After dropping the platinum selling, uber-crunk major label debut Watermelon, Chicken and Grits, many expected Nappy Roots to fade into oblivion.
Group members Skinny Deville, Ron Clutch, Big V, R. Prophet, Scales and B. Stille were expected to be the next in a long line of forgotten hip hop acts with hot first albums and lukewarm follow-ups.
But instead of becoming the next Crucial Conflict or Lords of the Underground, Nappy Roots tweaked their formulaic Kentucky-fried style, reaching an apex on their next joint Wooden Leather.
The album debuted at number 14 on Billboard, the group’s highest chart position ever, effectively neutralizing the dreaded sophomore slump. Ron Clutch attributes the lasting success to the group’s mantra: “Keepin’ it Nappy.”
“As long as we stick to our formula, be ourselves and don’t let the fame and fortune go to our heads and the negative comments go to our hearts, we’ll just keep making music,” Clutch said.
Another reason for the group’s prolonged status is their understanding of the rap business. The knowledge comes from the many hours of work put into Nappy’s development.
Beginning in 1996 as a group of Kentucky college kids opening a music shop, Nappy released two independent LP’s before Atlantic signed them and released Watermelon, Chicken and Grits. According to Clutch, associating with a major label changes the game.
“When you hit mainstream, you have to make it radio friendly, commercial ain’t a bad word because if you break it down, commerce means sell. It’s a give and take relationship,” Clutch said. “With Watermelon, Chicken and Grits we had say so, but at the same time, (the label) was like ‘We need this.'” Nappy’s artistic integrity is better displayed on their latest release.
“The Wooden Leather album was all on us,” said Clutch.
The sound of Wooden Leather, while distinctly country, is not quite the same as the dirty club blasting of the group’s southern contemporaries from Atlanta and Houston.
“Kentucky is like uncharted territory, you’re gonna categorize it as South, but if you look at Kentucky, it’s smack dab in the middle of the United States, so we’re influenced by east, west, north and south,” Clutch said.
The mishmash of coastal influences is added to an already eclectic mixture of genres. “It’s all hip hop, but there’s also a little R&B in there, there’s a little bit of rock and roll in there, there’s a little bit of everything,” Clutch said. The album transcends the norms of rap’s audience as well.
“You got a certain generation of folks (who listen to hip hop). With the Wooden Leather album, my momma can listen to it. We’re trying to break that whole stereotype of hip-hop. There’s more to it,” Clutch said.
Wooden Leather’s first single, “Round the Globe,” is an ode to the endless Nappy fan base around the planet. The video for the single includes footage from the group’s invitation to Project Salute, where they played in front of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Baghdad.
The experience of playing in the Middle East is one that Clutch will never forget.
“You see it on television and you have one side of it, but when you are actually there you feel how hot it is and you see all of the soldiers with their rifles. It was quite an experience to be out there in the thick of it,” Clutch said.
Despite Nappy Roots’ platinum plaques and worldwide fan support, Clutch maintains the mindset displayed in “Po’ Folks,” one of their singles from Watermelon, Chicken and Grits.
“My momma still work at the crib, my daddy still work, even my grandmomma still works. Long as they’re working I’m still a ‘Po’ Folk,'” Clutch said.
More money hasn’t changed Clutch’s cuisine either. “I love watermelon, chicken and grits. If anything I try to cut down on the grease. Maybe I’ll have a nice oven-baked chicken instead.”
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