Naughty By Nature - Anthem Inc (IllTown)

US hip-hop currently rests in arguably the strangest position it has ever found itself in. For the best part of the last decade the majority of the music that charted was the ego-inflated, testosterone soaked club anthems by the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem, Young Jeezy, Lil Jon and numerous other acts following an exaggerated version of the template set in the early-mid nineties by the likes of Notorious B.I.G, Dr.Dre, Wu-Tang and Tupac to name only a handful of the most successful. Skip forward to 2012 and the sonic landscape is an almost unrecognisable one in comparison.

Released Jan 30th, 2012 via IllTown / By Matthew Bayfield
Naughty By Nature - Anthem Inc (IllTown) With the exception of the ever more ridiculous Rick Ross, the US rappers currently attracting major label attention are the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne, or Wiz Khalifa. The leaning toward introspection, emotional tracks and a (slightly) more accommodating attitude toward women has made hip-hop one of the most financially profitable genres in American music. It has also found the likes of The Game or Young Jeezy, formally selling albums by the boat load's newest releases clocking substantially lower sales than previously, and has left many artists with a distinct lack of purpose, or worse still, imitating the acts that should be learning from them.

It is therefore refreshing to see Naughty By Nature, a group who have been more or less operational for the last 20 years, drop their newest record Anthem Inc. As one of the original harder sounding hip-hop groups to achieve real chart success in the early nineties with the release of their self titled debut, which included singles such as 'OPP' and 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' (both of which are given 2012 updates on this release) NBN could possibly be seen as the precursor to some of the acts ruling the charts at present, carefully balancing the accessibly and the gritty and their new album is a continuation of the formula their debut so successfully applied. Opening track 'Naughty Nation' lays out the groups wares nicely braggadocios lyrics leading confidently atop stabbing minor keys and wailing sirens. To be entirely honest the group's credentials were hardly ever in question so it is nice to see the record open with a good deal of energy and enthusiasm. The following track 'Throw It Up' continues the confident swagger with a tight, robust beat complimented by slick brass and flute sounds.

This energy is kept up throughout the album, and definitely is a key to the overall appeal of the group. Lyrically, although always generating some excellent flows and sharp couplets, the group do suffer somewhat from a lack of variety. Tracks seem to be divided into one of two camps; harder edged street cuts like the aforementioned and 'Gunz & Butter' which also features an excellent horn line on its beat, and more uplifting motivational numbers such as 'Flags' and 'God Is Us' featuring the group's original mentor Queen Latifah. These tracks are equally as catchy as the more party orientated anthems, a particular highlight is 'Name Game' (regardless of the inevitably drab use of an auto-tune chorus) but sometimes feel just a little too "conscious" and find that unfortunate pitfall of being just a little too cloying. Then again, when taken in the context of some of the mindless brand name dropping, David Guetta produced work currently clogging the commercial airwaves it would be a relief to find a track with its heart in the right place make its way into the charts.

Throughout the album the production is of the highest quality. There is always the issue with any group attaining the position of elder statesman of whether to attempt to be "down with the new kids" (see Common's abysmal attempt at contemporary electronica on 'Universal Mind Control' ) or to merely rest on their somewhat dusty laurels and regurgitate the sound that made them famous in their heyday with little or no attempt at growth (see Mobb Deep's entirely forgettable new EP 'Black Cocaine' ) Naughty By Nature, much to their credit, have managed to evade this common blight and strike a well tuned balance between the style most of theirs fans are used to and the sounds more familiar to contemporary hip-hop listeners as seen in the skittering 808 hi-hats of 'Ride' which will sound instantly familiar to anyone with an ear for the Southern sounds that dominate the works of groups such as Cash Money.

The album is therefore, not so much a case of Naughty By Nature giving in to modern trends entirely and delivering a washed up attempt to stay current, nor is it an old school classic to rival their debut. It is, however, a confident and well polished listen that should appeal instantly to NBN's already large fan base, but might just turn a few new ears too. Not a reinventing of the wheel then, closer to a re-chroming of it.