Do you know what “O.P.P.” actually means? And perhaps more importantly, are you down with it?
Being a family newspaper and all, we can’t really address those questions here. But what we can do, in the wake of the artists who raised those questions more than 25 years ago coming to perform on Flying Dog’s front lawn, is offer up 10 essential Naughty By Nature songs that don’t involve those three magical letters.
Why? Because Treach, Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee have so much more to offer than crude acronyms. Duh. And we’re here to remind you of as much as you get ready for their Frederick invasion Friday night.
“Hip Hop Hooray”
Featuring one of the most iconic choruses in hip-hop history, this track weirdly (and criminally) doesn’t get referenced nearly as much as “O.P.P” when Naughty By Nature is brought to conversation. It’s a shame, too, considering how the beat samples James Brown, the Isley Brothers … and Peter Gabriel. It reached No. 1 on three charts worldwide, including the ballyhooed Canada Dance list, and no matter what sports event you attend, you can count on hearing a snippet of this at least three times throughout the night. If “O.P.P.” launched this trio into the mainstream, “Hip Hop Hooray” cemented their place in the genre’s history.
“Feel Me Flow”
It helped garner the group its only Best Rap Album Grammy in 1996 for “Poverty’s Paradise,” and it was well deserved. Treach owns the mic here, spitting verses that flow as easily as milk chocolate melts over an open fire. “Serve words with nerve/ Embedded, I said it, word/ Damn, you nerd/ Man, you heard/ Coming from the town of Illy/ And alleys are/ Full of Phillies and rallys suckers/ Get silly as Sally, then found in alleys,” he declares, and if your head doesn’t spin, you need to examine your ears.
“Yoke The Joker”
The very first track from the very first record is as hungry a performance as you’ll find in 1991 East Coast hip-hop. Treach proclaims he’s a “triple-star MC” over a Melvin Bliss sample, and it’s hard to argue with him as the aggression builds and the appetite increases. Not only is this a pronouncement of arrival, but it also puts all his contemporaries on notice: Don’t mess with one of the newest masters on the block.
From 1999’s “Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature’s Fury,” it was the final single the group released that earned certified gold status. And here, you didn’t even realize Naughty By Nature was still a thing in the late ‘90s. Anchored by a chorus featuring R&B group Zhane, the song was of the times and for the times, oozing the type of pop soul that used to dominate the radio. Better yet? It’s hard to argue against the influence of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes I Can” throughout the chorus, and that just might be all the reason anybody really needs to justify why this was the trio’s only song other than “O.P.P.” to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Rap Chart.
Made for the movie “Juice” (shouts to Omar Epps!), this feels as confrontational as anything Naughty By Nature offered through the years. “Cussin wasn’t nothin’ till a black man rapped,” Treach asserts as the hard-as-bricks backbeat pushes forward with antagonism and urgency. It all culminates with a hook that allows everyone to shout and accentuate their frustrations with aplomb: “We gonna break/ We gonna bash/ We gonna roll/ We gonna smash.” Tupac, who later sampled the song, was surely proud.
“Mourn You ’Til I Join You”
And speaking of Tupac, Treach famously wrote this in tribute to his late friend after he was murdered in Las Vegas. Appearing on the soundtrack to the movie “Ride,” this song’s silky groove provides a mournful dichotomy to the emotionally taxing lyrical content at hand. Half liberating acceptance, half heartbroken goodbye, it’s one of the rare moments Naughty By Nature toned down and wore their collective heart on their collective sleeve, hitting all the right notes in the process.
“Ghetto Bastard (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright)”
Naughty By Nature at some of their most accessible, this play for pop from their debut hits on all the right radio-ready notes from 1991. Mildly funky backbeat? Check. Singalong hook used to its fullest potential? Check. Inspiring story? Check. Tasteful, deliciously sublime pop piano? Double check. Not many people remember that this was the official follow-up to “O.P.P.,” and it’s worth wondering why this track didn’t catch on the same way its predecessor did. This is as much a time time capsule as anything else heard in early ‘90s hip-hop and for that, it must be celebrated.
Featuring Rottin Razkals (which, it should be noted, included Treach’s younger brother, Diesel), this “Poverty’s Paradise” gem came fully equipped with enough aggression to match the societal tenor of the time. In so many ways, it’s the perfect companion to “Feel Me Flow,” the uber hit that hatched from the same record. Where as that song profiled the laid-back ethos of en vogue hip-hop, this song brought to light the ugly underbelly from which so many prominent artists came. And with Kay Gee’s mad-as-hell production, this became the unsung hero of the trio’s most decorated LP.
“Written On Ya Kitten”
Yes, the metaphors here aren’t necessarily ones we are allowed to write about in the newspaper (there was only one thing on Naughty By Nature’s mind in the ‘90s, it appears), but in its own weird way, the wordplay is a blend of clever and raunch that these guys ultimately mastered by the time the millennium switched. Plus, hell: Do you even know what the B-side to this was? You guessed it: “Klickow-Klickow.” The way these guys could go from sweet to seething to sexy was an art form in and of itself.
The thing featured so much of jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd’s “French Spice” that Byrd ultimately wound up with a writing credit. It also marks the seminal, can’t-forget beef between Naughty By Nature and Sir Mix A Lot. “Never call you Sir, who gives a damn if you Mixalot?/ East Coast gets the props, producers rock your knot/ Baby ain’t got back, baby got black/ That’s why you see the black baby and you respect that,” Treach proclaims and down goes the one-hit wonder. Bonus points if you can even remember what their problem was in the first place.