“Drink Champs’” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN were joined by Naughty By Nature leader Treach for a conversation about everything hip hop — from the formula of their music to the impact of the genre.
Treach, born Anthony Shawn Criss, is from East Orange, New Jersey. There, he developed a friendship with Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee, and by the late 1980s, the unit formed a rap group under a moniker The New Style. They eventually changed it to Naughty By Nature.
After being co-signed by Queen Latifah, who helped the trio secure a record deal with Tommy Boy Records, they continued to build their catalog with RIAA-certified singles like “O.P.P.” and “Jamboree,” as well as with projects like their platinum-selling, self-titled effort and Poverty’s Paradise, which won them a Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1995. On top of being a beast on the mic, fans also know Treach for his standout work on the big screen.
Check out nine major takeaways from his “Drink Champs” discussion below and watch the full interview here.
1. On Treach’s top 5 MCs from New Jersey
New Jersey has been a hotbed for talent ever since the genre of hip hop became popular. With that in mind, The Garden State native stamped his top five rappers from there. King Sun, Apache, Wise Intelligent, Redman and Queen Latifah were named. But the Naughty By Nature seed also shouted out Rah Digga, Lauryn Hill, DoItAll, Lord Ali Ba-Ski, Lakim Shabazz and Doublej. Furthermore, he explained what ties them all together in the name of being special. “Jersey, we tight and right,” he said. “Jerseys is venom spitters and everybody has a different style.”
2. On his connection to Tupac
Looking back at his close relationship with Tupac, which started back in the days of Digital Underground, Treach recalled what he misses the most about his friend. “Probably his drive,” he confirmed. “He would’ve been probably the first hip hop president. That’s what I miss the most, his shine.”
Treach also revealed that he and Pac signed groups from their opposing coasts as a way of making peace and spreading love: “So he got The Outlaws and we got The Road Dogs.” Elsewhere, Treach also asserted that his relationship with The Notorious B.I.G. came through Tupac. “Pac was my brother. When he introduced me to Big, Big became my brother,” he said. “Them was my n**gas, man.”
3. On the formula of his music with Naughty By Nature
Treach revealed that there was certainly a rhyme and reason as to why Naughty By Nature’s music found so much success. Off rip, the unit wanted to prioritize a call and response approach, which was influenced by artists like Dougie Fresh and KRS One. “All my writing went into making sure that the crowd could respond back or you had a crowd doing it. Because they’re hearing it on the record and you go to that show, it’s over,” he said in reference to “O.P.P.”
When he discussed the formula for “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” he added, “We was like, ‘We gotta make sure that it’s a catchy hook on everything we do, even if it’s a hardcore record.” On the topic of “Hip Hop Hooray,” Treach noted, “Back then I would put the hook first and then write it.” And lastly, he used “Feel Me Flow” to describe how he would do so on wax. “I’m never on beat. I’m not on top of the beat, I’m like riding on the saddle backwards.”
4. On infesting the Tommy Boy Records office with snakes and rats
In the 1990s, Naughty By Nature was signed to Tommy Boy Records in what Treach recalled as a “love and hate relationship with the business of it.” One time, the trio wanted to put their merchandise in the CD sleeve of one of their upcoming albums. The people at Tommy Boy said no, but ended up putting their label gear in the spot that Naughty previously requested.
“I said these n**gas are some snakes and rats,” Treach thought to himself at the time. So he went to the store, bought a bunch of snakes and rats and called up his homies to help unleash them on the Tommy Boy premises. Funny enough, the wild gesture worked. “They had our muthaf**king gear in the next s**t, I’ll tell you that much god d**mit.” Apparently, the office was never the same after the fact. “They had to move because it was solely infested,” he added.
5. On how he got involved in the filming of Juice
Queen Latifah inspired Treach to start acting, as she wanted him to be multifaceted in his career. His first role on the big screen was the 1992 film Juice. He originally auditioned to be Bishop, but was later featured as an extra.
Treach discussed how himself, Tupac, Ed Lover, Mo Preme, Yaki Kadafi and Stretch all mobbed out in a one bedroom suite during filming once Tupac secured the lead. After Treach kept pulling up to the set everyday, and following a conversation with director Ernest Dickerson, he was granted a line-less role as a member of Radames’ crew. “Lah got me in there but Pac made sure I was in the movie, because I read for that s**t and I definitely wasn’t getting it,” he said.
6. On being one of hip hop’s first power couples with Pepa
In April of 1999, Treach married Pepa from the legendary rap group Salt-N-Pepa. When asked about the origin point of their connection, he said that “it was all hip hop.” For starters, they first met at a Yo! MTV Raps event down in Miami. After that occurrence was explained, N.O.R.E. expressed how he saw them as the first power couple in hip hop, which Treach confirmed as true. To tie the rap connection together even more, he dropped another fun fact about the two love birds joining forces. “In our muthaf**king mansion in Morristown [New Jersey] where we got married, Reverend Run married us, n**ga. Official tissue,” he said.
7. On what it was like to be a rapper in the 1990s
It was only right that reminisced on what it was like to be a rapper in the 1990s and how it differs from today. “One thing about our era, everybody had to sound different,” Treach voiced. “You would get straight up no deal, you couldn’t perform. They would be like, ‘That’s a biter, them n**gas wack… Everything had to be original.”
The group went on to discuss the generational gap between musicians these days and how that often leads to a lower level of respect when it comes to OGs. When DJ EFN pointed out that Treach’s generation was the last era to show love to pioneers in that way, he responded, “That sounds right.”
8. On how hip hop saved his life
N.O.R.E. asked Treach if he ever thought that hip hop would make it this far, to which the Naughty By Nature figure responded, “Yes, that’s why I stayed in.” Treach then thought back to a time where people in the media, rock groups and folks from other countries looked at rap music as a fad.
“They asked me a long time ago, ‘What would you be doing if it wasn’t for hip hop?’ I said, ‘I’d probably be in your house tying you up and getting your kids and everything else and going for the safe and doing some real s**t,” he continued. “I’d be licking every day. And it’s 100 million muthaf**kas just like me. Hip hop saved you muthaf**kas.”
9. On the impact of rap’s fallen soldiers
Jam Master Jay was a major figure in the life and career of Treach. In the conversation, Treach talked about one of his core memories with the Run-DMC member: “Artists used to make records about DJs. And when Jam Master Jay was cutting, and then you see him live and he really was cutting, it was crazy. I miss that element of him.” Treach also recalled the interesting conversations that they would have, “We used to talk about aliens. Jay I used to love ‘cause he thought like I thought.”
Treach even spoke on what he admired the most about Big Pun: “Just how he raised the bar on f**king lyrics. This n**ga was saying something.” And to punctuate the segment, he pinpointed the introduction of melodies in rap songs when he mentioned that “with hip hop, you never had to be no singer.” In the words of Treach, that showcased in the output of artists like Biz Markie and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.