Recordings

Naughty by Nature
Poverty's Paradise
(Tommy Boy)

If you lived in New York four summers ago, you might have believed that all sound waves had been taken over by Naughty by Nature. "O.P.P." seemed to pump out of every apartment window, car, and club, and the acronym ("Other People's [insert sex-specific 'P' word]") subsequently entered the lexicon. The ultimate invasion came when a TV news station asked random commuters the question: "Are you down with O.P.P.?" Even suits at the World Trade Center knew the reference and blushed behind their $100 sunglasses.

Back then, it was difficult to imagine a future for Treach, Vinnie Brown, and Kay Gee: How do you surpass ubiquity? Well, in their case, you follow it with another No. 1 anthem, "Hip Hop Hooray." OK, but how do you do it twice?

You growdafucup, augmenting braggadocio with social commentary. You take your time developing a production style, digging a little deeper for samples that aren't immediately recognizable and putting the drums way up front in the mix. You dub all the bad words from the vocal tracks before mixing them in so the shorties can listen. You start a record company, a clothing store, and a film production house. And you dispel any doubts in the first five minutes of Poverty's Paradise: "Naughty by Nature fall? Nigga please!/ We just took the time to form three companies."

Stanley Sanders once asked how it helped his former neighbors that he had gotten himself outta Watts, never to return. It didn't, he said. So how did it help East Orange, N.J. -- parts of which make South Central look like West Palm Beach -- that its hometown rappers shifted 3 million units?

Naughty by Nature are now employing dozens of people in a city whose manufacturing job base fled to South America faster than Josef Mengele, and whose public education system is notoriously bad. The most respected people in town, NBN get more props from residents young and old than the mayor, a status alluded to with alarming confidence in "Holding Fort": "Even if the city won't give us permission/ Listen ... Now better not fuck around and try to shut us down/ We'll find out who run this town."

Treach is the undisputed heavyweight champion of alliteration and the horizontal rhyme. He matches sounds across a lyric rather than on the last syllable of each line -- and fast: Adidas couldn't read us so they freed us/ Then we dropped Reebok from a treetop/ Succeeded then got weeded, oh!/ And grandpas and grandmas know our grandma from Santa Ana to Atlanta/ Where cops ain't a fan of niggas' bandanas.

Forget about the sycophantic single "Craziest," the only throwaway track on the album. NBN is pop though still hardcore, hardcore though not gangsta, political though not preachy, funny though not clownish, and nationalist though not confrontational. And they're impossible to ignore, so don't get frustrated trying.

-- Paul Tullis
Naughty by Nature plays Mon, July 31, at the Fillmore in S.F.; call 346-6000.

The Red Krayola
Amor and Language
(Drag City)

Over the course of nearly three decades, no one has ever accused the Red Krayola's absurdist art-pop Übermensch, Mayo Thompson, of being obvious, and that's certainly not going to change any with Amor and Language (itself a play on Art and Language, a group of conceptual artists Thompson collaborated with in the '70s). Here, Mayo and some 20 other avant-indie musicians conspire on nine genre-hopping dadaist vignettes that, while "songs" by definition, defy convention at every turn.

Actually, things start off on a deceptively straightforward note with "Hard On Through the Summer," a catchy little psych-pop celebration of the peak travel season. But also on deck is "The Ballad of Younis and Sofia." Over a telegraphic riff and strange static glitches, Thompson launches into a journalistic narrative about an Air Morocco plane -- piloted by Younis -- that crashed into the Atlas Mountains minutes after takeoff in 1994. Suicide, the investigators venture, which Younis' mother vehemently denies: Her son was a happy man. Finally, the omniscient black box reveals the truth: someone (Sofia?) crying, "Help, the pilot has died!" Are we enigmatic yet?

It gets weirder. "Play extremely loud," exhorts the CD cover, not so you can bang yer head Krayola-style, but rather to make out the bizarre synth-doodle nuances and mumbled wordplay. Consider "T(I,II)," a quirky ballad that begins with Thompson crooning, "We were turning you over in our minds/ At about 10 rpm." He then moves into a detailed discourse on the physics of rotation, which culminates with the repeated refrain of "A Mental Picture of You." This segues into an instrumental that wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Pavement record. Go figure.

On "Luster," we're provided a clue -- or is it a red herring? -- as Thompson sings that "What I'm trying to say in my own candid way is 'I wonder.' " The folky "A-A-Allegories" features some verbose mutterings about rhinoceroses, "The Wind" has something to do with blowing smoke up your ass, and "Stil de Grain Brun" concerns ... pesticides? Hell, I have no clue. Go ask Mayo -- my brain hurts.

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