Nappy Roots: smart, black and proud


It was 2002 and Nappy Roots was on

top of the music world.

The Kentucky-based hip-hop quintet

was enjoying multi-platinum sales for its major-label debut, Watermelon,

Chicken & Gritz. Nappy Roots member B.

Stille thought the follow-up, Wooden Leather — featuring production work by the likes of Kayne

West and Lil Jon —would be even better received.

Then their fortunes changed.

Their label, Atlantic Records, merged with Warner Bros. and Elektra. Many

people, including those tasked with promoting Nappy Roots, lost their jobs.

Suddenly the machine that had been behind the group was no longer there.

During a recent phone interview, Stille explained that that was a confusing period in the life of Nappy Roots, but that, "By God's grace we were able to


Instead of folding, the act re-evaluated its path, which

included turning down a couple new record deals they feared would devalue their

integrity. Eventually they formed their own imprint, N.R.E.G. (Nappy Roots

Entertainment Group) and signed a distribution deal with Fontana/Universal

Music Group. Stille says their goal is to have something like Def Jam Records

did in the early '80s or Diddy's Bad Boy label in the late '90s — a

familial company that puts out solo records and music by hand-picked artists.

"This was our plan from the

beginning," Stille said. "(Atlantic) gave us a fan base that we probably

couldn't have gotten ourselves. But we're in a great position now. We're

blessed to have had this roller-coaster ride – the ups and downs and

corkscrews and loopty-loops."

Since then Nappy Roots have

released a mix tape and a couple studio efforts, including this year's The

Pursuit of Nappyness. Full of bouncy,

beatifically organic rhythms, Stille calls it their best and most honest work


"Everything we do we feel like

it's the best (at that time)," he said. "This album is no different. We don't

put out music we don't feel good about."

Times have changed since the

members of Nappy Roots — including Skinny Deville, Fishscales, Big V. and

Ron Clutch (R. Prophet left for a solo career) — first started laying

couplets on each other in college. After going pro, they became used to A&R

guys feeding them beats, which they'd use to write lyrics before meeting up in

the studio to record. Now technology is such that each member has his own home

studio, allowing him to write anytime and all the time and present the results

to the rest of the collective. Files were often exchanged over the Internet

while the new album was coming together. It made it easier, considering Deville

and Fishscales now live in Atlanta while the other three are still in


"That process was different for

me, but I liked it because I could do it in the comfort of my own home," Stille

said. "I could wake up at 5 in the morning or 5 in the afternoon and drop the

verse whenever I felt it. That helped us grow as men because we had more

responsibility to make that happen."

And they've taken the

responsibility to speak on behalf the working man, on behalf of their


"It's like no man's land and

every man's land," Stille said of Kentucky, which he called "the charm on our

nation's chain."

A lot of today's rap, he said,

may be hot in the clubs, but it's nothing the average person can relate to.

"I think it's more about life experience,"

Stille said. "You can't expect a 17-year-old to rap about the issues going on

in the world or to relate to adult problems. Those are things someone who has

experienced them will have a better song about."

It doesn't help that so many

labels are perpetuating what Stille calls "cookie-cutter" music. many younger

artists quell their creative instincts for fear of rejection. As a result,

Stille said, you get a saturation of songs about sex, money and drugs.

"That's kind of where hip-hop is

at right now," he said. "It's back in the disco stage; everyone's trying to do

the same thing because it's hot."

But Stille also sees emerging

artists like Drake and B.o.B. breaking from the norm. Stille says that one of

Deville's lines from the new song "Live & Die" sums up what Nappy Roots has

always stood for: "Ain't nothin' wrong with being smart, black and proud." And

Stille is ready for the rest of the hip-hop world to put away childish things.

"It's kind of like a scale

– it's got to tip so much to the left that people need it to balance back

out," Stille said. "Hip-hop's going through the next phase right now, and I

feel like Nappy Roots is one of the groups leading the charge."


Free download of "Nappy University" mixtape (feat. tracks from The Pursuit of Nappyness).

Promotional video for "Ride" from The Pursuit of Nappyness:


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