For hip hop fans, author Brian Coleman is doing the Lord’s work. In 2005, the writer and historian self-published Rakim Told Me, an oral history of some of the genre’s most influential albums told by its creators. Coleman would expand on Rakim with 2007’s Check the Technique and recently released Volume 2 of the popular series that’s become a must-read for rap geeks wanting the inside story to their favorite albums.
As in previous books, Coleman devotes one chapter each of Volume 2 to a classic hip-hop album, including Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Mos Def & Talib Kweli’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. In this exclusive Volume 2 excerpt, Naughty by Nature’s Treach and Kaygee break down the creation and effect of their ubiquitous 1991 Number One hit “O.P.P.”
Kaygee: I was just scratching that Jackson 5 “ABC” section one day, and Treach heard it and wanted to build on it. Everybody is saying these days how sample clearance is so high, but we sampled that in 1991 and [Motown’s publishing arm] Jobete took 75 percent of the publishing on that song. But we knew that it made the record, so we had to have it. One hundred percent of nothing is nothing, and 25 percent of 2 million sold is a lot. We knew that it was gonna be huge, so we didn’t care. At that time there was so much hardcore stuff out, but people weren’t using pianos and melodic stuff like on “O.P.P.” When we first did the demo, our people around the way knew it was a hit, and that’s all we needed to know.
Treach: That was recorded in the first quarter of our recording. We didn’t try to make a pop hit; it just happened it was the [Melvin Bliss “Synthetic] Substitution” beat and a [Jackson 5] sample. It’s a call-and-response song and we’re talking about fuckin’ other niggas’ bitches. The record probably would have been banned if radio had known what we was talkin’ about. It took them a year or two to figure out what it meant. If you weren’t listening or weren’t really into hip-hop, it wasn’t easy.
After we heard it on playback, I just hoped that mo’fuckas would be up on it. I was trying to make the record so to-the-point where mo’fuckas would figure out what I was talkin’ about. I didn’t want the meaning to get lost; I wanted people to understand. Since I was fast [with rhymes], people had to catch on to my flow, and catch on to what the record really meant. I thought a lot of it was over peoples’ heads.
Most of the rest of the album is more hardcore, street type of shit. But we knew that we had to have something that radio wasn’t scared of when we came out. I didn’t think the success of that song hurt the other songs on the album. In fact, it helped them. People who love hip-hop know “Guard Your Grill” and “1, 2, 3.” Those never got lost.
We was out on a promotional run, and the video for “O.P.P.” came out when we were on the road. During the first half of the tour we could go wherever, and nobody knew us. But then the single heated up, it went gold, platinum, double-platinum. Then we went into malls and security was like, “Yo, don’t ever come in here again without tellin’ us.” Because it was a mob. We had to run out the back door to get away. One other thing: we changed the whole Video Music Box game back then, because that channel would play whatever you called for. They had to change the whole format, because you wouldn’t see nothin’ but “O.P.P.,” all day and night. There wasn’t nobody else getting any video play!