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Beats Per Millennium - Hip Hop Honors Week: Naughty by Nature

Hip Hop Honors Week: Naughty by Nature

I don’t own a single Naughty by Nature record. I’ll throw that out there right up front. I am highly unqualified to write anything of substance on the East Orange, New Jersey trio. My knowledge of the group is mostly limited to the handful of hits they are famous for and the little tidbits of trivia I pick up as someone who listens, watches, reads, and writes hip hop. All that said, Naughty by Nature is one of the first rap groups I was familiar with.

One of the ways hip hop culture infiltrated mainstream pop culture, and continues to do so, is through the use of catchphrases. There may have been no group that pioneered this phenomenon better than Naughty by Nature did with “O.P.P.” I was nine years old when the song came out and I knew absolutely nothing about rap – or any kind of music for that matter. But it wasn’t long after this point when I realized that the correct answer to the question, “Are you down with O.P.P.?” was, “Yeah, you know me!”

I had no idea what O.P.P. stood for. Or what it meant. Hell, for all I knew it didn’t mean anything…just some goofy thing kids said to one another. But I’m pretty sure a lot of people talking about O.P.P didn’t know what they were talking about, and I bet a really good number of them had never even heard the song.

Hip hop – both the music and the culture – is undeniably hip. I’m not going to delve into our society’s overwhelming desire to be a part of anything we perceive as hip or White America’s fascination with Black popular culture. There have been plenty of books written on the matter. But the fact is that a large segment of our population, while not acknowledging any particular enjoyment of the genre, throws around hip hop’s language and catchphrases. “O.P.P.” is an early example of this, and proof that America in 1989, whether it understood it or not, was knee deep in the hip hop era.

Those who went beyond the surface trend and checked out the actual song were certainly rewarded by what they found. Naughty by Nature deserve any accolades that can be heaped on them for this work of pop brilliance. The song has everything a hit rap single should have. The rappers are on point, the beat is catchy and fun, and we all know the significance of the call-and-response chorus. It truly deserves to be counted among the greatest rap songs ever made.

Most of all, “O.P.P.” has proven its staying power. Long past the point where Naughty by Nature sunk into irrelevance, their greatest hit is still hitting. In an episode of The Office, the hopelessly un-hip boss, Michael Scott, sings a parody of the song, only to reveal to cameras that he has no idea what the second “P” stands for. Twenty years later and the Michael Scotts of the world are stilling looking to hip hop to tell them how to be cool.

Posted by Mike Denslow at Oct 05, 2008 04:10 PM