LINCOLN – The New Jersey based hip-hop trio, “Naughty By Nature” shook up the rap music world with the release of their 1991 self-titled CD. It spawned the infectious party anthem, “O.P.P” which landed atop the Billboard Hot 100 music charts and became one of the most successful crossover songs in rap history.
Naughty By Nature’s meteoric rise continued with the follow up CD’s “19 Naughty III” (“Hip-Hop Hooray”) and “Poverty’s Paradise.” The latter album won a Grammy Award in 1996 for “Best Rap Album.” It was also the first album to win such an award and it featured the hit song, “Feel Me Flow.”
Now, 21 years later, “Naughty By Nature” is still bringing the beats to appreciative audiences all over the country and worldwide.
Sacramento Observer Correspondent Lana K. Wilson-Combs spoke with Naughty By Nature’s group leader Anthony “Treach” Criss (pictured right) prior to trio’s old school concert with The Sugar Hill Gang and Kool Moe Dee on Oct. 26 at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort Hotel in Lincoln, California.
The 41-year old rapper talked about the state of today’s hip-hop music, and why groups like Naughty By Nature continue to leave its mark on the music industry.
Check out what else Treach opened up about.
Q. The last time we met was in 2006 at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival for your starring role in the movie “Park.” What have you been up to since then and what prompted Naughty By Nature to get back together?
A. A lot actually. The group has been on the road for the past 20 years. We’ve done a lot of dates all over the country, but mostly overseas in Australia, France, Britain, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, and Denmark where we’re still embraced like the hip hop stars of old. And that just proves how much the world loves hip-hop culture and particularly real hip-hop groups like Naughty By Nature. There’s always been a market for groups like us. Just because we’re not on the mainstream radio doesn’t mean we’re not out there and giving people the music they remember and spawning new interest among new fans.
Q. What’s the response been like for this tour you’re on with Kool Moe Dee and The Sugar Hill Gang?
A. Unbelievable. We have the old, hip-hop heads and those who aren’t even familiar with the music but they never forget it after they leave our concert. Most all the shows have been sold out or near sell outs which is another testament to hip-hop’s appeal. I’m telling you, you haven’t seen a hip-hop show like this one. It brings out everything in the audience from cheers to tears.
Q. During the 1980s hip-hop and rap evolved from dance/party music to socially and politically conscious anthems and eventually to gangster rap. What has happened to the genre today? Is it dying a slow death or was Nas right when he proclaimed a few years ago that hip-hop is dead?
A. I think radio has had a lot to do with the downfall of rap and hip-hop. The music today is no longer in the artist’s hands anymore. And program directors have become programmed for their stations to play the same old records from artists that really sound the same all the time. Back in the day, you prided yourself on not even looking like anyone else, much less sounding like the next cat. Artists then made conceptual songs. It wasn’t uncommon to have 30 or 40 people in a recording studio then either working collectively to bring the next big sound to radio.
Q. Do you see anything on the horizon that will change the direction hip-hop has taken now?
A. No. Not really. It’s going to take someone/something to really step up and take a stand and want to do something different; to have artists make different records and to change the mindset of radio stations and their programming/playlists. It’s always been about money, don’t get me wrong, but at least it used to be about the artists and the money. The music is so very stuffy and the industry so corporate now that it hardly promotes creativity.
Q. Do you listen to a lot of music on radio today?
A. I listen to mainstream radio because my kids do. But I mostly listen to satellite radio. I like the throwback music, morning shows and interviews and stuff like that. But check this out. You know there’s a problem with mainstream radio, when even my kids—who listen to it often—start to complain that they just heard a particular song about an hour ago. Even they get bored with it.
Q. What did you think about Mystikal saying that if his latest rap CD didn’t sell he’d consider going into porn? Are things really that bad now?
A. (Lots of laughter). That’s funny. I hadn’t heard that about him. But that’s funny as hell and shows things might be worse than I thought.
Q. Your song “O.P.P.” was one for the ages. In fact, Spin Magazine named it the “20th Best Single” of the 1990s. The Source Magazine called it the “Top 100 Rap Single Of All Time.” How did you come up with such witty lyrics? Did you write the song and when you were recording it did you imagine it would be such a monstrous hit?
A. I did write “O.P.P.” and all the other songs for the group. That song was just me bringing out my comedic side. It started as a joke with some friends. I saw a fine girl and was like ‘man she’s got to be some other person’s property.’ Actually I said the other “p” word. So we all had a laugh out of it. I kept playing around with the concept in my head and was able to put it together. I thought when we were making it that we were on to something special, but, no; I couldn’t have predicted the enormous success “O.P.P” would have for us.
Q. O.P.P’s infectiousness stems from its lyrical flow and sampling of the Jackson Five’s classic, “ABC.” Did you ever get any feedback from any of the Jacksons regarding the song?
A. Yeah Michael Jackson. And that day was one of the highlights of my music career. I was at an event and Michael was there. He came up to me and said “Treach from Naughty By Nature, right?” “O.P.P. is the shit.’ I think I was more stunned by hearing Michael say the word “shit” than being given the compliment itself. He loved the song. That meant everything to us to get his validation. It was a crowning achievement.
Q. Many people wax nostalgic about the Motown era and the influence that music continues to have worldwide. Do you believe that the hip-hop and rap of the 1980s and 1990s will be looked upon as the golden age of music for its time?
A. No question about it. Hip-hop and rap music’s reach—from the clothes and its ideology—remains influential worldwide. Music historians will definitely consider it the golden age of music for generations to come.
Q. Last December you released your seventh group album, “Anthem Inc.” can you talk a bit about it and how it’s been received?
A. We’re real proud of “Anthem Inc.” It’s our 20th anniversary album and we wanted to mix some of our old stuff with new. We also have some unreleased videos on YouTube that are out there too.
Q. If there was ever a movie that became an urban, cult classic it’s “Juice.” Can you talk about your starring role in it and the strong friendship it led to with the late Tupac Shakur?
A. That was such a great opportunity for me and what sparked my interest in acting. Tupac and I met a year before “Juice” had come out through Queen Latifah. She really discovered Naughty By Nature. And I had known Pac from his days with Digital Underground. Queen Latifah told me about the part and I eventually got a shot to read for the role of Bishop which eventually went to Pac. I really didn’t know anything about acting at the time. I was just reading it all loud from a piece of paper. Tupac comes out and says to me ‘man who you fighting?’ And we both kinda laughed. We’ll he ended up getting the part, but liked my style. He told me he would get me in the movie. He kept his word and did. Since then, I went on to do other projects like an arc on “The Sopranos” and episodes on “Law & Order.”
Q. Are you still interested in acting and are there any other movies that you are currently attached to?
A. Yeah, I’ve definitely been bitten by the acting bug. I just completed a movie called “Zoo” that I’m shopping around. I play an undercover cop in it. So instead of the hustler and gangsters that I’ve played all the time, I’m on the other side of the law this time around.
Naughty By Nature, Kool Moe Dee and The Sugar Hill Gang will take the stage at Thunder Valley Casino Resort Hotel on Oct. 26. Show time is at 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Thunder Valley Box Office, online at Ticketmaster or by phone at 1-800-745-3000. For more information log on to www.WORLDONEPRESENTS.COM for details.
By Lana Wilson-Combs