Naughty By Nature Explain How Signing With Sugar Hill Almost Made Them Go New Jack City
Naughty By Nature celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2016. The New Jersey trio released new music, including a reunion with Queen Latifah, and toured multiple times. In truth, the group has been together, and recording professionally much longer than 25 years. In 1989, as The New Style, Treach, Vin Rock, and Kay Gee released their full-length debut, Independent Leaders on Bon Ami/MCA Records.
Appearing on the latest episode of Drink Champs, all three members told N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN some rarely-discussed facts about their beginnings. From ties to Sugar Hill Records to their demo song turned smash hit “O.P.P.,” to altering their image, there are jewels in the first 22 minutes of this two-hour-plus discussion.
Opening the discussion, N.B.N. reveals that they grew up within a three-mile radius. “Me and Redman, when we was little homies, we hated each other ’cause I was from East Orange and he was from a block [away] in Newark. We was little,” admits Treach. The front-man of the group would later intersect with beat-boxer Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee for a school talent show.
At 10:00, they recall how a simple talent showcase would change the course of their lives forever. “We just went in. We weren’t even a group, I just scratched,” Kay Gee details of the set that could have just been a one-off. “We just put together a routine; we didn’t have a name or nothin’.” He explains that this very routine led them to their first name. “Part of our routine was scratching the Beastie Boys’ ‘The New Style.’ We needed [a name] that day: New Style.” Coming from another trio’s Licensed To Ill album cut, the group’s makeshift name stuck, at least for a while. “We killed that talent show; the whole shit worked.”
At 12:00, the trio explain how they shifted from The New Style to a Grammy Award-winning, hit-making act we now know as N.B.N. “[New Style ended] because of Shakim and Chris Lighty,” says Vin Rock. Treach details, “We ended up being on Sugar Hill [Records through its Bon Ami subsidiary].” The Robinson family that founded Sugar Hill allegedly launched a new label after former artists including Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five took legal action for unpaid royalties. “After all the Sugar Hill artists sued them and got off the label, they had another label, Bon Ami.” Treach says that unfair business practices continued at Sylvia and Joey Robinson’s new MCA-backed label. “We signed a contract without us calling lawyers. We sued the Sugar Hill [label].” The group adds that they were minors at the time, and getting “robbed” by their label. Treach continues, “We had to get off the contract. So we was ridin’ down Route 4 to Teaneck. We had TEC-9’s and everything up in [the car]; we gonna make these niggas sign a napkin [or anything to release us from contract]. We [had] an accident. We had all the guns, everything [in the car. The driver had no license].” Treach says that he and Naughty By Nature affiliate Mu Brown fled from the accident. Mu took the car, and Treach left with a bag carrying the guns. In retrospect, he says it changed the fate of the group. “We was gonna get our shit released like that. It’s a God blessing that we didn’t, ’cause we was gonna do some real nasty shit to get our release.”
While Treach was reportedly down with Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere and 45 King, he says that fellow Garden State MC, the late Apache, is who got Naughty signed to the fledgling management company. Benny Medina of Warner Bros. Records would sign them to the major label, and bring in Tommy Boy Records. That hot-handed Hip-Hop and Dance label, launched by Tom Silverman, had previously passed on the group and their demo, which reportedly contained drafts of hits “O.P.P.” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
At 16:30, Treach opens up about the group’s street ties. Even with a bad contract to Bon Ami, he says that the group was able to fund guerilla marketing because of their hustling in East Orange. “We had the biggest drug block in Jersey! I used to always talk to ‘Old Man Dave,’ rest in peace. [People used to ask], ‘Why you always talk to the old man over there, man?’ I was like, ‘You don’t know the jewels that they have, nigga.’ Old Man Dave told me one time: ‘Let me tell you somethin’, lil’ son-son. I don’t who exactly on this mothafuckin’ block…it’s probably one of them old bitches over there is sayin’ what colors y’all got on when the cops and [detectives] come on the block. They go right up to y’all and roll on y’all in the alley.'” As Vin Rock tries to add some details, Treach playfully tells him to shut up. Instead, the fast-flowing MC says he took the wisdom and gave the street conglomerate a makeover. “[The informant told police about] the fades, the clothes. In the ’80s you had to be fresh…the Bally’s, the suede suits, gold nuggets, Gucci links.” Treach called a meeting, telling Naughty By Nature and the entourage, “Ayo, somebody is sayin’ who we are, knowin’ what we got. From this mothafuckin’ day on [we wear no jewelry]. Everybody, all black. Everybody, dirty as fuck. 15th Street, everybody down there had [Mercedes] Benzes, lookin’ like Paid In Full [Possé], all the [police observation] on them. [On the other hand] we was dirty! That’s when the fades turned to braids.” Treach points out that due to the shift, the crew blended in with everybody. Claiming he looked like a drug fiend, he adds that he would often ask police officers if they could spare a dollar while they observed the block. As for the group’s Rap career, they just looked on their poorly-received 1989 Independent Leaders album. “The name of one of our songs was ‘Naughty By Nature.'”
Keeping the momentum up, near 21:00, Treach reveals that “O.P.P.” began as a true story. “I was 17 years old. I was fuckin’ this broad. The first pussy I ever had was in the park; it was this other nigga’s bitch. [I did not like him], so I was just hating. I was [thinking] ‘O.P.P.’ I got my first piece of pussy in Riley Park in East Orange…I was a dirty ass nigga. I had the braids. I was sleepin’ in the park [and was homeless].” Corroborating with what he told Brian Coleman in a Thrillist article last year, he adds that “O.P.P.” also stemmed from Mu Brown’s catch-phrase of “O.P.M. (Other Peoples Money).” Before throwing on the chorus, he reveals, “I had a verse already about fuckin’ this nigga’s bitch.”
Elswhere in the two hour interview, they recall getting booed in New York City at a Red Alert birthday party (leading to their mass entourages)(1:37:00), publishing royalties meaning more than Top 5 lists (2:35:00), and Kay Gee’s R&B production success.
This year, Treach will join Bumpy Knuckles and Trick Trick to release the O.G.’ology album. It is produced entirely Nottz.
Visit Drink Champs site to stream the interview in its entirety.