The album I picked for today is different than the rest because it is not connected to all the notoriousness of other rap albums. The album is the eponymous Naughty by Nature by Naughty by Nature, released in 1991.
What I remember: Admittedly, not much at first. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I actually knew the album until I looked at the cover, which lead to some vague memories and at the track list that made things clearer. I remember the hit of the album, O.P.P., which I liked but never really understood and the other hit, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, that always left me with a nice, fuzzy feeling inside, so I really liked it. In general, this album was different mostly because it was never as mean as most of the other stuff I was listening to. They didn’t want to kill anyone and they didn’t treat women in a disrespectful way. But it also wasn’t superficial like M.C. Hammer or Vanilla Ice (yes, we get to them eventually). I don’t remember if they were political or what exactly they were going for. But their songs were more grown up than most other rap at the time and I appreciated that even if I didn’t grasp what they wanted to say. I liked the album a lot but it also faded in my mind because I didn’t remember any specifics of the lyrics.
What I say now: What a nostalgia trip this is! Hearing the first beats of Yoke the Joker, the first song on the album, reminds me of everything I loved about this kind of music and this album in particular. It is hard to explain because it’s just a feeling in my chest that is triggered by hearing it again. I expected to understand the lyrics better but it is really hard to get them from just listening but they sound more aggressive than I thought. Looking at them only helps a little bit. I really like their writing style but it’s very hard to comprehend what they are actually saying. It has an “I’m a tough guy/I’m the best” vibe but without guns and money. It’s mostly sequences of similar sound words, brilliantly strung together as in the first line
I can snap, rap, pack, click-clack, patter-pat-pat
but what does that mean other than “I am good at what I’m doing”? Towards the end, Treach, the main rapper, shows that you just need “some paper plus a pen and tongue” to achieve something, which is a cool message.
It’s funny but the second song Wickedest Man Alive doesn’t ring a bell. In good conscience I would say I have never heard that song before, which is like the opposite of my reaction to the first song. It’s nice enough but has a certain Caribbean feeling that is not exactly my kind of rap music.
With O.P.P. my heart swings back in style because this song is still so huge. It was a really big hit at the time (only to be surpassed by 1993’s Hip Hop Hooray, which I heard again for the first time in a long time in The Wolf of Wall Street, so this movie might unconsciously be responsible for this whole revisiting rap albums thing) and it is still very good. But what does it mean? O.P.P. stands for O.ther P.eople’s P.roperty/enis/ussy. Basically the song deals with falling for someone who already is in a relationship, sexually or romantically. The way the song plays it is nice, it treats both genders the same way and pretty much says: well, it happens! I like this attitude because it’s not condemning it but it’s also not saying it’s a good thing. It can happen, so deal with it.
Now when you do it, do it well and make sure that it counts You're now down with a discount
Still, it’s an odd choice for a song, especially for a sing-a-long song.
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (also known as Ghetto Bastard) is even worse for my heart because I really loved it back then as it spoke to me in an emotional way. It opens with a dialogue between a doctor and a nurse as they talk about a child just being born but abandoned by its parents. “Another ghetto bastard, huh?” the doctor says. The nurse says: “A shame, isn’t it?” and he responds, “Not a shame, a problem.” I always loved this opening because it’s so simple and strong in its message and shows so well that Naughty by Nature wanted to do things differently. They didn’t claim to be gangsters but still could tell a more convincing story of being rejected from birth and what kind of life that leads to. While other groups used this state of abandonment to show how tough they are now, this song shows that it’s fucking sad but without asking for pity.
The sun never shine on my side of the street, see? And only once or twice a week God would speak I walked alone, my state of mind was home sweet home I couldn't keep a girl, they wanted kids and cars with chrome Some life, if you ain't wear gold, your style was old And you got more juice and dope for every bottle sold Hell no, I say there's gotta be a better way But hey, never gamble in a game that you can't play
But what really elevates this song is its optimism. It’s sad optimism yes, but Everything’s Gonna Be Alright and you want to believe that. So few rap songs have any hope and instead dabble in violence and misogyny to compensate their tough childhood. What the song also makes clear in the end is that no one who hasn’t been through to this should pretend to know how it feels.
If you ain't never been to the ghetto Don't ever come to the ghetto Cause you wouldn't understand the ghetto So stay the fuck out of the ghetto
What a great song.
Let the Ho’s Go is a bit strange as it does play with misogynist and violent imagery, but in a vague way. Every Day All Day is the other song on the album I don’t really remember and know why. In fact, while I do remember most of the other songs and still like quite a few of them, the lyrical content is often somewhat superficial. There’s some bragging, which is never as aggressive as other rappers’ bragging, some shout-out song and, well, some other songs. 1,2, 3 makes a good use of samples, Guard Your Grill has a nice beat, Strike a Nerve makes an uneasy high use of the word “bitch” and Thanx for Sleepwalking uses the great You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) by the Beatles as a sample.
All in all, I enjoyed the album very much but was a bit disappointed that not much was actually being said. Some songs are really great and stand the test of time because they are written so well, but a big part of the songs fall back on some rap clichés, even if they are never really offensive. So while I would call this a good album it’s more entertaining than thought-provoking, which is totally fine with me. I wonder if their follow-up 19 Naughty III will prove to be more than its uber-hit Hip Hop Hooray. But that is a story for another day.