#LongPlayLove: Celebrating 20 Years of Naughty By Nature’s ‘Poverty’s Paradise’ [FULL ALBUM STREAM]

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By Justin Chadwick | @justin_chadwick

Happy 20th Anniversary to Naughty By Nature’s Poverty’s 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”), Treach’s 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 they’re “down with O.P.P.” or not. Beyond its ubiquitous lead single and owing to other stellar singles like “Ghetto Bastard” (a.k.a. “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”) and “Uptown Anthem”, the group’s 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 “It’s 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.

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Excellence arrived in the spring of 1995, in the form of Poverty’s Paradise. Adhering to a similar sonic template as Naughty by Nature and 19 Naughty III, the album offers the obligatory braggadocio extolling the group’s microphone superiority, as well as an ample helping of more playful fare. The bulk of the tracks are propelled by Naughty By Nature’s 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 album’s 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 trio’s newfound maturity is manifest thematically through the album’s more cerebral and introspective social commentary, as on “Chain Remains,” the group’s 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 album’s most sobering, yet enthralling moments.

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Arguably the LP’s most powerful track, “World Go Round” draws inspiration from Michael Jackson’s 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 song’s 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, we’ve 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.

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Regrettably, upon its release, Poverty’s Paradise was somewhat overlooked by critics and fans alike. But I, for one, consider it Naughty By Nature’s 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 LP’s lukewarm response when it won the first-ever Best Rap Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards, triumphing over formidable competition from 2Pac’s Me Against the World, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s E 1999 Eternal. Oh and, ahem, Skee-Lo’s I Wish was also nominated in the category.

Granted, some have challenged how deserving of the honor Poverty’s Paradise was – particularly when considering the robust crop of hip-hop long players released the same year, such as Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, The GZA’s Liquid Swords, and Raekwon’s Only Buily 4 Cuban Linx. Nevertheless, Naughty By Nature’s 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 shouldn’t take such awards ceremonies all that seriously to begin with.

Accolades aside, while many will understandably associate Naughty By Nature’s legacy with the group’s 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, Poverty’s Paradise.

My Favorite Song: “World Go Round”

Bonus Videos:

“Chain Remains” (1995)

“Craziest” (1995)

“Feel Me Flow” (1995)

“Clap Yo Hands” (1995)

“Hang Out and Hustle” (1995)

“Klickow-Klickow” (1995)

Album Promo (1995)

The Show – Naughty By Nature Clip (1995)

BUY Naughty By Nature’s – Poverty’s ParadiseStream Here:

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