It’s been nearly 10 years since Nappy Roots burst onto the mainstream scene with 2002’s Watermelon, Chicken & Grits but the Kentucky crew is still going strong. They’ve been getting their independent grind on lately and are ready to jump back into the limelight with their new album Nappy Dot Org, produced entirely by southern legends Organized Noize. I talked with the group about the new album, working with Organized Noize and being labeled as the “conscious of the south.”
Calvin: First off, how did you guys meet and start doing music together?
Skinny Deville: We hooked up in college between the years of ’93 and ’98 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Everybody was exceptional lyrically, and as the years progressed, we all got dope with the lyricism that made Nappy Roots what it is. In ’98 we put out our first independent project, Country Fried Cess, that got the attention of Atlantic Records. We recorded a whole album with Atlantic that didn’t come out in ’99, then we put out Watermelon, Chicken & Grits in 2002.
Calvin: Having spent a little time on campus myself, I can only imagine the feeling of becoming stars while you’re still in school. How was that experience?
Skinny: It was exciting when we first signed. To be the first hip hop group to sign from out of Kentucky and to be at school while you’re doing it? You know your pussy rate goes sky high when shit like that happens. So for us it was very exciting at the time; but while we were recording, we were going an hour away to Nashville to make the album. Then coming home after a session and then going to class the next morning and go right back to Nashville. It starts to put a wear and tear on your body. Then, to do all that and find out your album is being shelved because they don’t know how to market you because you’re from Kentucky was kind of disappointing. Because for all the hype and hoopla we did, we had to go back and eat our words for a year a two. People were asking like “Where it’s at?” “Y’all singed, when’s the shit dropping?” So, it was hype at first but very humbling to know that you have to go back to the drawing board and do it all over again. It was bittersweet but I’d do it all over again.
Calvin: You talked about the setback that you had to go through, so what type of expectations did you have for Watermelon, Chicken and Grits? Did you really expect the type of response did you end up getting?
B Stille: Basically, we didn’t have any expectations. We knew we had something on campus. Way before it was anything national, we were doing it on campus. So we were hoping that we had the response that we did but it definitely was an overwhelming surprise. That allowed us to do what we do now, which is make our own records independently for Nappy Roots Entertainment.
Calvin: You have the indie situation going on now, but people may not know about you resume as far as Grammy wins and nominations and such. Are you more comfortable in the space you’re in now as opposed to 2002?
Skinny: Yeah man. In 2002, it was a new pair of shoes. They were nice and white. Feel me? That’s what Nappy Roots was back then. Because it was refreshing to see some guys coming out of pretty much nowhere and talking about some shit that no one really ever talks about. And it was actually still cool and relevant. When we come out now, we don’t have to worry about MC Such and Such doing what he does. That’s fine. The hottest rapper right now has no effect on what Nappy Roots is doing whatsoever. It’s not about the newest, hottest thing with Nappy Roots. It’s the consistent expected ‘they’re not going to fail me’ quality of music that we put out and the common’s man perspective that we rap from.
Calvin: Seeing as how you finessed your situation and were able to stay in the game so long, what kind of advice would you give to new artists coming into the industry?
Ron Clutch: I would jump off of what Skinny said and say be consistent. Be you and while you’re doing you, make sure you’re not doing anybody else. Originality is one of the main ingredients, especially in this day and age since you have so many outlets to fans online; you can build a fan base. Establish yourself online as well as out here in these streets. It’s cats out here filling up clubs off mixtapes. That lets you know where the game is at right now. The game is wide open. There’s also a drawback to that because everybody wants to be a rapper now. They have logic or pro tools and they can do a whole album and get it on iTunes in a summer. So be original, be yourself and learn the business.
B Stille: It’s better to be original and it’s not even about what’s hot. There’s no formula. So my advice would be to just grind and work hard. Get out here in DJ’s faces and take your music to the club. Create your own movement because once that happens, you can have the opportunity and the option to be independent and make more money off your sales that way. It’s cool to be independent, but if you’re selling to 20 fans, you might as well hang it up and get a regular job.
Calvin: I understand you’ve been in the studio with southern sonic legends Organized Noize. What’s it been like working with them?
Skinny: The feeling has been incredible to get Organized Noize to produce your album, and for that album to be the shit is incredible. You’d think just because someone gives you a dope beat that it’s easy money, but you have to combine that with the lyrics and intensity. And they’ll tell you if it ain’t right. Thank God we didn’t have too many of those type of sessions [laughs].
But they inspired us. They made us step our game up and the intensity to match the production. They’re like the Rick Rubin’s of the south. Some of your first recollections of hip hop may be OutKast or Goodie Mob. So for me to work with them and finally get that level of production excellence was great. I thank God for the opportunity to work with them.
If you love Nappy Roots for who we are, you’re going to love every song on there. If you don’t know who Nappy Roots is, go back and checks us out. We’re not bad guys. We’re not lames in the game. We’re some cool individuals: we smoke weed, we drink, go to the frat parties, get drunk, kick it with college students as well as talk to kids about going to college. We give back to the community and speak about things everyday people can relate to.
Calvin: I have a quote from Rico Wade (of Organized Noize) in which he calls you guys “the conscious of the south.” With this album, what kind of impact do you want to make from that perspective?
Skinny: Just trying to help it. We ain’t trying to take over this shit. There’s not a lot of room at the top and it’s very lonely at the top. I don’t care about being the number one best at anything. There are some guys that might dispute that in my own group. But for us, we’re cool doing 90 in the slow lane and whatever anyone thinks we are we are that and then some.
B Stille: I’m definitely going to challenge what my colleague just said about not trying to be the best at anything. There are certain things that Nappy Roots does that we are the best at. I think that was Rico was getting at when he called us the conscious of the south. When Nappy Roots is on that, we’re really hard to deal with and it’s our strongest leg to stand on because our music is just like regular life. We don’t front. We make down to earth music. We have a lot of those records on this album as well as party records as well as struggle music.
Calvin: Anything you want to leave us with?
Skinny: Yeah man. The album comes out September 27th. I encourage all you readers to check us out on Twitter or Facebook. If you’ve never heard of us, don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s not always about the fame with us. It’s about the love and about the success we have as individuals and as a group. We’re a family and movement.
B Stille: We’re coming to a city near you. Nappy Roots has been on the road ever since Watermelon, Chicken and Grits and we haven’t stopped touring, so come check us out.