If you’re even remotely familiar with early nineties hip-hop, you’ve heard of Naughty By Nature. I’m even willing to bet if you mention the name amongst a group of friends, somebody is sure to break into the hook from their biggest hit “O.P.P.” (with “Hip-hop Hooray” coming in a close second). But before the East Orange, NJ trio of Treach, Vinnie, and Kay-Gee would become Grammy award-winning, bonafied rap stars, known by the world as Naughty By Nature, they were first the New Style. No. Seriously. That was the group’s name.
In 1989 The New Style secured a deal with MCA and dropped their debut album Independent Leaders, which would ultimately be the only album released under The New Style crew name, and the only album released on MCA before they were eventually dropped from the label.
Apparently they showed enough potential to impress Queen Latifah who put them down with her up and coming crew, the Flavor Unit…but I digress. We’ll get to that later, for now let’s focus on Independent Leaders.
Scuffin’ Those Knees – Treach opens the song with a brief science lesson before he and Vin play catch with the mic for 3 verses. The song title is a request for sucka emcees to either a:stop giving falatio or b:invest in kneepads to spare their knees when performing…I don’t remember any of either Treach or Vinnie’s rhymes, though. This was a very mediocre way to start the proceedings.
Start Smokin’ – Most of you will immediately recognize the opening sample that LL would later use on his “Doin It” hit a few years later. The track quickly transforms into The Jackson Five classic “Stayed Away To Long” sample,where surprisingly, Vinnie’s gets first dibs on the mic, as he and Treach (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call him Double T. Treachery…it sounds way too corny) pass the mic like a hot potato over 3 verses. Again, lyrical neither emcees stands out (which is a surprise in Treach’s case, as I’ve always considered him a pretty nice emcee. Vinnie’s line about his “bank account being longer than constipated dog shit” pretty much confirms why he should ONLY touch the mic as Treach’s hypeman ), but Kay-Gee’s instrumental work is very melodic, at least making the instrumental enjoyable.
Picture Perfect – This is The New Style’s attempt at a “conscious” rap song. I said attempt because it fails miserable. Largely do to Treach’s terrible (and corny) singing over the hook. As this stage in his career Treach’s flow was still very unpolished, and he and Vinnie once again don’t contribute any hip-hop quotables, but sound…decent, I guess. Kay-Gee’s instrumental work is decent but the atrocious hook squeezes every ounce of decency his instrumental provided out of the song.
Can’t Win For Losing – Treach and Vinnie are in battle mode, and Treach shows glimpses of the hunger he would come with on the first Naughty By Nature release (Vinnie even managed to not sound as bad as he normally does). While Kay-Gee backdrop is minimal, it actually works well behind Treach’s quick tongue and witty lines.
Droppin’ The Bomb – The holes in Treach’s flow and breath control are fully exposed on this joint (especially on his first verse). I think Vinnie appeared on this song, but if I can’t remember then obviously it wasn’t that impressive (and honestly I’m not interested enough to go back and check). Kay-Gee’s instrumental work (which samples portions of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Hearing) sounds boring and very dated. They definitely dropped a bomb, but I’m sure it wasn’t the kind they were hoping for.
To The Extreme – Over a simple Kay-Gee instrumental Treach and Vinne spit what they call “free-style” rhymes (although from the sound of it, I’m pretty sure they were written). This wasn’t terrible, but far from great.
Independent Leader – What technically is the title song (minus a “s”) turns out to be The New Styles second “conscious” song of the evening. Treach uses the term “parasitically selfish” (still not sure what that actually means), which is probably the only time you’ll hear that phrase on a rap record. Kay-Gee’s subdued instrumental is forgettable while Treach’s singing on the hook (again) is unforgivable. This should have been left on the cutting room floor, son!
New Vs. Style – The title sounds like this will be an explanation for the group name, but instead turns out to be a battle between Treach and Vinnie. According to the ringside announcer after the first verse Vinnie’s the defending champ and Treach is the challenger…the battle easily goes to Treach since I’m pretty sure he wrote Vinnie rhymes for the battle anyway. They get points for the concept but the execution left a lot to be desired.
Smooth Mood – Some of you will recognize the instrumental sample which was later used on New Edition’s “Hit Me Off” (and a few “real heads” will remember it’s usage on Grand Daddy I.U.’s “Mass Destruction”). Treach goes for dolo on this one, and other than one major misstep (he invents the word”wrongness” in an attempt to rhyme with “songless”) he rides the smooth instrumental like it was custom-built for his flow. Nice.
Bring The Rock – John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack And Diane” meets hip-hop…yep. It sounds just as bad to the ear as is does written on paper. Treach and Vinnie shoutout a bunch of hip-hop, pop, and rock artist in what sounds like a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the hip-rock cash cow that made Run DMC legendary. Needless to say, they fail miserable, making this a very bad way to end the show.
How can I put this gently…Independent Leaders is a hot mess. Treach shows signs of the much more polished emcee he would become a few years later on Naughty By Nature, but those moments are far and in between. There are a few decent moments on the production side, but the majority of the instrumentals are weak to decent at best. And like the rest of the Naughty’s catalog Vinne’s contribution is pretty must useless on Independent Leaders. It’s a good thing Latifah saw enough potential in the trio to give them another chance on Tommy Boy. Based on the output from this album they could have easily faded into obscurity before their hip-hop careers ever took off.