Nappy Roots is a Kentucky-based collective formed around 1996 by five students at Western Kentucky University who met up at campus parties. They came to popular recognition with the success of their major label debut, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, and are known for their positive Southern-tinged hip-hop.
Five of the six members of Nappy Roots met while they were attending Western Kentucky University between 1995 and 1997. The group consisted of Skinny DeVille, Scales, Big V, Ron Clutch, R. Prophet, and B. Stille. A diverse set of individuals, they came together in activities that blended music and entrepreneurship.
DeVille, who often seems to serve as the spokesperson for Nappy Roots, was described by Rolling Stone as "the philosopher of the group and a plotter who's always thinking ten steps ahead." Scales attended Western Kentucky from 1995 to 1997 on a basketball scholarship. He gave up the sport to concentrate on music. Big V, a Bowling Green, Kentucky, native, met the members after dropping out of Eastern Kentucky University. In the same Rolling Stone article, he was described as "a porno freak covered with tattoos" who "has five children by two women and wears a silver chicken claw around his neck."
Clutch, the senior member of the group, is considered "the conscience of Nappy Roots," according to Big V (as quoted by Rolling Stone ). Prophet stands out in the group for his voice, which was described by Rolling Stone as "one of those delicious-toned voices that come along once or twice a generation, like Q-Tip's or Guru's." Stille is the youngest member of the group, and often considered the best MC within Nappy Roots.
Nappy Roots jelled as a group when two members moved off campus in 1995 and started throwing house parties. Pooling their school loans, they opened the retail music shop ET's Music, which also had a production studio. They also created a line of clothing using the Nappy Roots name, with T-shirts bearing the Nappy Roots logo in various fraternities' and sororities' colors. The group decided to make an independent rap recording in 1998, and the result was Country Fried Cess, a do-it-yourself project they sold around Bowling Green. This "kept them from having to get real jobs, but, more important, created a buzz," according to Rolling Stone. The release was circulated among students, who shared the music with their friends on school holidays. The growing word-of-mouth reached the Atlantic label, which eventually signed Nappy Roots. But their initial project was scrapped when the group refused to play along with the hick image label executives wanted them to adopt.
Undeterred, Nappy Roots went back into the studio behind ET's Music and recorded another CD. The result was No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm, released in 1999. Once again, the album was issued under the group's own Deep Rooted imprint.
Atlantic eventually courted the group once more, and a new album, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, was put into production after Nappy Roots re-signed with the label. The release of their major label debut in 2001 was delayed "[b]ecause of the September 11 tragedies and other factors" according to Rolling Stone, but he group worked hard on the project during the postponements to ensure there was a good mix of tracks on the album. The group's members strove to include songs that were both fun and uplifting. "We want to take listeners to another mind-state, where everything isn't so life-costing, where everybody has to die and things of that nature," R. Prophet told Rolling Stone. "There's a few more things to live for than just placing values in some monetary things that when it comes down to it, doesn't matter."
The title they chose for the album reflected these ideas. "That's what our music is," DeVille told Rolling Stone in January of 2002. "It's refreshing, it's food for thought and it's going to stick to you for a while."
MTV.com noted that the band's cause was helped when the record company "began touting them as the south's answer to New York's Wu-Tang Clan." Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz was certified gold (for sales of 500,000 copies) only seven weeks after its release. It went platinum (with sales of 1,000,000 copies) on the success of the singles "Awnaw" and "Po' Folks." MTV. com called the album "[o]ne of the better records to emerge from the new wave of southern rap."
Discussing the meaning of "Po' Folks," R. Prophet told MTV.com that the lyrics did not only speak of being poor as an economic issue. "[I]t's a state of mind. It's not so bad being poor when you've got your family and God in your life and you have different values that, when it comes down to it, matter. A lot of other things really don't matter when God is knocking at your door. That's basically keeping it Nappy."
For the Record . . .
Members include B. Stille (born Brian Scott), rapper; Big V (born Vito Jermaine Tisdale), rapper; R. Prophet (born Ryan Anthony), rapper; Ron Clutch (born Ronald Wilson), rapper; Scales (born Melvin Adams Jr.), rapper; Skinny DeVille (born William Hughes), rapper.
Formed at Western Kentucky University, 1995-1997; group began coming together at house parties, 1995; opened record store, studio, 1995; released Country Fried Cess, 1998; signed by Atlantic Records but immediately dropped; released independent-label No Comb,
No Brush, No Fade, No Perm, 1999; signed again by Atlantic, 2001; released Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, 2001; Kentucky governor Paul E. Patton declared "Nappy Roots Day," September 16, 2002; received several award nominations, 2003; recruited for USO's Project Salute, 2003; released Wooden Leather, 2003; began work on video and short film, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Web-site— Nappy Roots Official Website: http://www.
"This isn't just a rap album, it's coming from all over the place," DeVille told the Associated Press. "We're showing how to rap without putting the violence in it. We're not disrespecting women and we're not killing anybody." Time reviewer John Tyrangiel praised the album, saying it "shows none of the crass preoccupation with pimping and cash that dominates rap from the coasts."
After the release of Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, Nappy Roots toured in support of the CD. Despite several sponsored segments of the tour—the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour and a stint as part of "The WB On Tour," DeVille told Rolling Stone 's Gavin Edwards in a May of 2002 interview that times had been tight. The group toured the United States by van. "[W]e had a fifteen-passenger van for fifty cities," DeVille said. "We even had a label rep with us—we made him ride the bitch seat in the middle and hold stuff. In the van, if you get tired of somebody, you got no choice but to work it out—you're going to have to keep looking at the back of his head." Success eventually brought the group an RV in which they were able to comfortably "talk, smoke, roll rhymes, freestyle a lot and sleep," DeVille told Rolling Stone. Nappy Roots spent a year and a half on the road.
Rolling Stone, in a May of 2002 feature on Nappy Roots, noted that "their sound is always an up-to-date Southern groove, reminiscent of OutKast, and their voices are filled with victory. … To them, nappiness means not just letting hair be authentic but putting themselves into their music. The album is filled with hard times and down-home life."
Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patton declared September 16, 2002, "Nappy Roots Day" in the group's home state. The group has played free concerts for schools and has publicly stated their intention to donate profits back to the Bowling Green community. In 2003, the group garnered several award nominations, including American Music Award nominations for Favorite New Artist and Favorite Band, Duo or Group in the Hip-Hop/R&B category. Nappy Roots was also nominated for Grammy awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Po' Folks" and for Best Long Form Music Video for their DVD "The World According to Nappy."
Nappy Roots was asked in June of 2003 to be a part of the United Service Organization's Project Salute 2003, performing for U.S. troops in the Middle East. The trip took them to Kuwait, Qatar, and Baghdad, Iraq. "It was just an honor to even have gotten that call," DeVille said in a statement appearing on Atlantic's website. "Of course we had to go over there and perform. This was a once in a lifetime experience."
"It was eye-opening to see the type of things [the soldiers] have to go through," Scales told Billboard in a September of 2003 interview. "It can get up to 130 degrees, and electricity and running water are only available in a few places. … [The Nappy Roots concert] was a big morale booster for them, and that meant a lot to me."
Nappy Roots released Wooden Leather in 2003, and there was no reduction in critical praise. Interview 's Malcolm Venable wrote that the music was "at the nexus of urban music: where hip-hop meets the blues, where culture interests with politics, and where hyper-bole and camp converge with reality and depth. … While the group continues to effectively invert country, corn-bread, and catfish stereotypes, the sap is as sweet and sticky as the runoff from a big ol' slice of watermelon."
Charles Hughes, reviewing the album for the University of Wisconsin college paper, praised the group for being "acutely aware of and engaged in the roots of hip-hop, from slave spirituals and Delta blues, to 1960s Southern soul and 1970s funk." "The sextet represents an enlightened South, where reflections on politics mix with odes to corn bread, where fingerpicked guitars blend with glitchy synths," wrote Evan Serpick, in his Entertainment Weekly review, "where rappers wear do-rags and cowboy hats."
With the making of the video "Round the Globe," the group indicated that it was attempting to steer clear of being stereotyped. "It's not going to be country, how people think it will be," DeVille told Rolling Stone. "Some people think Kentucky and Nappy Roots [means that the video] has to have a barn and tractors, we gotta be broke, hollering 'Po' Folks.' It's still going to be us and it's going to have some elements of the country, but we're looking at it on a global thing and we're representing [everybody]." The group was also working on a video about the making of Wooden Leather in 2003. The video included a short film, "Half the Truth," which presented a version of the story how the group first came together.
Country Fried Cess, Deep Rooted, 1998.
No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm, Deep Rooted, 1999.
Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, Atlantic, 2001.
Wooden Leather, Atlantic, 2003.
Billboard, January 19, 2002; September 6, 2003; September 13, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, May 31, 2002; September 5, 2003.
Interview, September 2003.
Rolling Stone, October 16, 2003.
Time, April 29, 2002.
"Nappy Roots Aim To Nourish Kentucky-Style With Water-melon, Chicken & Gritz, " MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1451878/01222002/nappy_roots.jhtml (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots," Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com/nappyroots/artistPhotoBio_frameset.html (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots: Bio," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/nappy_roots/bio.jhtml (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots Dig Deep," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/news/printer_friendly.asp?nid=15905&cf=2043639 (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots Eat Humble Pie, Go Low-Budget For 'Po' Folks,'" MTV.com http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453091/03262002/nappy_roots.jhtml (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots melds urban and country sounds," The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://enquirer.com/editions/2002/03/11/tem_nappy_roots_melds.html (November 19, 2003).
"Nappy Roots Out To Show They're Not Just Country Boys," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1472192/05302003/nappy_roots.jhtml, (October 31, 2003).
"Nappy Roots serve up another slice of goodness," The University of Wisconsin Badger Herald, http://www.badgerherald.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/09/23/3f6f9ac078a9a (November 19, 2003).
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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