Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
We still have the empty bottle of Hennessey that we were encouraged to have waiting for Naughty By Nature when they arrived here in Rock Island, back in December. It sits as a reminder that a.) we lead a charmed life (sometimes in the company of Naughty By Nature), b.) that Hennessey is an expensive beverage and c.) that Treach loves chugging the stuff, especially after the Philadelphia Eagles fuck up his New York Giants' postseason hopes in a game's final seconds. Unless Treach and Vin Rock come visit us again, it is likely the only bottle of the stuff that we'll ever purchase. No one was complaining about a thing though, for what the iconic hip-hoppers did - in volunteering their time to perform a show to raise money for needy local families and accepting no form of payment - was worth its weight in gold. We would have bought them four times as many bottles, as a token of our gratitude.
The weekend that Naughty By Nature traveled here, just over a month ago, was a frigid, horrible-feeling weekend, just a week before Christmas, and they took 6 a.m. flights out of LaGuardia to make it here. They were worse for wear, with saggy eyes - Treach's behind his ever-present sunglasses - but seven hours later, all of that would change. A mid-afternoon soundcheck, through with Vin Rock slept and during which Treach called for blaring volumes through monitors that couldn't give him any more than ear-splitting, gave way to an extended nap and some pre-partying, right up until the hands of all clocks in the place were turned back twenty years to the 1990s, when Naughty By Nature reigned supreme. It was not a contrived flashback, or one that made the music feel unnecessarily dated. It's really quite amazing how well Naughty By Nature holds up, even now. You need to look no further than "I Gotta Lotta," the group's single off its forthcoming album, for confirmation of that. It's as good and as anthemic as any of Vin and Treach's plethora of 90s hits. It's a typical piece of hip-hop braggadocio - letting us know that they do certain things well, that ladies want them and that they possess things, lots of things. It's a statement of belongings and of carving out a place or territory in this world - a crucial thing that every hip-hop artist worth its salt has to do. What makes it so interesting is the chorus, which is unorthodox and melty, bending at odd angles. It sounds like a take on the indie rock melodies of Panda Bear or Animal Collective, instead of taking any cues from the likely - and frankly - tired hip-hop playbooks. Naughty By Nature's live set is a cast of hits - most of them the templates for those old school playbooks - the chants and the call and response numbers. They get and deserve credit for setting some of the rules way back when, but the New Jersey stalwarts are not about simply living in the past to pay the bills. Here, with the help of boss Minneapolis' Solid Gold (which features two members of the incredible GAYNGS), Naughty By Nature can be heard transforming its songs into the kinds of numbers that the Black Keys and associates made on 2009's BlakRoc album, throwing a soulful, dark night rock groove into the fire and letting it all roam. We just throw our hands in the air, happy that we were all able to get drunk together for at least one night.