Naughty by Nature is one of the celebrated few. The very mention of “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop Hooray” will generate an instant reaction – even in the midst of a diverse […]

There are only a handful of recording

acts, whose voices, personae and imagery will always be attached to the memory

and legacy of hip-hop.  Naughty by

Nature is one of the celebrated few.

The very mention of “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop

Hooray” will generate an instant reaction – even in the midst of a diverse

crowd.  And although the group is

known for their catalog of massive party anthems, Naughty by Nature was able to

strike a delicate balance in achieving mainstream popularity without losing an

ounce of their street credibility.

As Naughty by Nature celebrates its

second decade in the music business, Treach, Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee managed to

squeeze some time of their busy schedules and settle down for an interview with

Clayton Perry — reflecting on

industry politics, the globalization of hip-hop and transitioning into the

digital musical era.  Nearly a decade has passed since Naughty by Nature’s last

studio album, IIcons.  What do you consider to be the major

motivation, not only for the creation of a new album, but reunifying the

original trio?

Vin Rock:  When

Kay departed the group in 2000, Treach and I kept going. We put out IIcons on TVT. And we never stopped touring. We

kept circling the globe year after year after year. But the major motivator came

when we said, “Look, we could tour forever.” We already see that. We even took

a sabbatical from the road in 2004 for a whole year. And management came back

like, “Look, you guys are leaving too much money on the table. You guys

gotta get back out here on the road.” So we got back on the road, and

after that it was like it only made sense to keep feeding the people new music,

especially looking at the growth of our peers, and even newer artists that came

in the game using the blueprint that we laid out and were capitalizing off of

it. It was about giving the people new music, and participating in the

expansion of hip-hop, especially with the corporate partnerships and just the

general growth that you see guys like 50 Cent or Diddy or Jay-Z, a lot of our

peers having with it.  If we count the New Style record, your forthcoming project –

Anthem Inc. – is

going to be your seventh studio album, which has a lucky feel to it. As you

finish putting the final touches on Anthem Inc., what are you most excited about?

Treach:  One

thing I can say. It’s just so much of a different situation. It’s been so long

since the last album that I don’t think the fans really know the hunger level

that’s in it.  So if they think

it’s going to be lackluster or disappointing at all, it’s like they in for a

hell of a ride.  For me, we play

around with all that superstitious stuff and use it to our advantage.  When we came off of the first album, everybody

was talking about the sophomore jinx and everything else. And everybody was

weighing on us and like, “Yo, man. They can’t follow-up ‘O.P.P.’ No way in

the world they could follow up that album!” And it did us good to just show

them just exactly where we was coming from, and we did! We came back and blew

the house down, again.  So it’s

just stupid b***hin’. I don’t even get into it, and I don’t have a certain

number that’s going to give me luck. But I just pray to God and thank Him for

all the blessings and leave it in His hands. I feel that our talent will speak

for itself.  With the massive successes of “O.P.P.,” “Hip Hop Hooray” and

“Jamboree,” Naughty by Nature is well-respected and known for bringing party

anthems to the music landscape. When people look at your career, is there a

certain contribution that you think tends to be overlooked?

Vin Rock:  Definitely.

I think our street records – “Guard Your Grill”, the “Uptown

Anthem”, all the way up to “Dirt All by My Lonely” – and the

last album we did together. Even this new record, “I Gotta Lotta,” and the

video we have out for it now. We made some of the earliest street records, but

I think the commercial records are so big, it really eclipses them. If you go

to a Naughty By Nature show, we can adjust very well. Like we can do a Rated G

show. We can do a show without even doing “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop

Hooray” and hit you with all straight gully records, man, and really do a

solid forty minutes of that stuff. Even though  people tend to think about our commercial success, if you ask

some underground heads, they’ll definitely tell you their favorite records are “Guard

Your Grill”, “Uptown Anthem,” and “Dirt All by My Lonely.”  When you look at the hip-hop landscape in general, it’s

completely different than when you first hit the scene. What do consider to be

the good, the bad and the ugly in hip-hop’s evolution?

Vin Rock:  You

know what? I think hip-hop is doing what it’s always done ever since we were

there. It’s just broader now. You have so many different flavors. You have so

many different regions involved in the music now. And basically for us, we look

at it as a competitive market. And I still look at it that way. I’m happy with

what’s going on in hip-hop right now, because I feel that Naughty By Nature, we

can always come in and still compete, whether it’s with our studio recordings

or live stage performances. We can go out there and basically f**k with anybody

out there. So I love what’s going on in hip-hop, because I see there’s a lane

where we could come and penetrate the market.  As you speak about these different flavors that are out now,

I am very intrigued by the fact that you have Pitbull featured on the remix of

“Get to Know Me Better”. I also noticed that you are servicing

several different remixes, too. How has your marketing strategy changed over

the years? And what professional lessons have you learned, when it comes to

distributing your work digitally?

Vin Rock:  When

we worked on the first batch of records, we identified the first two records: “Get

to Know Me Better” and “I Gotta Lotta”. So we decided to approach

it the traditional way. We had the viral presence, but we said, all right,

well, we’re traditionally a radio driven group. So we’ll hire our radio NDs,

and we’ll have them go at radio. Well, the whole landscape of radio has

changed, with the big conglomerates, and all of the labels merging. You only

have three and a half majors right now. Those guys basically clog up the lane

of radio. So we had to come back and really, really concentrate on the viral

part of it. We have a lot of industry colleagues; guys who were inside labels,

guys who worked our first few records, who’ve gone on to work for Universal or

Sony or whatever. A lot of these guys are independent now. They told us about

the landscape, and they told us how important it was to work a record virally. To

be honest, yo, that radio game is very expensive. So we were told to really,

really invest in the digital world. So we took that approach as well, and as we

worked, even on the Pitbull remix, we decided that we could definitely pop off

a viral video for “I Gotta Lotta”. We already had a new publicist in

place, who was more savvy with all the hip-hop blogs and everything. Once the

video was finished, we got with the publicist, we put together a press release,

embedded our video into it and housed it on our YouTube page. Once the

publicist sent the blast out, it got to all the blogs and we got 11,000 hits in

one day. And in that same day, BET called us for the video…  Oh, wow!

Vin Rock:  …and basically we had been working the two records at radio

for about six to nine months prior to that. So that viral presence and the

viral marketing part of it was very, very important.  On top of that, if you send records out here, these people

at radio, even program directors right now are so handcuffed, there’s not but

so much they can do. But virally, you can get the instant feedback from the

people, you can get directly at non-traditional magazine coverage such as, which is the new Source, the new XXL.

The landscape is completely changing and there is a whole new way that this

game is being approached. You definitely have to have your ear to the streets,

your ear to the Web and see how people are marketing and breaking these

records.  It’s really interesting to hear you talk about how you were

able to adapt on the business end. On a more personal level, why do you think

you have been able to have such longevity? Few artists, let alone hip-hop

artists, can say that they have

been in the music industry for twenty years, and still make money on the road

with tours.

Vin Rock:  I

think a lot of it has to do with professionalism. People can see right through

you. I think the fans from day one, they saw Naughty By Nature, they saw right

through us. They could see that we were authentic.  And then, we’ve done a lot of campaigning, a lot of hugging

people and kissing babies and stuff, and it’s been from a genuine perspective.

So when people see that, and you don’t blow them off, and you’re not afraid to

take a picture and all of that stuff; you take the time to sign an autograph,

you don’t go around with security blowing people off, man; the fans appreciate

that. And as far as our professionalism, everyone we encounter from certain record

labels to every promoter and every live performance we’ve ever done, there’s

never been any diva done with Naughty By Nature. We go out there. We’re

professional. We don’t have crazy demands. We give a hell of a concert. We

service the people, man. And promoters totally appreciate that. We always get

the next recommendation. We always get the same promoter booking us multiple,

multiple times. And it’s a testament to the professionalism. That’s what I

think,  I know it is

easy to say, now, after twenty years, that you are consummate professionals.

But who do you credit for getting you to this point, and mentoring you in the

early years?

DJ Kay Gee:  The surge definitely started with Queen Latifah. As far as

the industry, Queen Latifah; her partner, Shakim [Compere]. And then, there was

Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy, Tom Silverman, and the late, great  Gerald Busby from Motown.

Vin Rock:  Tom


DJ Kay Gee:  Tom Warren who helped us from day one. It’s been a lot of

guys that just helped us out, and showed us a lot of things and a lot of ways

to go. Even Rebekah [Foster] from our management company. She came in with us

from day one and showed us a lot of things to do. About sound. How to hold a

mic. How to set our equipment up the right way. Just a lot of different things

and a lot of different avenues. We had different people who, you know,

basically passed that wisdom on and that knowledge and fed us with it. And we

continued to hold that torch, man, and carry it on.  As some of hip-hop’s prominent musical ambassadors, you

carry this torch at home and abroad. 

What details can you share about your upcoming USO tour? And since you

are returning for a

second leg, talk about the first leg as well, and the positive feedback that

made you want to go back.

Treach:  Oh,

man, yeah, that was crazy. On the first leg we went on about six months ago, we

went to Iraq, Kuwait and the border of Syria. We went out there with DJ

Skribble. That was the first time we went. In Iraq they had us well held down,

but you are in a war zone. The troops, half of them didn’t even believe we were

coming out, because they said so many groups end up cancelling for whatever

reason and especially the hip-hop groups, like a lot of the groups. They

appreciate everybody that comes out, but they said honestly that a lot of the

rock ‘n’ roll or country groups, these young soldiers don’t even know who they

are. So just to get a bit of hip-hop really takes them back home and gives them

that time and mind-space to really not think about the everyday stress that

they’re going through and everything else. I mean, it was just heartfelt and

warm, not to just see them, but just to be a part of that. And like you said,

we just came back this time from Africa, Djibouti and Bahrain. Persian Gulf. So

we were out there, and it was like, that wasn’t so much as far as like a combat

zone, but you see the hours and work they’re putting in to just have us on deck

of the United States protected by any foreign forces that might want to try

anything. And how much time we spent out there. We would meet with the Naval

force out there, DISCOM. So we went everywhere; the submarines, and really

seeing how confined the space is and how our soldiers, as human beings, just are

living it, just to protect us. It gives you a whole different level of respect

for what they went through, what they’re going through and what they’re doing

to protect us. So, it’s one of the most fulfilling tours that I’ve ever been

on, as far as just work that we always do to throw back and give back; I feel

like this one is on the top of the list of the things we’ve done.

Vin Rock:  And

on top of that, I just want to commend for covering these USO

tours. I’m looking at the site right now, and you’re promoting on Paul Wall,

his fourth USO tour. A lot of rappers do a lot of good will, man. But it’s

unfortunate that most of the time, the only time that they get press is when they’re

doing something negative. It’s just unfortunate that the good is never

reported. So when you guys report on this stuff, there’s a lot of people out

there, especially our minority sisters and brothers, who connect with these

stories, because they have family members out there in the field, or they are

out there themselves. Hip-hop is not all about beef and drama.

“I Gotta Lotta”  Are you ever shocked at the growth of hip-hop over the

years? Earlier, Treach mentioned how the soldiers will hear country and rock

‘n’ roll artists perform, but it doesn’t really take them back home the same

way. What kind of impression does that have on you, that hip-hop is still so

strong, even to this day?

Vin Rock:  Well,

this world, it’s a small world after all. And I look at the continents as

states, now. You know, we were blessed to have a big international record right

out the box. So we’ve been basically globetrotting since ’91. I don’t really

see continents and countries anymore – just states. Hip-hop has always been big

to me. It’s always been expanding. I’m a big advocate for it. I’m happy to see

what like Jay, 50 [Cent], Diddy, and all of these guys are doing to continue to

globalize it and move it forward. And with the Internet, it will be further

globalized.  I’m not sure how many

people from around the world can reach, but avenues like that

help distributed hip-hop all over the world.  It’s much easier for a global fan to just log on and get the

same direct feed of hip-hop that we get.  Although you have

always thought of hip-hop as this global phenomenon. Poverty’s Paradise was the first album to win the GRAMMY

Award for “Best Rap Album,” which started being offered in 1996. In what ways

have you seen the industry change, in regards to its relationship with hip-hop?

Does anything in particular stand out?

Treach:  Man,

they wasn’t even televising hip-hop as getting Grammys back then. So it’s like looking

at history – coming from the back of the bus to the front. Rosa Parks kind of stuff.

We knocked down the doors on a lot of racial barriers. Blatant s**t! Like these

kids today don’t even see it. Yo! MTV Raps was just popping off when we came out. Before that, there

was no rap format at all unless it was underground video shows.  So to take hip-hop to the masses, we will

always love and take our hats off and bow down to our Run-DMCs and LL Cool Js

and our forefathers of hip-hop, like Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, who

opened those doors where it wasn’t being done. Today, there’s no excuse. If you

really work hard and do all that there is to do as a new artist, there’s no

reason why you can’t go out there and really make it happen. A lot of these

artists don’t understand that it is a job. It’s not like just sitting back and

you’re rich and famous overnight. You’ve got to work for that.  What kind of advice do you have for new, up-and-coming


Treach:  Well

basically, man, that they’ve got to learn the game and know that it’s not the

same game where you could go into a label with your demo, get signed for a

quarter of a million or more dollars and there’s some major money backing it.

Like right now, to get signed to anybody, you better show that you’ve got some

type of your own buzz going and you’ve got your own independent vibe and you

basically are your own label. Because if you ain’t doing that, you’re not even

going to come up on radar. They’re going to look right over you. They’re

checking now to see who got the most hits here, there and the other. Who’s

making the most noise in the club. Who’s got this type of vibe here. It ain’t

just those deals where you could walk up into the labels and you felt as though

you were the hottest at the time. You might think that you were going to get

signed. Right now there’s so much bubble gum stuff out there, it ain’t about

just having the dopist lyrics or just the best swagger right now. You better

know how to make some songs that’s going to last for a while, because it ain’t

looking too good, coming out here just with a prayer and a dream. You better be

willing to work for it.

For more information on Naughty by Nature, visit the

group’s official website: