This song is about cheating. If you're "Down with O.P.P.," it means you are willing to cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not exactly family values, but it's presented in a fun and clever way that never spells out exactly what the song means. There are no dirty words in the lyrics, although a ludicrous "clean" version was released with the words "cleanest," "meanest" and "kitten" edited out. This is most likely the first time the word "kitten" has ever been censured.
The jubilant track is based on the 1970 Jackson 5 song "ABC
." Early hip-hop songs tended to use short loops from often-obscure soul tracks, but by 1991, many artists were sampling huge chunks of songs, making them almost covers. "O.P.P." was surprising in how much it relied on "ABC," incorporating Michael Jackson's distinctive vocal trills along with the musical essence of the song, which was a #1 hit on the mighty Motown label.
"O.P.P." was released in the summer of 1991, months before Gilbert O'Sullivan's lawsuit against Biz Markie established that samples had to be cleared
. It appears that Naughty By Nature's label, Tommy Boy, did get permission to use "ABC," but when "O.P.P." first appeared, the writers' credits went to Naughty By Nature plus Berry Gordy, who was one of four writers of "ABC" but also head of Motown, so he likely did the deal. Later, the other three writers of "ABC" were added to the credits.
The lyrics explain that "O.P.P." stands for different things depending on your gender. The first two words are "Other People's," but for guys, the last P is a "five-letter word rhyming with cleanest and meanest." For girls, it's "Another way to call a cat a kitten." In the end, they keep it clean by saying the last P stands for "Property."
"Down Wit' OPP" became a catch phrase in many cities where this song was popular. In New York, people wore T-shirts saying "Ya Down Wit OPP?"
Naughty by Nature was rappers Treach and Vinnie, and DJ Kay Gee. Treach, who was 20 when this came out, wrote the lyrics and was lead rapper on this.
Treach got the idea for the lyrics from a drug dealer in his neighborhood that used to move in on other dealer's territory and say he was "Down With O.P.M. - Other People's Money." Treach liked the phrase but decided to change the meaning of the last P. The year this was released, a Danny DeVito movie came out called Other People's Money.
Treach has had several acting roles, including the movie Juice and the HBO series Oz. He was married to Sandra Denton for two years starting in 1999. She's "Pepa" from the group Salt-N-Pepa.
The group made sure the lyrics related to both men and women, which gave it a broader appeal. They also wanted to make sure the audience could participate in the song ("yeah, you know me...) so when they played it in clubs the audience wouldn't just stand there.
This was one of the first rap songs that crossed over to pop radio. Many Top 40 stations refused to play it because they thought it would drive listeners away, but many added it as it became a hit.
The video was a big hit on the show Yo! MTV Raps, which was where they played most rap videos at the time. MTV had a rapper named Todd 1 remake the song as "Down Wit' MTV," which also got a lot of airtime.
When Naughty By Nature promoted this song on visits to radio stations, they recorded customized bits for the stations with their call letters in place of "O.P.P." For instance, if the call letters were WJPZ, they would record themselves asking, "You down with JPZ?"
This was used in the 1991 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Cased Up," and in the 2020 episode of Fresh Off the Boat, "The Magic Motor Inn." It also appear in these movies:
The To Do List (2013)
Up In The Air (2009)
Fired Up! (2009)
Malibu's Most Wanted (2003)
Celtic Pride (1996)
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
House Party 2 (1991)
In a season 2 episode of The Office ("The Dundies"), Michael Scott opens the annual Dundie Awards with his own version of this song. Instead of "You down with O.P.P," he sings, "You down with our Dundie."
This was referenced on NewsRadio in the season 2 episode "Xmas Story." When Mr. James asks, "Hey, what up, G? You down with O.P.P.?" Dave replies, "Well you know me."