Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14: Naughty By Nature, "O.P.P."

Artist: Naughty By Nature
Song: "O.P.P."
Album: Naughty By Nature
Year: 1991

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Often times, when a song becomes a hit, the actual impact and significance can become lost, as the song may become seen as nothing more than a pop sensation. While in many cases, this may not be much of a problem, there are a handful of hit songs throughout history that upon closer inspection, completely altered the dominant paradigm, and forever changed the landscape of music. At the beginning of the 1990's, while the world had left "hair metal" behind, and "grunge" had not yet come to the masses, a strange, yet exciting musical "free for all" occurred. As various styles battled for supremacy, the idea of a "crossover" artist was almost obsolete, and the general public proved to have one of the most diverse tastes of any point in history. It was during this period that some of the most famous songs of the decade were released, and a handful of them have become so iconic, that one almost cannot remember a time when they did not exist. Yet it is one of these unforgettable songs that seems to have fallen victim to the "significance being lost" disease, and many only remember Naughty By Nature's runaway 1991 hit, "O.P.P." as a pop hit. Without question one of the most contagious and brilliantly crafted songs in history, it is in many ways shocking that it had such universal appeal, and the songs' hook remains so well known, that it has almost become cliché.

Quite literally, everything about "O.P.P." is not only musically perfect, but it is instantly recognizable to a number of generations. The songs' main musical hook, a simple two-note piano loop, as well as the altered looped vocal that follows, was taken from The Jackson 5's iconic hit, "A.B.C." In fact, almost every single musical aspect of the song is some form of "A.B.C." and yet it was not until after the song became a massive hit that most people became aware of the source material for the unforgettable music. This is largely due to the fact that the songs' base structure had been so altered, as well as the fact that such sampling and re-working was not yet as well known to the masses. While the song came before the "too much bass" trend that would dominate the decade, it still managed to have as much appeal to suburban teenagers as it did to the "hardcore" rap fans in the cities. Yet this is in many ways why Naughty By Nature were able to have repeated success, as they made their music every bit as well crafted and appealing as their lyrics. Furthermore, the groups' music was able to straddle the line, coming off as harmless as the words of Run-D.M.C., yet having a lyrical content that is almost more more akin to that of N.W.A.; just a bit more subtly stated. It is the fact that "O.P.P." was able to have such a wide ranging appeal that makes it far more significant than nearly any other song of the era, as it also stands as one of the first "racier" lyriced songs to achieve such success.

The fact of the matter is, while the musical hook of "O.P.P." is absolutely fantastic, there had simply never before been anything in pop music that was quite like the lyrical assault of the song. Delivered entirely by the man known as "Treach," it look some people quite awhile before they realized exactly "what" "O.P.P." meant in this case. Treach's flow on the song is absolutely superb, as he varies his speed and style, yet every word comes off clearly, and the swagger with which he performs is nothing short of perfect. There is also clearly a tongue-in-cheek feel to his rhyming, and it is this almost lighter mood that helped to make the song such a success. Yet even taking all this into account, "O.P.P." was so lyrically risqué for the time, that one cannot overstate how important its success was in paving the way for the entire "gangsta rap" movement. Many forget that at the time the song was released, hip-hop was still in its infancy in terms of pop-appeal, and the fact that such a racy song became so successful is nothing short of astounding. Perhaps much of this success was due to the fact that, not only did it offer the youth a new sound, but one would be hard pressed to find a more anthemic chorus anywhere in music history. Presenting what can be seen as both a male and female take on the "O.P.P." lifestyle, the simple phrase, "You down with O.P.P.?" still garners a massive response nearly twenty years after the song first appeared. This serves as a testament to the phenomenal writing and music, yet a majority of the success of the song falls onto the strangely friendly, yet unquestionably talented rhyming of Treach.

For a song to have "staying power" that is similar to that of Naughty By Nature's iconic single, "O.P.P.," the must contain a number of elements that make it just as appealing to new audiences as the decades pass. With its unforgettable musical hook and fantastically crafted lyrics, "O.P.P. is one of the few songs of its generation that is just as enjoyable and relevant today as it was nearly two decades ago. In an age when the subtly of lyrics has disappeared, and the core of the music in hip-hop is little more than heavy bass over minimal music, "O.P.P." remains a refreshing break, as the song is so perfectly crafted, that it is truly timeless. Yet as was previously stated, the lasting impact and initial significance of the song is often lost amid the fact that, at the end of the day, it's a masterfully crafted pop phenomenon. However, before it appeared on the music scene, hip-hop had still only had a small amount of short lived crossover success, and one can easily see "O.P.P." as the song that "broke the dam" into the pop world. From the brilliant re-working of "A.B.C." to the subtly racy lyrical content, "O.P.P." is an absolute musical masterpiece, and in retrospect, it is not only impossible to picture a musical world without the song, but it is similarly impossible to think that such a song would NOT have become as huge a success. With Treach teaching a generation of youth what it meant to be "down with O.P.P.," one would truly be hard pressed to find a more defining song of both a generation and a genre, and this is much of the reason why more than twenty years later, Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P." remains fresh, relevant, and a truly iconic hit song.

1 comment:

DJSureal said...

The piano isn't sampled, it was replayed.