We’re looking back on the influential album that is Naughty By Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise. Like many other uprooted rap groups from the ’80s to ’90s, Naughty By Nature first fell in love with the hip-hop subculture through the bustling streets of New York. Treach, Vin Rock, and DJ KayGee were scanning the streets of New Jersey for graffiti art, fully immersed in the ground roots of the genre.
The trio of Naughty By Nature lived in East Orange, New Jersey. With the three of them within three blocks of each other, they came together through a creative uprising of breakdancing, beat-making, and DJing. Dubbed The New Style at the time, they began performing at local talent shows in the New Jersey area. After seeing success in this setting, they decided to start recording music with a serious intent to turn the passion into a career.
DJ KayGee recalls watching hip-hop icon Grandmaster Flash in the movie Wild Style as a wild teenager, which inspired him to immerse himself in that world fully. Vin Rock grew up in a musically inclined family, growing up to hear his brother’s booming drum machine. Regarding his brother, he told High Times, “He’d play Heat Wave, Kool & The Gang, Con Funk Shun on the record player and then would try and drum exactly how the drummers were drumming on the records. He’d get frustrated and kick and throw his drums all over the place because he couldn’t get it exactly right.”
Naughty By Nature Balances Funk With Introspection
By 1991, their self-titled Naughty By Nature was flying off of the shelves off of hit single “O.P.P.” The trio actually signed to Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit back in 1989; however, the failing record label struggled to get their album out into the public eye. Either way, “O.P.P” set Naughty By Nature on the road to success. Sampling The Jackson 5, they brought a newfound aesthetic to the hip-hop game.
While Naughty By Nature had an inherent knack for melodic pop hooks, they managed to stay tied to their street image that they grew up in. Vin told HipHopDX in 2008, “It’s just a perfect balance. When you put different people together, I guess that collective input equates to one. You get the merge. It is a mixture, and we have been able to ride that fine line between street and Pop.”
However, from the outside, fans would’ve thought that Naughty By Nature was facing a fair bit of pressure heading into 1995’s Poverty’s Paradise. Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Notorious B.I.G, and 2Pac were causing a stir in the hip-hop community with their respective records. The New Jersey hip-hop heads would need a stand-out project to remain relevant in an increasingly saturated rap scene. While Poverty’s Paradise isn’t exactly a consistent classic from front to back, the 62-minute experience had more than enough highlights to solidify it as an iconic hip-hop album. In addition, Naughty By Nature really wasn’t responding to the unceasing beefs throughout hip-hop. Instead, they remained entrenched in the New Jersey community, both sonically and narratively.
Poverty’s Paradise Won Naughty By Nature’s Sole Grammy
By the time Naughty By Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise rolled around, the trio was already a global force. 19NaughtyIII‘s “Hip Hop Hooray” would become their second hit track. However, the group was also amounting an emotive collection of deep cuts. Once the fame arrived, they pivoted to showcasing their respective abilities to rap about their personal narratives in an unparalleled manner. Poverty’s Paradise saw Naughty By Nature capture street life’s toxic and chaotic traits. This was especially notable on “Craziest,” where the three marvel at the disorderly world around them. The trio wanted to instill a gritty message even if their fans had become accustomed to dance-inducing street anthems.
Of course, this isn’t to say that 1995’s Poverty’s Paradise is exclusively grim or foreboding. At its core, Naughty By Nature was always about inducing joy into their audience. Growing up in the party-driven hip-hop scene of New Jersey, that DNA would always remain in their sound. “Feel Me Flow,” a groovy take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 100 Charts. With their fourth studio album, Naughty By Nature proved they could succeed in any pocket of hip-hop. Whether curating party-driven records or diving into a world of intimate storytelling, the group’s diverse backgrounds manifested into an unpredictable sound. The result? Their first and only Grammy, winning the 1996 award for Best Rap Album.