Review Summary: Veteran hip-hop group loses Producer / D.J Kaygee, struggle to keep fresh and release an album that can best be described as “The Good, The O.K & The Ugly”.
Who said that money problems could not ruin long-lasting friendships…??? After more than a decade as a trio, Naughty By Nature (NBN) became a duo in the new millennium following an argument between lead vocalist Treach and DJ/Producer Kaygee. Apparently, Treach thought that the man responsible for the musical components of the group was also responsible for wasting most of their money. So Treach and vocal partner Vinnie soldiered on alone and used a number of producers in order to make their 6th album (5th under the NBN name) ‘Iicons’.
So the big question here is does it tell that Kaygee is no longer part of NBN…??? Most fans would answer “yes”. Is it a fresh positive or a sound-altering negative…??? Well, it is a bit of both really and it doesn’t take all that long to notice this as the opening title track includes a background loop which could be deemed as either rather effective or monotonously gimmicky depending on personal taste. Another example is heard later on track 7, the atmospheric sounding ‘Let Me Find Out’.
Both of the aforementioned cuts are decent enough, but do not exactly stand out as anything memorable. They are the kind of songs that NBN could write and perform in their sleep. And that is one of the downfalls of ‘Iicons’, as it contains a few too many tracks of that standard. Elsewhere, ‘Swing Swang’ and ‘What You Don’t Know’ could also classify as middle-of-the-road. Unfortunately, they even sink a little lower elsewhere with ‘Rah Rah’ being some kind of failed attempt at welding grittiness and anthemic, while ‘Naughty By Nature’ is a poor and overlong attempt at a theme song of sorts which wastes horn samples and Carl Thomas’ contribution to the chorus.
Where NBN are most effective is in creating excellent feel-good party anthems. Hell, Vinnie even says so on the appropriately titled lead single ‘Feels Good’ when he raps “Ever since back in the day, from O.P.P down to Hip Hop Hooray, who invented party anthems to ease stress away?”, before ending the same verse with “Naughty By Nature makes that feel good music”. Not too dissimilar to ‘Jamboree’ off of ‘Nature’s Fury’, the effective female vocal back-up comes from 3LW this time around.
Of the other highlights to be found on this album, the most interesting is a duet with pop-rocker Pink on track 3 ‘What U Wanna Do’. This surprisingly works very well due to Treach’s methodically controlled vocals combining well with Pink’s, as well as an intriguing almost flamenco guitar-sounding loop that is ever-present in the background. Also worth mentioning are the back-to-back cuts ‘N.J to L.A’ and ‘Red Light’. The former is a bouncy up-tempo body-mover which includes a very good keyboard loop as well as occasional flourishes of electronica, while the latter Queen Latifah assisted track is highlighted by a catchy chorus.
As shown on their previous release with ‘Live or Die’, where NBN are not at their best is when they fall into the trap of allowing collaborations with big-name featured artists to turn into violent stereptypical clichés that simply turn the group into one of the hundreds of hip-hop wannabees littering the market. It happens again here with the help of Redman & Method Man on track 2 ‘Rock & Roll’ and then again later with the Lil John & Chyna Whyte collaboration that is the penultimate track ‘Wild Muthf**kaz’.
Fortunately, ‘Iicons’ does not end with that cut, nor some kind of “Shout Out” filler that has filled the closer role on past albums. Instead, they finish off with the lyrically interesting and mildly thought-provoking piece ‘Family Tree’. Including a chorus that falls somewhere between singing and rapping, the duo proclaim “See what started as a family forest got cut to a family tree, with the limbs and the leaves looking at the world for answers and the world points to the sun and the sun sees the answer in me. So I search through the darkness and can’t find the key, so we locked in the land of the lost lord please, tomorrow ain’t promised to you nor me, so now we choose the roots so we can plant new trees”.
Coming up on nearly a decade and a half of producing quality hip-hop, it was unfair to think that NBN could keep up with their previous standards. In attempting to keep as fresh and modern as possible, the duo throws a lot of things at the wall here. Some work, some don’t and some fail miserably, meaning this is a bit of a “The Good, The O.K & The Ugly” release. If this is NBN bottoming out to start over, then it is nothing too awful and still very much listenable to. But unfortunately, there is very little that is memorable included here and it must rate as their least effective album under the Naughty By Nature banner. Rumors suggest that the group may return with a new album some time soon… And Kaygee will be back. If so, it will be interesting to see if he in fact was the missing link.
Recommended Tracks: Feels Good, What U Wanna Do & N.J To L.A.