Naughty By Nature Reveal The Origin of “O.P.P.” It Really Was Other People’s Property.
Naughty By Nature was one of Hip-Hop’s biggest acts of the 1990s. Still together, recording, and touring, Treach, Vinnie Rock, and Kay Gee broke through with three simple letters: “O.P.P.” Now, the title to the 1991 Tommy Boy Records single is permanent part of the pop culture lexicon, approaching 25 years later.
Hip-Hop historian and Check The Technique author Brian Coleman retraced the steps to making the song, the success, and the video to “O.P.P.” For Thrillist, Coleman spoke to two of the three members of the New Jersey-based Grammy Award-winning Hip-Hop outfit, the record label team, and other critical hands along the way:
Treach revealed that the expression was an adaptation of an East Orange phrase in the streets. “The actual phrase ‘O.P.P.’ came about from an O.G. in our hood, [Mustafa] Brown. He always used to say, ‘I’m down with O.P.M.: Other People’s Money.’ It would always get a big laugh. One day — and we didn’t even do it consciously — we said, ‘Fuck that, we down with other people’s pussy, and other people’s property.’ Mu’ Brown never smiled, but he cracked up so much at what we said, that he shed tears. At the time, it wasn’t for a song, it was just a joke we had. We kept saying it, and the phrase just grew.”
That led Treach, his partner, and DJ/producer to the creative stages.
“Writing that song was just divine intervention,” explained Treach. “The idea was really born in 1989 or 1990, probably a year before we started using the name Naughty by Nature.” Previously, Naughty By Nature recorded a 1989 RCA Records Independent Leaders album as The New Style. “At the very beginning, I said to myself, ‘”O.P.P.,” how can I explain it?’ I wrote that down and it stayed as the first line of the song. I wrote a verse at a time and just pieced everything together. It wasn’t an overnight thing. It took time. I had a notebook with catchy verses and phrases, and once I heard the music [for ‘O.P.P.’], I knew it would work with the concept. We knew there had to be something for the guys and something for the girls. Pussy and penis. And the edited version of that was ‘property.'”
DJ Kay Gee, who has since found critical success with Jaheim and Zhané, said the record felt like a turning point coming out of the sessions. “You never know if something is going to be a hit, but with ‘O.P.P.’ we just had a feeling. Everybody who heard it, loved it. We knew it was 10 times better than [The New Style’s lone 1989 single] ‘Scuffin’ Those Knees.’ And it did really well at live shows, with the call and response. We knew we had something, but we didn’t know how big it was. We just had to find a label.”
Notably, Coleman’s oral history reveals how N.B.N. was initially passed on by would-be label Tommy Boy Records. Reportedly, the demo version of “O.P.P.” was on the tape that the famed New York City label passed on. However, after attracting Warner Bros. Records through famed exec Benny Medina, the major label suggested Tommy Boy was the ideal Warner-distributed brand to release the group. At the time, the label was home to successful acts such as De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and Digital Underground. Latifah, like N.B.N., was from the Garden State.
Tommy Boy’s founder and namesake Tom Silverman equates the 1991 single to one of his label’s seminal breakthrough releases. “‘O.P.P.’ was definitely a ‘natural hit,’ just like [1982’s] ‘Planet Rock’ [by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force] was for us. The Michael Jackson factor was a big part of it. It had ‘double hooks’: a call-and-response hook on the chorus, and a musical hook with the Michael Jackson. If you have two hooks on one song, it’s almost guaranteed to work.”
The article breaks down how Naughty By Nature and Tommy Boy were willing to share a 75% stake in the hit’s publishing, to legally and properly use the Jackson 5 “ABC” sample from Motown Records and Jobete Publishing. Twenty four-plus-years later, it appears that decision paid off. Also in the history are intricate details surrounding the video, initial resistance at radio, and avoiding censorship.
Do you think “O.P.P.” is in the Top 10 biggest Rap singles? Top 5?