These days, the phrase “nappy roots” is more likely to conjure up images of Don Imus’ radio fiasco than of the Kentucky hip-hop group. Everybody’s favorite Southern comfort quintet seemingly vanished into thin air after their critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Wooden Leather, dropped in ’03, leaving fans hungrier than a fat kid in the lunch line. Five years later, Nappy Roots has become all but forgotten. Granted, they’ve maintained a little buzz by releasing some forgettable mixtapes, and the departure of member R. Prophet made hip-hop headlines for an hour or so. In the big picture, …
DJBooth Album Review
You betcha. It takes exactly two tracks (excluding the intro) into The Humdinger to realize that the Nappy we knew and loved hasn’t gone anywhere. The opener and arguably best cut on the album, Beads & Braids, goes down smoother than grits and gravy. Producer Sol Messiah’s ambient beat allows the group plenty of room to explain their prolonged absence, most of which stemmed from trouble with their former label, Atlantic. The second track, On My Way to GA, is classic Nappy: up-tempo rhymes over brisk percussion and a lightly picked guitar, all of which falls comfortably into their trademark subgenre of rural rap. Skinny DeVille, B. Stille, Fish Scales, Ron Clutch, and Big V all know what kinds of sounds complement their southern drawls, and they exploit the s**t of them.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to Nappy Roots’ music is that whenever the beat is driven by a guitar melody (e.g. Po’ Folks off Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz and Sick & Tired off Wooden Leather), the track is probably going to be a winner. The Big Block-produced Down N’ Out finds the group empathizing with the less fortunate over some down-home strumming, proving that they are just as capable of rapping from the soapbox as they are from the porch or the ‘lac. Guest Anthony Hamilton, who always manages to find his way onto Nappy albums, is a welcome addition on the hook. Kalifornia Dreamin, another Sol Messiah joint, features a light jazz guitar riff and some westward-minded rhymes. Apparently the group can wax Californian as well as they can Georgian.
Nappy’s few missteps occur when they try too hard to come across as typical Southern rappers. Longtime fans will cringe when they hear Flex, a minimalist booty track filled with stale clichés. It’s unsettling to hear the group, who is supposed to be representing the enlightened south, dumb down their lyrics to seek out some pipe dream of club play. The same goes for their crunk effort, Fresh. As far as crunk music goes, the track isn’t bad, per se; it’s just not Nappy. There’s no need to fix what’s not broken.
On the other hand, some of their more experimental tracks end up coming together quite nicely. Pole Position, a happy-go-lucky strip club theme which surely won’t get spins in any strip club (yes, that’s a veiled compliment), is a great addition to the album. R&B singers Slick & Rose contribute a ‘la-la’ hook that sounds somehow both eerie and sexy. Panic Room, another odd track with a Roots-like feel, has the same appeal. Nappy is equally spot-on when they slow it down and get serious. The two most melancholy tracks on the album, No Static and Small Town, are really what differentiate The Humdinger from their previous work. Small Town finds the group bemoaning the loss of small town life to the demands of the bid city. It’s convincing enough to make you pack a satchel full of cornbread and relocate to the countryside. Now that, my friends, is the essence of Nappy Roots.
Take out two or three tracks, and The Humdinger is a bona fide classic. While the album may not have stand-out singles with the same commercial appeal as those on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz and Wooden Leather, it is by far their most consistent effort yet. Even the filler tracks (e.g. Don’t Stop and Tinted Up) have remarkable playbackability. If it takes Nappy Roots five years to produce an album of this caliber, I say let ‘em take their time. I look forward to 2013.
Listen to More: Nappy Roots Written by Charlie E.
Nappy Roots Ent Group
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