The Origins of Naughty by Nature

The early 1990s New York hip-hop group Naughty by Nature‘s moniker is a fair encapsulation of the early years of the group. Although they went on to be ubiquitous among the boom of hip-hop groups in the ’90s like The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, and Wu-Tang Klan, thanks to their hits “O.P.P.” (1991) and “Hip Hop Hooray” (1992), the turbulence they faced early on in the industry is an essential part of their story.

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The Origin Story

Naughty by Nature was comprised of vocalists/rappers Vinnie Rock and Treach, as well as their producer DJ Kay Gee. All three attended East Orange High School in Essex County, New Jersey, with Kay Gee being one grade above the two emcees.

Vinnie and Treach were always close pals, and around their junior year of high school, Treach began to realize his passion for rapping. So when classes got dull and boring, particularly their health class junior year, Treach would have Vinnie provide a beat for him on his desk so he could rap for the class.

As Treach became known around the school for his flows, Kay Gee was picking up a passion for DJing and record scratching. Kay Gee would eventually ask both Treach and Vinnie to emcee for him on stage for the school’s talent show, where they impressed their classmates and bonded over making music.

Before they would commit to actually recording and releasing songs, though, the three were involved in a local neighborhood gang—the 118th Street Posse—where they sold drugs and made money through a various amount of illegal methods. Although he worked at a warehouse briefly, this lifestyle would land Treach in jail, which led to his mother kicking him out of the house after bailing him out.

“She had to do what she had to do. I wasn’t contributing to paying the bills. I ain’t gonna freeload,” Treach said to now-defunct Details Magazine in 1993.

Eventually, Treach, Vinnie, and Kay Gee would try to get their act together. Honing in on the skill they realized after the talent show, the trio began performing locally under the name New Style. After signing a record deal with lesser-known label, Bon Ami, they put out their first project, Independent Leaders, in 1988. But the LP fell flat, as their manager Sylvia Robinson, a prominent character in late 1980s East Coast hip-hop, did not have the budget or bandwidth to properly promote New Style.

They would soon get dropped by Bon Ami, and realize the need for a better first impression. While still involved in illegal activity to earn money, Naughty by Nature would refrain from spending it on their vices. Instead, they saved up to be able to have a decent budget to record a new demo tape.

“I did what I had to do on the street so I could get mine and not have to do it no more,” Treach said in an excerpt from the 1994 book, Contemporary Musicians: Profiles Of The People In Music: Vol. 11. “We didn’t put our money into jewelry or cars or anything like that. We put it into studio time. And, once we got signed, we cut (drug dealing) out completely.”

After recording the demo and sending it out to different labels, Tommy Boy Records eventually inked a deal with Naughty by Nature in 1990, who had ditched the name New Style by then. The record deal was facilitated by Queen Latifah, who was one of the many legendary hip-hop acts signed to Tommy Boy at the time.

After earning a spot on the Tommy Boy roster, the trio put out their first single under the label “O.P.P.” in August 1991. The track would reach No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, adding excitement to their debut self-titled studio album, which dropped on Sept. 3, 1991.

Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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