On one hand, Naughty by Nature’s mixed message pushes rock-hard ghetto rhymes, shoot-’em-up skits and violent symbology (the machete toted on the debut’s cover; the ominously hoisted chainsaw pictured on the second; the band’s baseball bat logo). At the same time, the East Orange, New Jersey, trio has popped out a couple of catchy hit singles that disarm the gangsta pose with a clever, easygoing vibe and samples that don’t all come off the standard hip-hop shelf. Brought to market under the benevolent Flavor Unit wing of Queen Latifah, the self-produced group — led by MC Treach, as in “treacherous” (his real name is Anthony Criss); the other members are Vinnie and DJ KayGee — raps with take-no-prisoners intensity on the serious rhymes but can also manage a genial community spirit when the mood strikes.
The first album contains both “Ghetto Bastard” (a stirring, angry autobiography Treach blurts over a loop of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” — performed by German disco-joke Boney M, using the “everything’s gonna be alright” refrain for calming reassurance) and “O.P.P.,” a call-and-response charmer about infidelity that summons up a stuttering, rhythmic flow and isolates the piano figure and a squeaky Michael interjection from the Jackson 5’s “ABC.” Naughty by Nature was off to a great start, full of promise as a band that could be expected to kick some great singles and pump some fresh ideas into roughneck rap.
19 Naughty III takes the trio sideways, adding the not-as-good testimonial “Hip Hop Hooray” to the Naughty by Nature hit list, referring to “O.P.P.” and otherwise mixmastering down a narrowing corridor of toughness (“Take It to Ya Face,” “Knock Em Out da Box”) and solidarity (“The Hood Comes First,” “Sleepin’ on Jersey”). This time, though, the rhymes blur the line between pride and anger. Unlike the first album’s clear differentiation, the group integrates a nearly consistent middle ground, undercutting its own threat while also harshing its mellow.
Firmly established as major players, Naughty by Nature pushed into adulthood on Poverty’s Paradise. The thoughtful militancy of “Chain Remains” and “World Goes Round” is an excellent development, as is the cozy soulful slide of the X-rated “Sunshine.” Additionally, the descending chord changes and catchy chorus of “Feel Me Flow” uphold the band’s impulse toward appealing pop accessibility, but a lot of this long, complex and musically restrained album is surprisingly tedious. With a boisterous party spirit substituting for content, dragging down a bunch of tracks (“Clap Yo Hands,” the dice-playing “City of Ci-Lo,” the geographical shout-out “Craziest”), Paradise moves closer to the parking lot.