NATURE'S WAY

THE ONLY THINGS NAUGHTY BY NATURE SHOOTS UP ARE HIP-HOP STEREOTYPES.

Kansas senator Bob Dole's recent attack on popular culture has garnered largely favorable responses despite his blatantly political motivations (the man would give his good arm to be President) and numerous proclamations that were utterly nonsensical (if Dole thinks the bloody Arnold Schwarzenegger flick True Lies is "family friendly," as he claimed, he no doubt holds that Reservoir Dogs is about canine lifeguards). In particular, his complaints about the violent and sexist imagery inherent in many rap songs has been praised to the skies by virtually everyone other than card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union, even though Dole's decision to single out for criticism the musical efforts of ghetto-bred African-Americans smacks of the brand of clumsy but effective race-baiting for which George Bush was rightly vilified throughout the 1988 presidential campaign.

More to the point, Dole made no effort to juxtapose the gangsta rap he finds so threatening with examples of hip-hop that meets his standards for positivity. For instance, he focused much of his ranting on the supposedly evil money-grubbers at Time Warner when the company (through its independent Tommy Boy imprint) provides a platform to Naughty by Nature, a trio whose core belief system would warm his cockles.

Sure, Bobby might have a problem or two with Naughty's fondness for hearty partying and random getting down: "O.P.P.," the 1991 tune that established the act, isn't exactly about an upscale brand of beachwear, you know. But talk for any length of time with Vinnie Brown, who teams up with fellow rapper/heartthrob Treach (Anthony Criss) and DJ Kaygee (Kier Gist) in the group, and you'll discover the type of person Dole could definitely get behind--a hardworking capitalist who vigorously promotes self-reliance and does not shy away from sniping at those less willing to take a stand for righteousness than he is. As he puts it, "I definitely accept the responsibility of being a role model, and I think all entertainers, no matter who they are, should do the same thing. And when someone says he doesn't want to do that, that's just a copout for laziness.

"Filmmakers and actors want their big salaries, and they want everyone on earth to go out and support them in whatever they're doing. But why should anyone support them if they can't lend themselves to inspiring people and steering children in the right direction? The fans love them--drop-dead love them--so why can't they say something or do something to reward that, and to exude an aura that's respectful and gracious?"

Although Brown's line couldn't be further removed from the statements made by many performers, it's perfectly in keeping with an approach to life and music that he's maintained since the Naughty ones first got together in the late Eighties. Brown, Treach and Kaygee first became aware of each other in 1986 while attending high school in East Orange, New Jersey, a depressed community in which struggling is the rule and drugs are sold to and by the very young; Treach was already working as a clocker for an East Orange dealer by the time he was thirteen. But it was music, not crack, that drew the three together. Within months of meeting, they created a band, originally dubbed New Style, and began entering talent contests at a nearby club. They won so often that the management ultimately chose to pay them $100 a show to play outside the main competition.

Emboldened by their popularity in East Orange, New Style recorded an album called Independent Leaders but couldn't find anyone to release it. Fortunately, a mutual acquaintance introduced the group members to Queen Latifah, whose first platter, 1989's All Hail the Queen, was about to be issued by Tommy Boy. Through the Queen's connections with Tommy Boy and Flavor Unit Management, Brown and his brethren received a contract. After christening themselves Naughty by Nature, they chose as their first single "O.P.P.," one of New Style's signature pieces, and watched MTV exposure turn it into a million-seller. A handful of successes followed, including the radio favorites "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," "Uptown Anthem," "It's On" and "Hip Hop Hooray." Naughty by Nature went from nowhere to being the Nineties' most regular producer of hit rap music.

The new Naughty CD, Poverty's Paradise, seems set to continue this trend: It entered national album-sales charts at number three, and its first single, "Feel Me Flow," is in the Top 20 and climbing. But because Naughty is more interested in championing pleasures of the flesh than drive-bys, few observers outside the hip-hop community have noticed. Brown claims not to be bothered by this lack of attention.

"While the rest of the industry and the whole hip-hop culture go through their changes, we're riding a steady path," he notes. "That way, years down the line, you'll be able to look back at who was consistent, who wasn't too far to either one side or the other, and you'll find out that Naughty by Nature was one of the best. Our music is basically party-oriented--we touch on different subjects, we have different edges, but mostly we like to have fun. And just because gangsta rappers are coming out and getting so much notice doesn't mean that we're going to change our game plan. We're going to keep doing what Naughty by Nature's been doing from day one."

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