ROCK / The axeman cometh: Naughty By Nature - Le Palais, London

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The Independent Culture
WHICH IS the most naughty - a machete, a chainsaw, or an axe? Naughty By Nature, the hardcore hip hop trio from East Orange, New Jersey, are infamous for the props they wave around on stage and on their album covers. Fame has decreed it is time for an update - hence the latest version of the visual threat, a silver hatchet hanging from Treach's belt.

The thousand yout' packed into the Palais in Hammersmith were certainly pleased to see them, savouring the barely sublimated violence well before the support act, Apache (nothing to do with Apache Indian), had played out with his hit 'Gangsta Bitch'. It was that kind of night.

Since last year's big summer hit 'OPP', Naughty By Nature have become the biggest rap act in the world, able to front jingles for MTV while still giving off the bad breath of menace that keeps them credible to the boys in the 'hood back home. Their subjects are simple: the neighbourhood, the violence therein, and how they're on top of their rapping as well as their girls. Their sophomore album, 19 Naughty III, is as nasty as the first, showing the same winning mixture of decadence and linguistic dexterity, and their one UK show saw them on excellent form.

'We been to Europe, we been to Japan, we even been to Germany, and at last we got some real mutherfuggin' niggas in the house]' Treach declared, reciprocating the crowd's warm welcome. With the PA cranked up, they slipped into their simple set of medium-paced drum and snare beats, pop and jazz loops and dizzying chains of couplets. It must have been over 30C upstairs, but many of the lads kept their full hip hop uniform on - canvas jackets, baggy jeans and army boots. The teenage girls (mostly dressed for the beach) knew they were at the show of the year, balancing on every level surface, singing along with all the snappy rhymes.

Naughty By Nature were pushing the usual territorial attitude on tracks such as 'Daddy Was A Street Corner' and 'The Hood Comes First'. The mixture of stubborn selfishness and cruel humour in the lyrics is perfect for articulating rage in a way that hasn't been heard since punk rock. A good part of their appeal seems to be that they don't pretend they care. Like he always does, Treach stopped the show to talk to the fans about hair. 'If you're standing next to a sister whose hair is not her own, pull it off]' he instructed. And another thing: he didn't like 'women whose titties ain't real'. Presumably the axe was a symbol of cutting-edge misogyny.

Not that the girls in the audience seemed to mind. The party resumed with 'Written On Ya Kitten' and the new single, 'It's On'. The NBN mixture of quick, aggressive rap packed with internal rhymes, and nursery rhyme tunes in the chorus, reached a magnificent peak with 'Hip Hop Hooray'. Every arm in the house was raised, the fans singing the 'Ho-o, Hay-y' bit and swaying side to side like a golden-age football crowd. Hooray indeed.