Date of Interview: 07/07/2010
There are only a handful of recording acts, whose voices, personae and imagery will always be attached to the memory and legacy of hip-hop. Naughty by Nature is one of the celebrated few.
The very mention of “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop Hooray” will generate an instant reaction – even in the midst of a diverse crowd. And although the group is known for their catalog of massive party anthems, Naughty by Nature was able to strike a delicate balance in achieving mainstream popularity without losing an ounce of their street credibility.
As Naughty by Nature celebrates its second decade in the music business, Treach, Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee managed to squeeze some time of their busy schedules and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on industry politics, the globalization of hip-hop and transitioning into the digital musical era.
Clayton Perry: Nearly a decade has passed since Naughty by Nature’s last studio album, IIcons. What do you consider to be the major motivation, not only for the creation of a new album, but reunifying the original trio?
Vin Rock: When Kay departed the group in 2000, Treach and I kept going. We put out IIcons on TVT. And we never stopped touring. We kept circling the globe year after year after year. But the major motivator came when we said, “Look, we could tour forever.” We already see that. We even took a sabbatical from the road in 2004 for a whole year. And management came back like, “Look, you guys are leaving too much money on the table. You guys gotta get back out here on the road.” So we got back on the road, and after that it was like it only made sense to keep feeding the people new music, especially looking at the growth of our peers, and even newer artists that came in the game using the blueprint that we laid out and were capitalizing off of it. It was about giving the people new music, and participating in the expansion of hip-hop, especially with the corporate partnerships and just the general growth that you see guys like 50 Cent or Diddy or Jay-Z, a lot of our peers having with it.
Clayton Perry: If we count the New Style record, your forthcoming project – Anthem Inc. – is going to be your seventh studio album, which has a lucky feel to it. As you finish putting the final touches on Anthem Inc., what are you most excited about?
Treach: One thing I can say. It’s just so much of a different situation. It’s been so long since the last album that I don’t think the fans really know the hunger level that’s in it. So if they think it’s going to be lackluster or disappointing at all, it’s like they in for a hell of a ride. For me, we play around with all that superstitious stuff and use it to our advantage. When we came off of the first album, everybody was talking about the sophomore jinx and everything else. And everybody was weighing on us and like, “Yo, man. They can’t follow-up ‘O.P.P.’ No way in the world they could follow up that album!” And it did us good to just show them just exactly where we was coming from, and we did! We came back and blew the house down, again. So it’s just stupid b***hin’. I don’t even get into it, and I don’t have a certain number that’s going to give me luck. But I just pray to God and thank Him for all the blessings and leave it in His hands. I feel that our talent will speak for itself.
Clayton Perry: With the massive successes of “O.P.P.,” “Hip Hop Hooray” and “Jamboree,” Naughty by Nature is well-respected and known for bringing party anthems to the music landscape. When people look at your career, is there a certain contribution that you think tends to be overlooked?
Vin Rock: Definitely. I think our street records – “Guard Your Grill”, the “Uptown Anthem”, all the way up to “Dirt All by My Lonely” – and the last album we did together. Even this new record, “I Gotta Lotta,” and the video we have out for it now. We made some of the earliest street records, but I think the commercial records are so big, it really eclipses them. If you go to a Naughty By Nature show, we can adjust very well. Like we can do a Rated G show. We can do a show without even doing “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop Hooray” and hit you with all straight gully records, man, and really do a solid forty minutes of that stuff. Even though people tend to think about our commercial success, if you ask some underground heads, they’ll definitely tell you their favorite records are “Guard Your Grill”, “Uptown Anthem,” and “Dirt All by My Lonely.”
Clayton Perry: When you look at the hip-hop landscape in general, it’s completely different than when you first hit the scene. What do consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly in hip-hop’s evolution?
Vin Rock: You know what? I think hip-hop is doing what it’s always done ever since we were there. It’s just broader now. You have so many different flavors. You have so many different regions involved in the music now. And basically for us, we look at it as a competitive market. And I still look at it that way. I’m happy with what’s going on in hip-hop right now, because I feel that Naughty By Nature, we can always come in and still compete, whether it’s with our studio recordings or live stage performances. We can go out there and basically f**k with anybody out there. So I love what’s going on in hip-hop, because I see there’s a lane where we could come and penetrate the market.
Clayton Perry: As you speak about these different flavors that are out now, I am very intrigued by the fact that you have Pitbull featured on the remix of “Get to Know Me Better”. I also noticed that you are servicing several different remixes, too. How has your marketing strategy changed over the years? And what professional lessons have you learned, when it comes to distributing your work digitally?
Vin Rock: When we worked on the first batch of records, we identified the first two records: “Get to Know Me Better” and “I Gotta Lotta”. So we decided to approach it the traditional way. We had the viral presence, but we said, all right, well, we’re traditionally a radio driven group. So we’ll hire our radio NDs, and we’ll have them go at radio. Well, the whole landscape of radio has changed, with the big conglomerates, and all of the labels merging. You only have three and a half majors right now. Those guys basically clog up the lane of radio. So we had to come back and really, really concentrate on the viral part of it. We have a lot of industry colleagues; guys who were inside labels, guys who worked our first few records, who’ve gone on to work for Universal or Sony or whatever. A lot of these guys are independent now. They told us about the landscape, and they told us how important it was to work a record virally. To be honest, yo, that radio game is very expensive. So we were told to really, really invest in the digital world. So we took that approach as well, and as we worked, even on the Pitbull remix, we decided that we could definitely pop off a viral video for “I Gotta Lotta”. We already had a new publicist in place, who was more savvy with all the hip-hop blogs and everything. Once the video was finished, we got with the publicist, we put together a press release, embedded our video into it and housed it on our YouTube page. Once the publicist sent the blast out, it got to all the blogs and we got 11,000 hits in one day. And in that same day, BET called us for the video…
Clayton Perry: Oh, wow!
Vin Rock: …and basically we had been working the two records at radio for about six to nine months prior to that. So that viral presence and the viral marketing part of it was very, very important. On top of that, if you send records out here, these people at radio, even program directors right now are so handcuffed, there’s not but so much they can do. But virally, you can get the instant feedback from the people, you can get directly at non-traditional magazine coverage such as AllHipHop.com, which is the new Source, the new XXL. The landscape is completely changing and there is a whole new way that this game is being approached. You definitely have to have your ear to the streets, your ear to the Web and see how people are marketing and breaking these records.
Clayton Perry: It’s really interesting to hear you talk about how you were able to adapt on the business end. On a more personal level, why do you think you have been able to have such longevity? Few artists, let alone hip-hop artists, can say that they have been in the music industry for twenty years, and still make money on the road with tours.
Vin Rock: I think a lot of it has to do with professionalism. People can see right through you. I think the fans from day one, they saw Naughty By Nature, they saw right through us. They could see that we were authentic. And then, we’ve done a lot of campaigning, a lot of hugging people and kissing babies and stuff, and it’s been from a genuine perspective. So when people see that, and you don’t blow them off, and you’re not afraid to take a picture and all of that stuff; you take the time to sign an autograph, you don’t go around with security blowing people off, man; the fans appreciate that. And as far as our professionalism, everyone we encounter from certain record labels to every promoter and every live performance we’ve ever done, there’s never been any diva done with Naughty By Nature. We go out there. We’re professional. We don’t have crazy demands. We give a hell of a concert. We service the people, man. And promoters totally appreciate that. We always get the next recommendation. We always get the same promoter booking us multiple, multiple times. And it’s a testament to the professionalism. That’s what I think, personally.
Clayton Perry: I know it is easy to say, now, after twenty years, that you are consummate professionals. But who do you credit for getting you to this point, and mentoring you in the early years?
DJ Kay Gee: The surge definitely started with Queen Latifah. As far as the industry, Queen Latifah; her partner, Shakim [Compere]. And then, there was Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy, Tom Silverman, and the late, great Gerald Busby from Motown.
Vin Rock: Tom Warren…
DJ Kay Gee: Tom Warren who helped us from day one. It’s been a lot of guys that just helped us out, and showed us a lot of things and a lot of ways to go. Even Rebekah [Foster] from our management company. She came in with us from day one and showed us a lot of things to do. About sound. How to hold a mic. How to set our equipment up the right way. Just a lot of different things and a lot of different avenues. We had different people who, you know, basically passed that wisdom on and that knowledge and fed us with it. And we continued to hold that torch, man, and carry it on.
Clayton Perry: As some of hip-hop’s prominent musical ambassadors, you carry this torch at home and abroad. What details can you share about your upcoming USO tour? And since you are returning for a second leg, talk about the first leg as well, and the positive feedback that made you want to go back.
Treach: Oh, man, yeah, that was crazy. On the first leg we went on about six months ago, we went to Iraq, Kuwait and the border of Syria. We went out there with DJ Skribble. That was the first time we went. In Iraq they had us well held down, but you are in a war zone. The troops, half of them didn’t even believe we were coming out, because they said so many groups end up cancelling for whatever reason and especially the hip-hop groups, like a lot of the groups. They appreciate everybody that comes out, but they said honestly that a lot of the rock ‘n’ roll or country groups, these young soldiers don’t even know who they are. So just to get a bit of hip-hop really takes them back home and gives them that time and mind-space to really not think about the everyday stress that they’re going through and everything else. I mean, it was just heartfelt and warm, not to just see them, but just to be a part of that. And like you said, we just came back this time from Africa, Djibouti and Bahrain. Persian Gulf. So we were out there, and it was like, that wasn’t so much as far as like a combat zone, but you see the hours and work they’re putting in to just have us on deck of the United States protected by any foreign forces that might want to try anything. And how much time we spent out there. We would meet with the Naval force out there, DISCOM. So we went everywhere; the submarines, and really seeing how confined the space is and how our soldiers, as human beings, just are living it, just to protect us. It gives you a whole different level of respect for what they went through, what they’re going through and what they’re doing to protect us. So, it’s one of the most fulfilling tours that I’ve ever been on, as far as just work that we always do to throw back and give back; I feel like this one is on the top of the list of the things we’ve done.
Vin Rock: And on top of that, I just want to commend AllHipHop.com for covering these USO tours. I’m looking at the site right now, and you’re promoting on Paul Wall, his fourth USO tour. A lot of rappers do a lot of good will, man. But it’s unfortunate that most of the time, the only time that they get press is when they’re doing something negative. It’s just unfortunate that the good is never reported. So when you guys report on this stuff, there’s a lot of people out there, especially our minority sisters and brothers, who connect with these stories, because they have family members out there in the field, or they are out there themselves. Hip-hop is not all about beef and drama.
Clayton Perry: Are you ever shocked at the growth of hip-hop over the years? Earlier, Treach mentioned how the soldiers will hear country and rock ‘n’ roll artists perform, but it doesn’t really take them back home the same way. What kind of impression does that have on you, that hip-hop is still so strong, even to this day?
Vin Rock: Well, this world, it’s a small world after all. And I look at the continents as states, now. You know, we were blessed to have a big international record right out the box. So we’ve been basically globetrotting since ’91. I don’t really see continents and countries anymore – just states. Hip-hop has always been big to me. It’s always been expanding. I’m a big advocate for it. I’m happy to see what like Jay, 50 [Cent], Diddy, and all of these guys are doing to continue to globalize it and move it forward. And with the Internet, it will be further globalized. I’m not sure how many people from around the world can reach AllHipHop.com, but avenues like that help distributed hip-hop all over the world. It’s much easier for a global fan to just log on and get the same direct feed of hip-hop that we get.
Clayton Perry: Although you have always thought of hip-hop as this global phenomenon. Poverty’s Paradise was the first album to win the GRAMMY Award for “Best Rap Album,” which started being offered in 1996. In what ways have you seen the industry change, in regards to its relationship with hip-hop? Does anything in particular stand out?
Treach: Man, they wasn’t even televising hip-hop as getting GRAMMYs back then. So it’s like looking at history – coming from the back of the bus to the front. Rosa Parks kind of stuff. We knocked down the doors on a lot of racial barriers. Blatant s**t! Like these kids today don’t even see it. Yo! MTV Raps was just popping off when we came out. Before that, there was no rap format at all unless it was underground video shows. So to take hip-hop to the masses, we will always love and take our hats off and bow down to our Run-DMCs and LL Cool Js and our forefathers of hip-hop, like Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, who opened those doors where it wasn’t being done. Today, there’s no excuse. If you really work hard and do all that there is to do as a new artist, there’s no reason why you can’t go out there and really make it happen. A lot of these artists don’t understand that it is a job. It’s not like just sitting back and you’re rich and famous overnight. You’ve got to work for that.
Clayton Perry: What kind of advice do you have for new, up-and-coming artists?
Treach: Well basically, man, that they’ve got to learn the game and know that it’s not the same game where you could go into a label with your demo, get signed for a quarter of a million or more dollars and there’s some major money backing it. Like right now, to get signed to anybody, you better show that you’ve got some type of your own buzz going and you’ve got your own independent vibe and you basically are your own label. Because if you ain’t doing that, you’re not even going to come up on radar. They’re going to look right over you. They’re checking now to see who got the most hits here, there and the other. Who’s making the most noise in the club. Who’s got this type of vibe here. It ain’t just those deals where you could walk up into the labels and you felt as though you were the hottest at the time. You might think that you were going to get signed. Right now there’s so much bubble gum stuff out there, it ain’t about just having the dopist lyrics or just the best swagger right now. You better know how to make some songs that’s going to last for a while, because it ain’t looking too good, coming out here just with a prayer and a dream. You better be willing to work for it.
For more information on Naughty by Nature, visit the group’s official website: http://www.naughtybynature.com