EAST ORANGE, NJ — Things have been looking up lately for the legendary hip-hop music group Naughty By Nature.
First, the group, which originally hails from East Orange, was honored by the Historical Society of East Orange at its annual lawn reception at Cicely Tyson School on Sunday, June 4, where Vinnie “Vin Rock” Brown accepted an award on behalf of the group.
Then, the members of Cicely Tyson Elementary School’s Young People for Peace created a remix version of the group’s hit record “O.P.P.” that changed the song’s well-known lyrics from “You down with O.P.P.” to “You down with Y.P.P.” and performed it twice, including at East Orange’s MACFest in City Hall Plaza on Saturday, June 17.
And now, Detective John Marcelli of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force has admitted that Naughty By Nature’s frontman, Anthony “Treach” Criss, was not responsible for bringing the “Double I” set of the Bloods street gang to New Jersey. Criss had claimed his innocence regarding this accusation a few years earlier, while the group was performing at the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival in downtown Newark.
Marcelli’’s assertion came just prior to the appearance by Criss at the Art of Rap concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark on Friday, June 30, a concert that also featured rappers DMX, Mobb Deep and Raekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Rapper and actor Ice-T, from the NBC-TV show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” who also hails from the Garden State, came to the concert as a show of support and to pay tribute to fellow rapper Prodigy of the Mobb Deep group, who had been scheduled to perform at the event, but died unexpectedly Tuesday, June 20.
“He didn’t personally bring gangs here,” said Marcelli of Criss on Thursday, June 15, during a Gang Awareness Seminar at the Fellowship Civic Center organized by Naima Hall, the founder of the Passion for Purpose nonprofit group who also serves as the coordinator of the local extension of former President Barack Obama’s national “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
“My opinion is … Indirectly, the group had something to do with it, but I can’t stand here and say, ‘Naughty By Nature, they spread this.’ Can they do more to denounce it, based on the fact they had something to do with it? Yes, of course they can. I grew up with their music and it’s good to see local people be successful, but it’s something that I think they should look into more, especially with the problems that we have in our communities. Actions speak louder than words.”
Marcelli didn’t give the performers a free pass, however, urging them not promote crime and negative behavior in their words and actions.
“Hip-hop is not the fuel for the gangs, but I must say it does have an influence on the activities, because you get a 16-year-old kid who drops molly, smokes weed, and throws in … So you have this kid who’s under the influence, he gets a g-ride, before you know it, he’s shooting and killing people.”
Marcelli’s admission came as a relief to Hall. She said Naughty By Nature would never would have knowingly imported or encouraged gang activity anywhere, let alone in their hometown.
“One thing I can say about (Criss), something that I know, I know that he gives back to the community and he does want to see change. That’s one thing I do know by meeting him, spending time with him and being in his atmosphere.”