Naughty by Nature celebrates 25 years in the game. How three kids with a dollar and a dream put New Jersey on the map.
Words: KC Orcutt
Twenty five years ago, the streets of New Jersey were unknowing that the hustler mentality they quietly inspired would propel the careers of one of the most iconic and influential Hip Hop groups of all time.
Three kids from the same neighborhood in East Orange could be found scuffin’ their knees, doing whatever odd jobs they could, all to help get them through another day and another step closer to accomplishing their music goals, eventually coming together to create the legacy that is Naughty By Nature.
Naughty by Nature’s first hit “O.P.P.” marked the group’s crossover into a mainstream arena and helped put their name on the board forever, with the single ranking as one of the most successful rap songs in music history. From there, the group went on to drop its self-titled, platinum-selling debut via Tommy Boy Records in September 1991. It is indisputable that Hip Hop as a culture would not be the same without the groundwork Naughty by Nature diplomatically laid.
“We thought we were going to be one of the great underground groups of our time that everybody loved but would never go platinum,” Treach says. “It didn’t even cross our minds we would be moving over into a bigger reach. It’s all a dream, you don’t know who’s going to buy your records or if you’re going to get any light at all.”
Hitting the quarter century mark of hustling their own music is something members Anthony “Treach” Criss, Vincent “Vin Rock” Brown and Keir “Kay Gee” Gist are humbly celebrating in 2016, but not in the way one would assume by retiring or slowing down. The group members are just as hungry as when they started, with new music on the way, a documentary in the works detailing the behind-the-scenes of their impressive career and a 27-city tour already on the schedule.
“We’ve always been working,” Vin Rock says. “We had so little, we had no choice but to grind. We were out there trying to make it happen and our work ethic is what brought us to today. We cherish that time because of the whole pursuit of it all and how much work we put in. Some of my fondest memories were prior to us getting signed.”
Each individual member brings their own talents and tastes to the table, and part of what has helped fuel their creative achievements throughout the years is their multi-faceted approach. Vin is the savvy businessman, Treach dived headfirst into an acting career by way of the movie Juice alongside 2Pac, Queen Latifah and Samuel L. Jackson, and Kay Gee helped break credible artists by way of Naughty’s imprint, Illtown Records. In turn, the group created a blueprint that the Golden Age of Hip Hop followed closely, with Wu-Tang’s Raekwon himself giving props and acknowledging the ways that Naughty influenced the genre by bringing a business-minded approach to diversifying and branding ones music.
Throughout their six studio albums, multiple awards (including a Grammy for Best Rap Album for 1996’s Poverty’s Paradise) and a reputation for impeccable live performances, Naughty’s competitive spirit, talent and work ethic has helped the group remain relevant and rise above all odds.
“When it’s all said and done, Naughty brought fun to Hip Hop,” Kay Gee says. “We brought Jersey to Hip Hop. We brought ourselves—our original selves and our own interpretation—to Hip Hop.”
At the core of the group’s dynamic is a quality that cannot be taught but is learned: authenticity. The way that Naughty has stayed true to its vision regardless of circumstance is something artists today desperately need to pay attention to.
“Since we didn’t invent rap, we had to create our own sound,” Treach says. “We couldn’t sound like anybody else or look like anybody else, because we weren’t trying to be anybody else.”
As Hip Hop cultivates change with age and Naughty By Nature navigates ways to compete with artists of today while still satisfying their core audience, it’s clear a bright future is in their veteran hands and they’re only looking forward to what’s next.