Review Summary: The "army with harmony" delivers an excellent album which successfully makes even the grittiest of subjects accessible. Should appeal to both the hardcore street rappers & the mainstream public looking for good tunes.
"Army with harmony". They are the three words which are the first to be heard at the beginning of the worldwide smash hit lead single released from this album, track 3 'O.P.P'. A throwaway rhyme that simply sounds good? Maybe. But dig a little deeper and those three words could also tell you a lot about what has made this New Jersey trio so successful for over a decade. The word "Army" is used rather often by rap/hip-hop groups as it conveys both violence and a gang nature. But where-as said groups may be an army of gangsters or an army with weapons, Treach, Vinnie & Kaygee are the army with harmony, ensuring that their gritty street tales are able to be heard and understood via mainstream accessible tunes.
And what a tune 'O.P.P' is. Reaching a peak of #6 on the American singles chart at a time when hip-hop was not exactly ruling that domain, it contains excellent storytelling concerning its rather, shall we say, naughty subject matter. Meanwhile, a fantastic background beat is terrifically assisted by twinkling piano and an effectively subtle incorporation of a sample from The Jackson 5's well-known hit 'ABC'. The result is a body-moving and involving song that could literally appeal to anyone from hardcore rap fans to pop aficionados. And therein lies the main strength of Naughty By Nature as they are able to tackle any subject and make it accessible without sounding corny. Later, they do the same on the very good 'Guard Your Grill’, a track that 99% of other rap artist’s would have turned into a stereotypical violent cliché.
But this self-titled album (which is often mistakenly referred to as the trio's debut despite a previous release under the moniker of 'The New Style') is by no means a one song show as the chart results will have you believe. The following track, 2nd single 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' is also not to be missed. Originally titled 'Ghetto Ba$tard', this opens with a conversation between a doctor and a nurse to define a ghetto ba$tard, before exploding into a fantastic beat and female backing vocals performing the chorus. Grim and depressing, this cut is alternately put together impressively to somehow come off positively, with the revised song title shining through. Once more, keyboards and a great beat that is once more ably assisted by a subtle sample (this time of Boney M's ‘No Woman, No Cry') near-perfectly provide an efficient backdrop.
But it is Treach with his knockout first verse that makes this song. As intense as he has ever been, he brings emotional conviction to this important story of children growing up without fathers: “Some get a little and some get none. Some catch a bad one and some leave the job half done. I was one who never had and always mad. Never knew my dad, Mother f**k the fag”. More impressive lyrics follow later: “If not for bad luck, I would have none. Why did I have to live a life of such a bad one? Why when I was a kid and played out I was a sad one. And always wanted to live like just a phat one” and “Say something positive? Well positive ain’t where I live. I live right around the corner from West Hell, Two blocks from South $hit and once in a jail cell”.
Treach is really the star of the show here as he commands the listener's attention from the get-go. In fact, his voice on the fast-paced overlong opener 'Yoke The Joker' initially sounds too nasally, but whether it is listener acclimatization or otherwise, the annoyance factor is only fleeting. Overall, his performance here deserves to have him listed as one of the most talented hip-hop vocalists going around, as he has the ability to perform rapid-fire, intense and involving rhymes while almost always being clear and understandable.
Furthermore, the production and vocal techniques used to emphasize certain lyrics (whether for comedy or storyline purposes) is almost always right on the money. And some of the lines are noteworthy as can be seen twice on ‘1, 2, 3’: “Tell me is this some type of tournament? I’ll cut ya f**kin’ head off and use it as a Christmas tree ornament” as well as “This drill means chill, Guard Ya Grill, Trouble… Is that your head or is your neck blowin’ a f**kin’ bubble?” And how about this trio of one-liners from ‘Strike A Nerve: “My pants always sag coz I rap my a$$ off”. “I say so much $hit, I oughta write my rhymes on toilet paper”. “If bull$hit was worth a dime, you’d have a job in a cow’s a$$”.
While Treach clearly has the spotlight and is the better rapper of the two vocalists, it is actually an album weakness that Vinnie is not allowed to add his laidback style to more tracks. Some of them, especially the longer ones such as the opener, 'Everyday All Day' and the ominous sounding 'Let The Ho's Go' could have used the variety that he later provides to the up-tempo body-mover 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' and the 6+ minute 'Strike A Nerve'. Elsewhere, this is a hip-hop album so guest vocalists do exist. Thankfully, it is kept to a satisfyingly low amount of 3 tracks though with the highlights being the female contributions of Queen Latifah to the Caribbean-infused 'Wickedest Man Alive' and Aphrodity to the upbeat feel-good cut that is 'Rhyme'll Shine On'.
Topping everything off nicely is Kaygee's ability to lay a more than competent musical background to complete the songs. The album never gets musically bogged down and in addition to the various samples which are used throughout the album, there is also a splattering of various instruments which float in and out to provide additional variety. For example, saxophone is used wisely in both 'Wickedest Man Alive' and 'Everyday All Day', while 'O.P.P' and other cuts use piano to brighten the vibe.
With barely a filler track amongst the 12 (13 if you include 'Uptown Anthem' which was included on later reissues) included here, it is difficult not to rate Naughty By Nature's self-titled release highly. Very good vocals and music complement the trio's trademark ability to appeal to both the hardcore street rappers and the mainstream public simply looking for good tunes. In that sense, Naughty By Nature were ahead-of-their-time trendsetters in their own little way and this album very much proves that by being a very good listen overall.
Recommended Tracks: Everything's Gonna Be Alright, O.P.P, Guard Your Grill & Pin the Tail on the Donkey.