taken hold. She had a great combination of being able to get down and rough, and being able to sing. She was versatile."
The versatility comes across in the contrast between the hip-hop/garage feel of "Come Into My House", the tough vocal interplay between Latifah and Monie Love on "Ladies First", underpinned by rugged 45 King breakbeats, or the fast, fierce lyrical flow and mellow Naughty By Nature production of "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here", taken from her 1991 Nature Of a Sista' album.
Naughty By Nature - Treach, KayGee and Vinnie - also came to Tommy Boy via the Flavour Unit connection. "Latifah was their mentor," recalls Monica. "They were originally called New Style and they were wearing zoot suits. It didn't feel like things had really gelled in terms of their image and what they were about so we passed. Subsequently they regrouped and did some fine tuning."
Finely tuned, the renamed Naughty By Nature were signed to Warner Brothers but offered to Tommy Boy because of the company's proven track record with credible hip-hop acts. "A lot of things were the result of renegotiating our deal with Warner Brothers," says Tom, "which happened just before De La Soul. Naughty By Nature came from them. Benny Medina signed them, which we'll be always grateful for."
As well as pioneering the maxi-cassette single in America, Tommy Boy had been working low key campaigns based on hitting street knowledge rather than relying on big budgets. For Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P.", for example, they plastered New York with black and white stickers, simply printed 'Down With O.P.P'. Quick to respond, bootleggers produced t-shirts and hats with the same slogan. As a consequence, New Yorkers were asking themselves what O.P.P. meant even before the track broke. The single was released in 1991 and quickly became an anthem and a massive hit record.
"Treach just completely took off as a major, major star," says Monica. "He's an interesting guy because he had enormous sex appeal for women and he was really rough. He'd always wear prison type outfits, a chain around his neck, and he was really hard looking so the guys respected him. His lyrical flow was also very influential and Kaygee was a mastermind at coming up with anthemic tracks - 'O.P.P.' and 'Hip Hop Hooray' being the two biggest ones."
Naughty By Nature's style, another new direction for hip-hop, had the versatility of Latifah, mixing smooth R&B, pumping beats, chanted choruses and serious lyrics on "Uptown Anthem" and "Feel Me Flow" but showing a more poignant side with the Bob Marley hookline of "Everything's Going To Be Alright", Treach's lament for his own lost childhood.
From the very beginning, one of Tommy Boy's strongest suits has been this combination of B-boy reality and commercial acumen. The late Eighties and early Nineties were turbulent years for hip-hop: a militant mood in the air, rap on trial for obscenity, ultra-commercial rap breaking big on MTV and a struggle for hearts and minds taking place between gangstas and conscious rappers. With its Black Panther samples and driving energy, "Break the Grip of Shame" by Paris, a native of San Francisco, was one of the defining moments of the period.
A more typical signing for Tommy Boy was House Of Pain. "Jump Around" (with its intro sample taken from Bob and Earl's "Harlem Shuffle") and the metal-rap of "Shamrocks and Shenanigans (Boom Shalock Lock Boom)" were full-on testosterone records with immediate appeal. Irish-Americans from Los Angeles, Everlast, Danny Boy and Lithuanian DJ Lethal were closely associated with Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs, their mentor and producer. "Both of those groups broke down the racial barriers and the bi-coastal barriers," says Monica. "Cypress Hill were murky in terms of their ethnicity. House of Pain, it was straight up Irish kids. With Everlast, I think a lot of white kids felt like they had found an artist that they could call their own. There's a lot of fiefdoms and tribes in rap. Every white kid from Queens who grew up listening to Run-D.M.C. and loved Public Enemy but never felt like they could be truly down, by virtue of the fact they were white, House of Pain was the answer to their dreams." House Of Pain's first album sold over 1.5 million.