Naughty by Nature Jump “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
Everyone wants to create music for the ages, but few have the combo of pop savvy and staying power to keep listeners singing along for decades to come. East Orange crew Naughty By Nature clearly possess that elusive mixture--how else do you explain the fact that, 20 years later, hip-hop heads still know what it means to be "down with O.P.P."? Back in the business of crafting unforgettable tunes after a several-year hiatus in the early to mid-2000s, Treach, Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee are preparing to follow up 2010's Naughty by Nature: The Mixtape with Anthem, Inc, their first studio album featuring the full lineup since 1999's Nineteen Naughty Nine LP. Heralded by singles Flags (with Jaheim and Balewa Muhammad) and Perfect Party (featuring R&B singer Joe), the project finds the crew returning to that classic, 1990s boom-bap sound as they mix original cuts with updates of their biggest hits. Watch for the set to hit store shelves and online retailers next Tuesday, December 13, via indie label E1.
In the exclusive interview below, Naughty by Nature step into the Booth to discuss the fellow industry mainstays they view as role models, why they decided to go the indie route with their latest project, and their fondest memories of the late Heavy D.
Your brand new album, Anthem Inc., is set to drop on December 13. Congrats. How have you been able to sustain longevity over the past 20 years?
Vin Rock: Longevity is something that we were raised on. I see longevity as our [forefathers] who we consider to be Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and guys like that who came out before us. We still see guys like Whodini and Doug E. Fresh; those guys are around a lot. We looked to them when it comes to representing longevity. When you’re putting in work, you don’t realize how fast the time goes by; the next thing you know, people are calling you icons, legends and pioneers of your era.
Is there a particular meaning behind the title Anthem Inc?
Treach: Our fans call us the anthem kings. They consider us to be icons; we hear enough of that from our supporters. It’s not on any cockiness or anything like that; it’s just what they’ve labeled us throughout the years. They call us the anthem kings so we thought it was fitting to title this 20th year anniversary “Anthem Inc.”
What made you want to work with indie label EOne for the release this 20th anniversary record?
Vin Rock: In terms of Naughty, we were doing everything out of our own pocket. We figured we could put together a few songs and then find distribution later. When we started making the records and started shopping around, nobody was really biting to be honest. Everybody was just talking distributing our project while we continue to spend our own money finishing the record. In that case, we don’t need your distribution if we’re continuing to spend our own money. Alan Grunblatt [CEO of EOne] was seeing what we were doing virally with our music and the videos, he decided Naughty was a good project to pick up and they spent some dollars to help us out.
Anthem, Inc. marks the first time all three NBN members have been together since ‘99. Was it easy to pick back up after a decade apart?
Vin Rock: Well, we’ve been working with each other since our high school years so to me it’s just about picking up from where we left off and moving forward. It was easy to get back in because on top of that, we stay doing over 100 shows a year so we know what people are responding too live. We just combined everything and we feel like we have enough skill to always compete.
Anthem, Inc. features both new material and newly-recorded versions of some of your most legendary singles. What kind of memories were rehashed, re-recording classics like “O.P.P” and “Hip-Hop Hooray”?
DJ Kay Gee: We did everything from scratch from the kicks to the snares to the hi-hats. I did everything over again. I originally went back in and used all of the samples all over again from square one. We then decided to remove all of the samples so I had to go back in and play everything live. The versions of those records that appear on “Anthem Inc” have no samples, I played everything live. So the only switch up is that these versions have live music instead of samples, yet they sound the same as the originals. So it definitely brought back memories because to re-create the track from scratch, you start recollecting and trying to remember what the process was like. I had to remember how we did it on day one so it could sound just as authentic today as it did back then.
What is Naughty rapping about in 2012? Is there a particular focus?
Treach: We’re bringing back that feel good, boom-bap, party on the street corner type of music. A lot of people feel like the 90s was the golden era of hip-hop. Hip-Hop heads miss that type of sound and they want that feeling to come back to music.
Treach, you mentioned a desire to bring back that boom-bap type of hip-hop. As a veteran and a pioneer, what do you think of the current state of hip-hop?
Treach: I feel like there is a lot of good music out there. But at the same time, there are a lot of areas missing Naughty by Nature. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling a lot of the music but I’m thinking that we have something for the masses right about now. There’s always a sound that comes along and gives people a whole different vibe and takes things to a different level of entertainment and that’s what we’re here to do.
The mixtape game was nonexistent when NBN first began recording. How did it feel to release your first ever mixtape last year?
Vin Rock: We wanted to do that because Treach has a crew called The Garden State Great and it’s a crew of underground emcees from Jersey. It’s basically a hub for any Jersey artists to come and participate on our mixtapes. We got a lot of love off that mixtape which we shot a video for too. It helped us with our gradual grind.
Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share of the late Heavy D?
Treach: I first met Heavy D when I was a roadie for Queen Latifah on a tour with Digital Underground, Heavy D, and Public Enemy. I met him at his best when he was out there performing with hot records out. Heavy D was the coolest dude you could meet. My fondest memory was when he did the “Jam” video for Michael Jackson in Chicago. We were out there and he called us up to come through and we got to meet Michael. That was one of the finest things anyone could ever do for us. That’s my fondest memory of Heavy D.
In June, Naughty by Nature became the first hip-hop act to perform at Boston’s Fenway Park. Describe that experience.
Vin Rock: It was crazy. We have to big up Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block because he called us up to perform “Hip-Hop Hooray” at Radio City Music Hall. He called us and the Backstreet Boys. I know hip-hop fans thought that was a weird combination, but when we broke out the box in the early 90s, we did dates with both Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. I didn’t even realize it, but we ended up becoming the first ever hip-hop act to perform at Fenway Park. That’s definitely a big accomplishment for us, especially in a historic town like Boston.
Besides the new album, what is up next for Naughty By Nature?
Vin Rock: We have a new video out right now called “Perfect Party” featuring Joe. We have contests online right now and tons of brand new merchandise like hoodies and t-shirts which are all featured in the new video.
Treach: If anybody wants to get at me personally, @triggertreach. Our Twitter group page is @naughtybynature. Hit us up on Facebook as well, the whole nine y’all. Look out for that new album December 13th. As Vin Rock said, peep the single with Joe. The album is worth the wait y’all.