November 13, 2003

Interview: Nappy Roots

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Oftentimes at concerts, an opening act will precede the headliner and the audience will yawn their way through the performance, impatiently awaiting the main event. This was the exact opposite of the scene at Sunday’s Ludacris concert, where the Nappy Roots put on an enthusiastic and entertaining show, commanding the audience’s attention with their energy and chemistry.

Nappy Roots’ six members — Big V, Ron Clutch, Scales, R. Prophet, B. Stille, and Skinny Deville — met while attending Western Kentucky University and formed the group in 1995. After two self-released LPs, they were signed to Atlantic, and made their major-label debut with last year’s platinum-selling Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz.

However, Nappy Roots haven’t let their success (which includes their own holiday in Kentucky, “Nappy Roots Day,” celebrated every September 16) go to their heads, always reminding themselves of their humble Southern beginnings as six college kids just looking to make music together. On the band’s website, Skinny Deville says, “We’re still ballin’ on a budget. We’re not materialistic. We’re working and have to earn that check.”

Their new album, Wooden Leather, released in August, contains more varied subject matter than its predecessor, simply because mainstream popularity has exposed the group to, quite literally, a whole new world. Songs like “Roun’ the World” and “Sick and Tired” comment on themes such as touring, fatigue, and other changes the group members have undergone due to their newfound fame.

After their set Sunday, daze met with some of the guys to discuss these topics and more.

daze: Being a band that formed in college, do you guys feel a special excitement when playing shows at places like Cornell?

Skinny Deville: Well since we started out in college we know, more so than a band that didn’t form in college, what people want to hear. We know what’s going to make people forget about school, you know, so they can enjoy themselves and have a good time, and not worry about the bullshit and politics of a university.

daze: Do you guys feel that being former students gives you more legitimacy in a college setting like this?

Big V: College is definitely a hands-on experience. We ain’t too long gone. Three of us finished college and three of us didn’t, so everybody has had college training in Nappy Roots. We feel right at home.

daze: Is there a favorite song that you guys like to do? I know you [Scales] were saying that “Awnaw” is your favorite song from the first album.

Scales: “Awnaw” is my favorite song to perform. It just reminds me of where it all started as far as Nappy Roots getting out on the road and touring. We were really working that song two years ago real hard. So now we’re working “Sick and Tired” and I just think about how far we came.

daze: Can you talk a little bit about Wooden Leather? So many people know the first album, so how is the new album different?

Scales: Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz came when we were fresh out of college. We were just running around and having a lot of fun partying. Wooden Leather shows a whole lot of growth in Nappy Roots. The years between Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz and Wooden Leather were, for me, definitely the most growth and the most exposure ever in my life. So this album was a reflection of that. We’ve been to Toronto, Kuwait, Baghdad, Nassau, the Bahamas — everywhere in the world, so we can really say that the whole world is “country.” After we did all that, we just sat down and really worked on this album and put a lot of heart into it. So it was a mature step for Nappy Roots.

daze: I read that, on Wooden Leather, you wanted to portray yourselves as more than just country boys and make a more universal album.

Big V: I think that people can see that. We’re not just doing shows in the Southern region anymore. We’re in New York, LA, Chicago, Baghdad, Kuwait, Germany, London — all four corners of the Earth. You can hear that in our music. We’re not just telling you about Kentucky anymore. We’re doing a whole lot of shit.

daze: How did you guys work out the shows in Kuwait and Baghdad, and how did they go?

Scales: First off, they did a poll to see which hip hop act the soldiers wanted, and we were number two next to Jay-Z. Jay-Z couldn’t make it, but we went over there and the response was crazy. There were over 4,000 soldiers waiting for us, and we got on stage with people like Kid Rock and Wayne Newton. So we had fun, and the Nappy Roots were the life of the party. We had them jumping even in Kuwait. Like my man Prophet said, we get it crunkin’ from Kentucky to Baghdad.

daze: Is this level of popularity something you’ve always strived for, or did it come naturally once you guys formed?

Big V: We just wanted to make good music, and once you make good music, I think popularity comes with it. Our whole focus was that we all hooked up in Kentucky and we knew that none of us could make it alone. Everywhere we go we spread love and we just try to be us; we don’t try to be nobody else but Nappy Roots. And I think everybody accepts that and acknowledges that we’re nobody else, that we’re just going to do our thing and keep rolling.

The Nappy Roots certainly have been busy. A live DVD will be out soon and the video for “Sick and Tired” will be premiered on MTV this week. Through it all, we can watch their Southern flavor spread.

Archived article by Ross McGowan