Naughty by Nature
Leading a fairly sheltered existence during my childhood, I wasn’t privy to the wonders of Naughty by Nature until they appeared as a musical guest on one of the all-time Nickelodeon classics, All That. This sketch comedy show was the high-water mark for humor aimed at kids, as well as an introductory course in hip-hop and R&B for youngsters. The likes of TLC, A Tribe Called Quest, Aaliyah, Nas, Blackstreet, and many more earned my instant affection from their appearances on this seminal show. Although all these artists kept it clean because of the target audience of Nickelodeon, there was still a level of uncomfortable feelings that emerged watching the musical guest with my parents. I think this was what may have first drawn me to hip-hop – my parents disapproval – and probably the whitest way to be introduced/start enjoying hip-hop. Nevertheless, the love affair was born, and Naughty by Nature was an important player in this development.
Unfortunately, Naughty by Nature’s 20-year anniversary album Anthem Inc. overridingly reinforces the above nostalgia for their past work, rather than add a ton of value to their catalogue. I understand the temptation to update their sound from their mid-90’s heyday to fall more in line with the current climate of hip-hop, but Naughty by Nature always fit best in that simple, upbeat, party-rap category that they filled so nicely. I suppose I was hoping for more of a nuanced take on the party-rap that complements the talents of the three members. On hits like “O.P.P.”, “Hip Hop Hooray”, and “Feel Me Flow” less really was more. Naughty by Nature took a cool sample (like “ABC” by Jackson 5 on “O.P.P.”) or a groove as smooth as butter (like “Feel Me Flow”) and complemented the seamless production with a little tongue-in-cheek humor and flawless delivery. I’m not saying Naughty by Nature has never had any street in them, but they try to play it up a bit too much on Anthem Inc., in lyrics and tone. Another mistake that befalls Naughty by Nature is the inclination to include pretty, but very boring hooks in a couple of their tracks. Thank god there is no John Legend, but a nice track is easily ruined in my book by unnecessary hooks.
^^For those 2-3 of you out there that share an alternate meaning of the letters OPP with me…mad respek
Luckily, Naughty by Nature has not completely forgotten how to have a little fun, and when the opportunity presents itself on certain tracks, you can be transported back to the day of chain and padlock necklaces. “Throw It Up” has a nice little flute backing, as well as interesting but understated production throughout the track. “Name Game” asks the listener to remember the legacy of Naughty by Nature, and is the sentimental anthem of Anthem Inc. All of this would normally lead me to discard the track as emotional trash, but this song must have hit me at the right time, because I can’t stop listening to it. The delivery of the verses on “Name Game” is so heart-felt, it is near impossible to not take the words at face value.
There is certainly value to be found in Naughty by Nature’s latest, but don’t expect any monster hits from them from here on out. Savor the past, sample the present, and know that while these guys are not in the upper-echelon of hip-hop royalty, they have a hold on a nostalgic part of me that also wants to get down on some Vital Information With Loribeth Denberg.
NOTE: Listening to “O.P.P.”, I realized that this is the farthest I can go back to a now-staple lyric referring to girls “catchin’ feelings”, which is one of my favorite lyrics/concepts of all time.
Can’t Miss: “Throw It Up”, “Name Game”, “Guns & Butta”
Can’t Hit: “Naughty Nation”, “I Gotta Lotta”, “I Know Its Like”