The New Style ~ Independent Leaders (1989)

Posted on August 12, 2012


1989 was a notable year in rap music, for a multitude of reasons, and on both coasts of the United States. On the West Coast, NWA opened the year with their blistering release Straight Outta Compton, and closed the year in disarray, with the exit of group member Ice Cube that December. Back East, a cavalcade of veterans (Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, MC Lyte, etc.) dropped dope albums, and an impressive freshman class would make their debuts, including Gang Starr, Nice & Smooth, 3rd Bass, Queen Latifah, The DOC, and Special Ed. Amidst this flurry of activity, three teenagers from New Jersey would deliver a tight album with little label support, then drop off the grid soon thereafter. Unbeknownst to the Hip Hop masses, these teens would return with a vengeance two years later, as a multi-platinum squad named Naughty by Nature. But, in the summer of ’89, this trio from the Garden State was known simply as The New Style.

Representing “Illtown” (East Orange, New Jersey), The New Style was comprised of three talented kids who’d find each other, along with their callings in life, at East Orange High School. Emcees Double T a.k.a. Treach (Anthony Criss) and Vinnie a.k.a. Vin Rock (Vincent Brown) officially took to rap in high school; first through impromptu freestyle sessions in their eleventh-grade health class, then through their participation in the senior-year talent show, where they were invited to perform with Kay Gee (Kier Gist), a burgeoning DJ-producer who was one year ahead of them at East Orange H.S. The success of their talent show appearance spurred the trio to form The New Style, and after honing their performing skills in Illtown and its surrounding townships, the crew signed a management contract with Sylvia Robinson (of Sugar Hill Records fame); which was quickly followed by a recording deal with a small label called Bon Ami Records. In the summer of ’89, while still in their teens and barely out of high school, The New Style took their first shot on the main stage, with their rock-solid debut album Independent Leaders.

As with many rap albums from the late 80’s, Independent Leaders doesn’t waste an ounce of space. It’s 10 tracks of true-school dopeness with no filler, and throughout the album, the flavor that would make these men Hip Hop icons can be easily detected. Unlike the first Naughty By Nature album, which primarily featured Treach on the mic, he and Vin Rock share the microphone for the most part here, and Vinnie proves to be an able counterpart to Treach. On the opening cut “Scuffin’ Those Knees”, the two MC’s spit back and forth with gusto, over an anarchic Kay Gee track that blends mass hysteria horns, razor-sharp scratches, a Beastie Boys vocal break (from “The New Style”, of course), and the tumbling drums from “Amen Brother”, by The Winstons. Treach and Vin show more inspired chemistry on the milky “Start Smokin”, while Kay Gee exhibits some of the melodic prowess that would power the group’s future records, by combining dense mid-tempo drums with piano and keyboard loops, and adding in a Jackson 5 break and the chords from Grace Jones’ “My Jamaican Guy” to complete the fusion. “Droppin’ The Bomb” is driven by thick drum kicks, simulated bomb drops, and minuscule samples of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. And lyrically, this cut seems to take cues from both Run DMC and LL Cool J, with Vin finishing some of Treach’s lines as Run and DMC did on occasion, and Treach sporting a nimble and majestic flow reminiscent of Uncle L on his first two albums. “New Vs. Style” is a makeshift battle joint, where Vin and Double T face off as though they’re in a freestyle contest, and Kay Gee keeps the track sparse with hard drums, a Donna Summer vocal sample, and a whimsical keyboard break that sounds like carnival music.

When they became Naughty by Nature, this trio became known for their melodious output and unbridled energy. But, on a few of this album’s best cuts, The New Style shows adeptness with styles Naughty by Nature wouldn’t be known for. “Smooth Mood” lives up to its title, with a pimp-strutting sample of Bob James’ “Storm King” as its rhythm bed. And Treach, whose flammable flow in the Naughty years would make him immortal, lies across this track like a pillow top, and freaks a mellow flow so well, you’d swear he always rhymed this way. “Picture Perfect” uses a bassline similar to Eric B. & Rakim’s “Eric B. Is President”, for what becomes a progressive song about racism, oppression, corruption, and the need for unity and fellowship amongst people of the world. “Independent Leader” is a thoughtful joint with a dark-cool bassline, tentative drum taps, and verses that deal with the young generation, who’ll inherit the planet from their elders, and who vow to make the world a better place. And the final song “Bring The Rock” lives up to Hip Hop’s reputation as a cultural unifier. Over a bombastic Kay Gee track that melds James Brown (“Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”) with John Mellencamp (“Jack & Diane”), Treach and Vin Rock pay homage to icons of both rock and rap, and unite fans of each genre on the dance floor.

Independent Leaders is a substantial album, and one that should have earned its creators the acclaim afforded to the other rap newcomers that made the scene in 1989. But alas, it was not to be for The New Style, at least not in their original form. Bon Ami Records proved incapable of giving The New Style the promotional push and support they needed, and this album, along with its creators, faded into oblivion shortly after its release. Fortunately, this wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of these young guns. After the Bon Ami debacle, the trio would rename themselves Naughty By Nature, and hustle on the streets of East Orange to finance their next shot at stardom. After a relentless wave of self-promotion and showcasing, the crew would meet fellow Jersey native Queen Latifah in 1990, sign with Latifah’s firm Flavor Unit Management, ink a new contract with Tommy Boy Records, and begin a platinum run on the pop charts. The crew’s releases as Naughty by Nature have become a part of Hip Hop lore, and rightfully so. But Independent Leaders also deserves some praise, not only for representing the birth of one of rap’s greatest groups, but also for the superior quality of its content. If you can find it, check out Independent Leaders, and take a trip to yesteryear with Illtown’s Finest.

To listen to Independent Leaders, click here.