Hip-hop does not look kindly on its veteran artists apart from anything other than lip service -- names are dropped all the time, but it's hard to sustain a career into a second decade for many rappers. Naughty by Nature
acknowledge that situation with a wink on their fifth album, titling it Iicons
and offering a definition of the word on the cover, thereby setting themselves up as icons, as titans of their genre. Which, in many ways, they are, as this rock-solid record proves. They might never have been innovators on the level of Public Enemy
or Ice Cube
, but they were always strong, forceful MCs and good songwriters who made strong records. Iicons
is firmly within that tradition. There are a few things that make it feel modern -- some guest MC appearance, a production that is on the whole kind of spare, a stellar duet with Pink
-- but the overall aesthetic is from the early '90s, when the group was at their popular peak. This doesn't mean it sounds outdated; it means that the group still crafts dynamic, varied albums, where the singles aren't the only songs that are memorable. Sure, it's a bit traditionalist, but in the best possible sense -- it keeps what's best about the form, giving the album a strong foundation, and builds on it, resulting a record that feels fresh and classic and thereby proving that it is possible to sustain a career in hip-hop without a loss of musical quality. Maybe these guys deserve to be called icons after all.