Today, Naughty By Nature would be a label CEO’s dream come true. In an era during the early ’90s when pop rap was taking over and talent was clearly divided between gangster rap realities and jazzy Hip-Hop poetics, this New Jersey trio carved out their niche by cannibalizing all three sub-styles and amping up the genre altogether. With their perfect blend of playful party anthems and aggressive boom-bap, Treach, Vinnie and DJ Kay Gee providing something for everyone, nurturing a sweeping sound that made them rightfully relevant for over a decade.
Couple that with the fact their rugged sense of style helped fuel the Timbs & Carhartt movement which predominated the golden era of grimy East Coast Hip-Hop and you’ll see why this Illtown trio could be considered amongst the most influential rap groups ever, despite never getting much critical acclaim in hindsight.
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1. “Yoke The Joker”
As the lead track from their self-titled debut, this sinister solo from Treach did much more than set the tone for this groundbreaking album. The track showcased their spokesman’s animated fast-flow in an aggressive and boastful manner, which was technically a step above the style of most MCs during the time and openly challenged inferior adversaries.
There are numerous ways to produce a breakout hit. However, using an innocent Jackson 5 sample as the foundation for an ode for infidelity was what propelled Naughty by Nature’s first single into smash status, giving the group steam immediately and turning the trifling acronym into pop culture fodder for the bulk of the ’90s.
3. “Ghetto Bastard”
One of more sentimental singles off NBN’s debut, this Bob Marley-inspired track found Treach dismissing his missing father figure with angst, as he discouragingly tries to deter the uplifting hook and piano-based beat. The contrast showed the group’s width, during a time in Hip-Hop when mainstream MCs rarely used their music to display vulnerability.
4. “Uptown Anthem”
While this bass-heavy banger was basically used as a sign of dominance to round out their breakout album with a bang, the track got most of it’s notoriety from being prominently featured as the theme music to destruction during the movie Juice, which the Jersey crew actually have a cameo in.
5. “Hip-Hop Hooray”
If you kiddos don’t know this commercially-accepted genre-lifting trampoline, go grab some Q Tips. As the lead single to their super-successful sophomore album 19 Naughty III, this sample-based smorgasbord found the Illtown trio fueling the mainstream with their fast-flows and maybe the catchiest hook of all time. Sports stadiums haven’t been the same since.
6. “It’s On”
“Never call you sir/ Who gives a damn if you mix a lot?” Always aggressive but rarely specified in target, this horn-tinged heater from the groups third album found Vinnie and Treach firing away at Sir Mix-A-Lot for reasons few will remember today, but many can still reiterate due to the potency of the low-end-heavy thumper.
7. “Poor Man’s Poetry”
Although this rugged cut could’ve fit perfectly onto any of Naughty’s first three albums, the piano-laced boom-bap found here added some much-needed grit to an R&B-fueled Poetic Justice soundtrack, instead.
8. “The Only Ones”
Treach was adept at stepping up the pace when necessary (as was Kay Gee, obviously). Here, an early version of the Hip-Hop police was the intended target as the trio explained why and how their money was clean, thus they didn’t have “any connections in the drug game” as the chorus says.
9. “Feel Me Flow”
If the sun isn’t silently roasting your skin and a cold beverage isn’t sweating into your palm during this lighthearted jam from Naughty’s Poverty’s Paradise, you’re not completely experiencing the classic track. This is the epitome of a Summer song and was one one of the main proponents for the LP winning the inaugural Grammy for Best Rap Album Of The Year in 1995.
10. “Mourn You Til I Join You”
After their long-standing friendship ended in tragedy, Treach penned this heartfelt dedication to his fallen comrade 2Pac, which was featured on the Ride OST and saw moderate success, despite the unfortunate circumstances.