Happy 20th Anniversary to Naughty By Natures Povertys Paradise, originally released May 2, 1995.
When most folks hear or read the words Naughty By Nature, I suspect the neurotransmitters in their brains immediately signal either or both of two associated memories: O.P.P. and Hip Hop Hooray. And with good reason, considering the permanence of these unforgettable singles.
Few hip-hop acts have made as dynamic of an introduction as the East Orange, NJ trio comprised of Treach, Vin Rock, and Kay Gee did in 1991 with their debut single O.P.P. Due to its instantly recognizable Jackson 5 sample (ABC), Treachs brisk rhyme spray, and its shamelessly cheeky acronym that invited a multitude of interpretations, O.P.P. was a massive crossover hit that still induces listeners to scratch their temples and contemplate whether theyre down with O.P.P. or not. Beyond its ubiquitous lead single and owing to other stellar singles like Ghetto Bastard (a.k.a. Everythings Gonna Be Alright) and Uptown Anthem, the groups self-titled sophomore album which, unbeknownst to many, actually followed their debut LP Independent Leaders recorded under their original moniker, The New Style is an indisputable classic.
Two years after their breakthrough, Naughty By Nature released the follow-up full-length, appropriately titled 19 Naughty III. While not the whirlwind phenomenon that its precursor was, the album was still commercially and critically successful, yielding another indelible anthem in Hip Hop Hooray, as well as underrated singles Its On and Written on Ya Kitten. Most importantly, the album dispelled any short-sighted accusations that the group was little more than a one-hit (or one-album) wonder and promised more excellent things to come from the talented threesome.
Excellence arrived in the spring of 1995, in the form of Povertys Paradise. Adhering to a similar sonic template as Naughty by Nature and 19 Naughty III, the album offers the obligatory braggadocio extolling the groups microphone superiority, as well as an ample helping of more playful fare. The bulk of the tracks are propelled by Naughty By Natures signature bouncy grooves and sing-along choruses, with Treach and Vinnie flexing their impassioned, rapid-fire lyrical muscle throughout.
Album opener and lead single Clap Your Hands kicks off the affair on an inspired note, with the galvanizing chorus: Clap your hands this evening / Come on y’all say it’s alright. An infectious mix of rolling bass and piano loops, the metropolis-celebrating Craziest sounds like the rightful, albeit more frenetically bugged-out heir to Uptown Anthem. Most of us will fondly recall Feel Me Flow, the albums most whimsical and recognizable single, which soundtracked the summer of 95 and cracked the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. And what would a Naughty By Nature album be without the prerequisite ode to the metaphorical kitty, provided here by Sunshine, which explores delights of the more carnal variety atop the oft-sampled Everybody Loves the Sunshine by Roy Ayers.
The trios newfound maturity is manifest thematically through the albums more cerebral and introspective social commentary, as on Chain Remains, the groups heartfelt tribute to their incarcerated black brethren. Donning chains around his neck as a symbol of unity with his imprisoned brothers, Treach astutely suggests that our modern-day prison system is the extension of plantation-fueled slavery:
Bars and cement instead of help for our people
Jails ain’t nothin but the slave day sequel
Tryin to flee the trap of this nation
Seein penitentiary’s the plan ta plant the new plantation
They say we’ll take the animals from cottons and crops
Straight to forgotten wit locks plottin to rottin our stocks
They draw a crooked line and wait for your foot ta fall under
The track is unquestionably one of the albums most sobering, yet enthralling moments.
Arguably the LPs most powerful track, World Go Round draws inspiration from Michael Jacksons 1972 cover of The Stylistics People Make the World Go Round and explores the perpetual pattern of racial discrimination and injustice afflicting the black community. More specifically, the group tackles the quagmire of police brutality, a painful reality that has penetrated public consciousness for decades, and particularly so in the years following the 1991 Rodney King tragedy. The songs relevance has endured, unfortunately, as little if anything at all has changed since the early 90s. And with the recent advent of mobile video and social media, weve all become more intimately familiar than ever before with the criminal abuse of police authority and its disproportionate persecution of black men. When Treach laments A Brooklyn boy dies shot by a cop for a play gun / Our kids days are up even if they ain’t stray ones, the message is a prescient one. One that augurs the tragic fates of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and the handful of other unarmed black men (and women) who have needlessly lost their lives at the hands of those who have betrayed their sworn oath to protect and serve.
Regrettably, upon its release, Povertys Paradise was somewhat overlooked by critics and fans alike. But I, for one, consider it Naughty By Natures most balanced and rewarding song set across their seven-album deep discography. Nearly a year after the album arrived in stores, the trio received some well-deserved vindication for the LPs lukewarm response when it won the first-ever Best Rap Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards, triumphing over formidable competition from 2Pacs Me Against the World, Ol Dirty Bastards Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmonys E 1999 Eternal. Oh and, ahem, Skee-Los I Wish was also nominated in the category.
Granted, some have challenged how deserving of the honor Povertys Paradise was particularly when considering the robust crop of hip-hop long players released the same year, such as Mobb Deeps The Infamous, The GZAs Liquid Swords, and Raekwons Only Buily 4 Cuban Linx. Nevertheless, Naughty By Natures victory demonstrated that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does recognize quality over quantity (of sales), from time to time. Though judging by the Grammys questionable track record since 2000 a period during which 10 of 16 Best Rap Album trophies have incredulously been handed out to Eminem and Kanye West perhaps we shouldnt take such awards ceremonies all that seriously to begin with.
Accolades aside, while many will understandably associate Naughty By Natures legacy with the groups blockbuster hit singles, for me, their recorded repertoire will forever be defined by the strength of their long play output. And most of all, by their creative pinnacle, Povertys Paradise.
My Favorite Song: World Go Round
Chain Remains (1995)
Feel Me Flow (1995)
Clap Yo Hands (1995)
Hang Out and Hustle (1995)
Album Promo (1995)
The Show Naughty By Nature Clip (1995)
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