Naughty by Nature reflects on success, respect, Eminem

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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Naughty by Nature, the ’90s hip-hop sensations that scored mega pop-crossover hits with “O.P.P.” and “Hip-Hop Hooray,” share a bill Sunday at DTE Energy Music Theatre with Run-D.M.C., Sugarhill Gang, Whodini and a host of other old-school hip-hop acts.

On the lineup, Naughty are the babies, part of the wave of artists that scored multi-platinum riches after Run-D.M.C. and the others opened up hip-hop’s floodgates. And they still look up to those artists for the path they carved that allowed for their success.

“They’re our godfathers,” says Naughty by Nature frontman Treach, on the phone this week from a music video set in northern New Jersey. “If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be nothing.”

As hip-hop evolves, Treach says young artists today don’t have the same level of respect for their elders.

“A lot of artists now, they look at artists that came before them like, ‘Alright, now I’m the (one), (forget) them,’ ” he says. “With Run-D.M.C., you can ask anybody from our era that we ever did a show with or been around, I straight bow to them and show them the utmost respect. I got my style from my forefathers, which allowed me to make my own style up.”

Treach has always been a sponge, ever since Naughty by Nature signed with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit management company in the late 1980s. He remembers being on the set of “Juice,” in which he had a small role, and taking in everything around him: The way the director ran the set, the way the camera man framed the shots, how the actors ran their lines.

“I was under apprenticeship,” he says.

The East Orange, New Jersey, native, now 44, has always had a strong work ethic. When he signed with Latifah, he says he was driven to make her proud, which meant hunkering down and leaving the business of the streets behind.

“I wasn’t going to parties, I wasn’t hanging on the block, I wasn’t involved with nothing that was going to get me in trouble,” says Treach, born Anthony Criss. “I wasn’t going to tarnish the Queen’s name.”

Locked down in writing sessions, he came up with early songs like “O.P.P.” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and on the strength of those, the group signed a deal with Tommy Boy Records. Most of the material that wound up on the group’s first two albums was written during one fevered block of studio time, and in the summer of 1991, “O.P.P.” — a playful ode to infidelity powered by a sing-along chorus and classic sample of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” — made them superstars.

It happened quick.

“We was down South, and one day we walked in the mall, and it was pandemonium,” Treach says. “The security guards was like, ‘y’all gotta call us so we can set this up right! What is wrong with you?’ And we knew right from then it would never be the same again.”

Treach’s rapid-fire rhyme style is influenced by everyone from the Sugar Hill Gang to the Fat Boys to KRS-One to Public Enemy.

“I have a combination of 1,000 MCs in me. I’m a little bit of all of them,” he says.

One of his fans was a young Eminem. In Ice-T’s 2012 documentary “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” Em recalls the story of the first time he heard “Yoke the Joker,” the opening song on Naughty’s debut album.

Em was so blown away by Treach’s wordplay — “I can snap, rap, pack, click, clack, patter, pat, pat/take that ass to the point you have to ask for your ass back,” he raps, going off like an Uzi — that he says he stopped writing rhymes for a whole summer, until he upped his game to Treach’s level.

“When one of the greatest out there is giving you homage, it makes you feel like what you were doing was worth it,” Treach says. “Not just to your cause, not just your clique, but to hip-hop as a whole. When somebody comes and gives you props like that, and they’re selling billions of records all over the world for decades, and they came under you and was inspired by you? That makes you feel blessed and appreciated.”

Naughty by Nature released six albums — its latest, “Anthem Inc.” was released in 2011 — and Treach has racked up a series of screen credits over the years, in projects from “Jason’s Lyric” to “Oz” to VH1’s “Couples Therapy.” He remains a part of hip-hop’s fabric, and he continues to give to the art form that taught him a new way to hustle.

“Hip-hop turns you into a chameleon. You adapt to your environment, your surroundings. You can blend in and you can switch colors,” he says. “No matter what era of hip-hop I came up in, whether it was the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, 2000s or now, if that’s the game I’m going in, I’m going in hard. It’s a 24-hour job, you’ve gotta always be on call, you’ve gotta always be ready, and you’ve gotta take hold of every opportunity.”


Where to see them

Run-D.M.C. with Naughty by Nature, Sugarhill Gang, Whodini, DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Furious 5

6 p.m. Sunday

DTE Energy Music Theatre, 7774 Sashabaw Rd., Clarkston

Tickets $22-$121 or (248) 377-0100

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